- Lack of authenticity can erode self-esteem, leading to self-alienation and depression.
- Finding an authentic self is an important quest in everyone’s life.
- Embarking on this journey can make you feel empowered, confident, and proud of yourself.
Authenticity (along with meaning in life, freedom, and responsibility) is one of the main themes of existential psychotherapy. Consciously or not, authenticity is a common motif and yearning in most people’s lives. How many times have you heard, or have perhaps voiced yourself, expressions such as “I need to find myself” or “I need to discover who I really am”?
Being authentic means aligning our actions with our values, beliefs, preferences, and motivations. Underlying the concept of authenticity is the notion of our true self versus our false, fake, superficial, pseudo, or inauthentic self. As human beings, we experience both an external self and an inner core, essence, authentic self, not necessarily reflected in the external world.
In my clinical practice, I often hear from depressed clients, using expressions such as: “I sometimes feel that I’m wearing a mask.” When people feel inauthentic, they experience depression and low levels of self-esteem. This is because lack of authenticity causes individuals to engage in over compliance or conformity and unnatural or forced behavior (e.g., people-pleasing), which leaves them feeling devalued and unfulfilled.
Adolescents are particularly at risk of hiding their true self because of increased displays of false self-behavior as an attempt to deal with feelings that they may not be good enough for others. This display of false self by putting up a mask or façade, along with the suppression of true feelings and thoughts, leads them to experience a lack of voice, low self-esteem, and depressive symptoms.
It is as if, intuitively, such individuals come to psychotherapy because they feel the need to reduce or eliminate the gap between their true and false self, to find out what’s really behind their mask. Psychotherapy offers them a journey into self-discovery.
The Origin of the False Self
According to Winnicott (1960), “the False Self is represented by the whole organization of the polite and mannered social attitude…” (p. 143). He uses the term to describe the defensive mechanism infants are compelled to use to respond to inadequate mothering and caring or failures in empathy, which forces them to relinquish or accommodate their own needs to satisfy the conscious and unconscious needs of the caregivers upon whom they are completely dependent. This becomes the beginning of the development of subjugation – the surrendering of control to the wishes of others while suppressing one’s own needs and desires – which is a predictor of depression (Basile et al., 2018).
Humans become inauthentic when they lose themselves by pretending that they have no responsibility for their lives. According to Carl Rogers, a psychological disturbance occurs from the incongruence between an individual’s real self (their actual behavior) and their ‘ideal self’ (who they would like to be). From his perspective, authenticity relates to the congruence, alignment, or consistency between the two. As clients become more real, congruent, and focused upon their real selves, they also become more integrated.
Seven Practices to Become More Authentic
The following seven practices to become more authentic are based on the work of Alex Wood and colleagues in developing the Authenticity Scale (Wood et al., 2008).
- Strive to be yourself, as opposed to being popular.
- Aim to know how you feel inside.
- Notice the need to do what others expect you to do.
- Don’t automatically do what others tell or expect you to do.
- Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by the opinions of others.
- Stand by what you believe in.
- Live in accordance with your values and beliefs.
Seven Benefits of Being More Authentic
By regularly practicing the above, you will progressively embrace authentic living, reduce the acceptance of eternal influences, and you will feel less alienated. As a result, you will be able to:
- Develop a stronger sense of self by becoming more aware of your feelings, desires, and needs.
- Become more assertive and state your needs in a calm and controlled manner while commanding authority and respect.
- Build a strong sense of personal agency – your ability to make purposeful choices in life. That is, viewing yourself as being active in the world, as opposed to being relatively passive.
- Feel empowered, capable, and proud of yourself. That is, you will build your self-esteem, develop self-confidence, a strong sense of self, and the capacity to undo the negative effects of internalized oppression, which has resulted from surrendering to the expectations of others.
- Develop a capacity for self-direction and self-control. Through ongoing introspection and self-examination, you will be able to exercise deeper reflection, greater freedom, and more responsibility.
- Cope better with adversity by setting the conditions to know yourself intimately, confront and deal with your real-life challenges, and fulfill your aspiration to become who you aspire to be.
- Enhance your life satisfaction, well-being, and optimal psychological functioning.
In my extension of this work, I can testify that this is what happens when individuals take responsibility to find out and “live in accordance with their daimon or true self” (Waterman, 1990, p. 39).
Never be afraid or ashamed to engage in the quest to find your true self! In doing so, give up your comfort by resorting to your courage. Finally, remember that you don’t need to do this alone. So, consider finding yourself a caring, compassionate, and astute psychotherapist.
Basile, B., Tenore, K., & Mancini, F. (2018). Investigating schema therapy constructs in individuals with depression. Journal of Psychology and Clinical Psychiatry, 9(2), 214-221. https://doi.org/10.15406/jpcpy.2018.09.00524
Salicru, S. (2021). A practical and contemporary model of depression for our times—A timeless existential clinician’s perspective. Open Journal of Depression, 10(2), 54-89. https://doi.org/10.4236/ojd.2021.102005
Waterman, A. S. (1990). The relevance of Aristotle’s conception of eudaimonia for the psychological study of happiness. Theoretical & Philosophical Psychology, 10(1), 39–44. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0091489
Winnicott, D. W. (1960). Ego Distortion in Terms of True and False Self, The maturational process and the facilitating environment: Studies in the theory of emotional development (pp. 140-152). International Universities Press Inc.
Wood, A. M., Linley, P. A., Maltby, J., Baliousis, M., & Joseph, S. (2008). The authentic personality: A theoretical and empirical conceptualization and the development of the Authenticity Scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55(3), 385–399. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-022.214.171.1245