What is our authentic self?
Why are we writing about Questioning Authenticity? Within healing and transformational spaces, we often strive to create pathways for people to experience their authentic selves. Another way to say this is that the process of healing and transformation is intimately connected to supporting people in processes of un-taming, deconditioning and remembering. This imperative comes from the idea that we are each born with a certain quality of selfness that is critically important but somehow, more often than not, we lose access to or forget this sense of self. This is most often because we feel that we must bend or contort ourselves to satisfy the expectations of those around us, and so we bury some part of our authentic selves beneath the surface.
Authenticity can’t stand alone
Yet within this search for authenticity, there lies an interesting paradox: that the expression of authenticity can often become narcissistic and self-centered. Somehow, many people have internalized the idea that their authenticity comes solely from within them, that their authenticity is inherently tied to the articulation of their personal originality through self-definition. And so, the performance of authenticity rejects the world; it says something like, “Because I am authentically me, no one else may influence who I am.”
On some level, this feels right. Yet on another, how can the self be relevant when severed from all relations? Are authenticity and community mutually exclusive concepts? How can I be myself, and simultaneously be the person that is needed by others, by the world around me? Where is the balance in this?
Authenticity in our social context
Perhaps this search for authenticity is not as introspective as we have been led to believe? What if our most authentic selves are not only related to our originality as individuals, but are also related to the service or function we serve in our social contexts? As I sink deeper into this question, I look around at the various roles I play: husband, brother, son, friend, teacher, mentor, and guide. If my authenticity were a static reflection of my originality, would I not be the same person in all these relationships? And if I show up differently in these relationships, does that mean that somehow I am being less authentic in one and more so in another?
Perhaps there is a dance here between two inextricably related questions: Who do we see ourselves as? And who does the world need us to be? And perhaps when we find one answer to satisfy both questions, we will have found the reconciliation between our search for authenticity and our fundamental connectedness to all beings? Perhaps this answer lives somewhere between the extremes; we are certainly not meant to sacrifice all of our originality to serve the needs of others, and at the same time, we would do well to avoid becoming trapped in a narcissistic cycle of constant self-production without any external reference.
May we learn to navigate between being ourselves and being part of community. May we know the value in each and understand the wisdom that lives at the center.