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How to Be Your True Self

When you discover your true self, no one else can tell you who you are.

Key points

  • Acknowledge the limitations that have been placed on you in your childhood.
  • Immerse yourself in a multitude of experiences.
  • Practice everyday mindfulness.
  • Seek counseling.

Who am I? Who am I really?

It’s the question we often ask ourselves and usually find difficult to answer with full and authentic honesty. Instead, we may opt to conform: to do what we think is right and be the kind of person we believe will be most accepted by our peers. Such behavior is deeply rooted in us, reflecting the biology of our primal ancestors. As a result, when someone tells you to disregard what others think and “just be yourself,” you are, in a way, working against an internal need to be liked and accepted by others.

Carl Jung wrote extensively about the process of individuation, which, in short, is the layered process of finding your true, authentic self. Individuation occurs when you recognize and acknowledge your persona (the personality that you present to the world) and integrate it with the contents of your unconscious mind, including your shadow (the disowned and hidden part of you that exists in the background of your everyday life). By connecting to your inner voice—your authentic self—you become conscious and aware of your true vocation. This is the journey toward the person you are meant to be, your journey to wholeness.

But how do we get there? How can we work toward individuation so that we may live the lives we are destined to live and be the people we are meant to be?

As adults, we have a more challenging road toward individuation than children, since we have spent decades layering on defenses; however much they may work, they keep us stuck in our persona masks as we push away from the unconscious. However, at some point, the unconscious will bleed through and cross the boundary into consciousness—moments when you may have that accidental loss of temper or that unaccountable misbehavior. Only through the process of taking back your disowned and projected shadow material do you have an opportunity for self-actualization.

By following these simple tasks, you can listen tand hear your authentic voice and begin the process of individuation.

Acknowledge the limitations that have been placed on you in your childhood.

Moving forward often requires looking back. Did you really enjoy those years of dance competitions or did you continue on only because they made your parents happy? What experiences did you miss out on earlier in life that you regret now? Take some time to sit with your unconscious, and listen to what you really think about your history and what you would have done differently with that awareness.

Immerse yourself in a multitude of experiences and remind yourself of the interests and hobbies of your youth.

It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. Read, paint, attend concerts, scuba dive, and attend cooking classes. Trying a variety of new things, even things you think you might not enjoy, allows you to discover inner talents and passions you may not have known existed when your parents or even your spouse was calling the shots.

Practice everyday mindfulness.

There is a reason so many people turn to yoga and meditation, and it is not just for the health benefits. These practices allow you to learn how to reach the unconscious in ways you may not otherwise be able to. Meditation, mindfulness, Chi Gong, Yoga, Tai Chi, Tai Kwan Do—all are ways to access your unconscious in a safe, unhurried space, a space in which you can connect and listen to your inner voice without the interruption of the outside world.

Write in a journal.

When you combine the inner work of journal writing with the goal of individuation, you connect to your unconscious with direction and purpose. This gives you the opportunity to unlock your unconscious from within and pour out into your writing. Your journal can be your mirror, reflecting back your true self —how you really feel about people and situations.

Seek counseling.

As an adult, it is often difficult to ask yourself the questions that need to be asked and to face the hard truths you must face on your own. Professional counseling can help you catch a glimpse of your inner self and discover the patterns of your life.

An important step toward individuation is a willingness to recognize and acknowledge your behavior patterns. Once you begin to work toward your authentic self, you can begin to live as only you can live and be the person you are meant to be. Then, what others think about you won’t bother you.

When you discover your true self, no one else can tell you who you are. You reunite those parts of yourself that people often project onto others. You gain the full thrust of your power.

More from Gail Gross Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed.
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