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Your Authentic Self

 

“To thine own self be true…”

 

Most of us associate this quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78-82:

Polonius:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

Laertes:
Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord.

“To thine own self be true” is Polonius’s last piece of advice to his son Laertes; Polonius has in mind something much more Elizabethan than the New Age self-knowledge that the phrase now suggests. To me, what I get from this quote is that unless we can be true to ourselves first, we cannot be true to others.

My path of personal growth has led me recently to wonder, what exactly is one’s “authentic self”? How do we get there? From this exploration, I have summarized what I have learned and am eager to share it with you.

Definitions:

Authentic: Genuine; literally self-authored or endorsed.

Self: Your physical and mental being with all its human and unique characteristics.

Authentic Self: The true you; aligned and congruent self-image, stature, values, beliefs, goals, behavior, word, and public image.

Your Authentic Self and Truth

How many of us have a hard time being true to ourselves?  Those of us that gave up so much of our Self just so that we could be in the life of another did so at the cost of losing who we are in the process. By allowing someone else to define who we are caused us to lose our ability to discover and grow inwardly.  We no longer are able to discern a truth from a lie.  For many of us, we have accepted lies for so long, that finding out what is truth takes time.

Truth is a word that brings out negative reactions to many of us. Accepting truth about ourselves is difficult, especially to those of us who have been abused.  But truth does set one free if we will allow it to; it is a crucial part of healing.  It gives us the freedom to be who we are.  We are able to come to terms with our weakness (without judgment or condemnation) and appreciate our strength.  Truth gives strength; it naturally builds healthy boundaries.

Truth is open; it is honest even at the risk of being vulnerable again.  Truth fears no reaction. Truth is light and brings forth life.  When we walk in truth, we walk in light and when we walk in light we live a healthy life.

Truth is also love.  The greatest act of love towards another is living a life that is truthful.  For those of us who find it difficult to love ourselves, we will find it will come more easily when we are truthful about who we are.  If we walk in truth, we walk in perfect love, and if we walk in perfect love, then we do not walk in fear because perfect love cast out fear.  Because we have been honest with ourselves, we are able to love ourselves with all of our imperfections, knowing that we are a work in “progress” and therefore need not have others approval.

“And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!”

The second part of this verse is a natural occurrence if we hold true to the first part of the verse.  So, when in doubt about our motives of not being truthful with someone….look inside, are we being less than truthful to ourselves?

Just what makes up an “authentic person”?  It is someone who:

Has great listening skills: everyone, regardless of who they are, wants to be acknowledged, appreciated and loved. When you are engaged in a conversation with someone, are you truly focusing 100% of your attention on what that person is saying? Or is your brain formulating something to say at the next available opportunity?  Are your eyes constantly roaming the room, wondering who else just walked in? An authentic person’s attention is razor-sharp, making the other person feel like the most important person in the world.

Treats others fairly: When carrying out your role, whether it be a mother, business executive, pilot, waitress, teacher or coach, to name a few, you are always dealing with other people. The biggest secret is how you treat them. Do you treat others with respect or are you condescending, especially if they screwed up?

Has integrity: Everyone wants something. But authentic people are conscious of the operative watchword: integrity. They will do the ethical thing even if it means a loss of personal benefits for themselves.

Has the ability to communicate: Business leaders who conscientiously communicate in the open, especially when there is a lot of uncertainty hovering over the future of their employees, end up earning tremendous amount of trust. Rather than hiding behind the cloak of their boardrooms, they step up to the plate and keep people informed as much as possible. Authentic people make themselves valuable because they care enough to keep others in the loop by communicating.

Has the willingness to show transparency: I’ve done a lot of public speaking in my life. Public speakers who aren’t afraid to stand up on stage and speak from the heart, showing their childlike enthusiasm and not presenting themselves as flawless packages, often win the hearts of their audiences.

Why? Because it makes them real. Authentic speakers go into a speaking engagement with the attitude of “I am grateful all these people are spending time with me and I will give them a reason to laugh, cry and otherwise enjoy themselves without worrying how I look.”

Inauthentic speakers will say, “Well, there’s a bunch of jerks out there, I’ll just get in there, get it over and fool them senselessly with my appearance of great success.” People who are willing to be transparent win the love and respect of others.

Food for thought: Authentic people make more friends in two weeks by becoming interested in other people than in 2 months by trying to get other people interested in them!

Some experts on authenticity assert that if an individual is not living authentically in their lives, then they lose meaning and can fall into chronic anxiety, boredom and despair. People might pursue “quick fixes” to avoid the responsibility of living authentically with quick fixes such as anesthetizing themselves with alcohol or drugs or living in fantasies.

Becoming your Authentic Self

To become your authentic self, begin by knowing yourself. Understand human nature, what you can change and what you cannot, your own personality traits, learned behaviors, your values, beliefs, needs, goals, and motives. Consider the choices, events and people who may have “molded” you. Begin to know what guides you throughout life. Know your true strengths. Apply your true strengths to authentic goals. Gain the confidence to be humble. Begin to integrate and align your values, beliefs and actions.

We must face the fears that block our inner truths from coming out, especially the fear of rejection. Even when we feel strong enough to communicate the truth, we don’t always have clarity about what is true for us.  But being authentic doesn’t mean being perfect.  It just means doing our best to be real.  Sometimes that means exposing our warts and imperfections, but there lays the beauty of authenticity.

Coming into your Authentic Self

Don Miguel Ruiz shares centuries of Toltec wisdom in his book The Four Agreements. To apply this wisdom, choose to create these profound agreements with yourself:

Be impeccable with your word. Carefully look at what you tell yourself, what you tell others, and when you decide to speak. Use your word consistently to express and strengthen your values. Don’t use or overlook factual errors, fallacies or distortions during communications. Express yourself authentically. Earn trust.

Do what you say.

Don’t take anything personally. It’s not all about you. Reject the fallacy of personalization.

Rely confidently on your own well-founded self-concept; it is the only evaluation of your worth that matters.

Challenge and balance your first-person point-of-view.

Don’t make assumptions. Suspend judgment. Readily acknowledge what you don’t know and have the courage to ask questions. Carefully look at the evidence. Don’t attribute intent to others. Retain a healthy skepticism as you avoid cynicism. Develop, refine, and constantly apply your own well-founded theory of knowledge.

Always do your best. Do all you can while you recognize you can’t do it all. All you can do is all you can do. You are good enough. Apply your time and effort toward your well-chosen and enduring goals.

These agreements are essential elements of authentic expression and earning trust.

References

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, by Martin Seligman

Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, by Edward L. Deci, Richard Flaste

I Am a Strange Loop, by Douglas Hofstadter

Authentic Happiness Website, by Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center.http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx

Self Matters, by Phillip C. McGraw

Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, by Nathaniel Branden

The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz

Peaceful Warrior — Dan Millman learns to enjoy the journey in this docudrama.

Everybody Needs a Rock, by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall

Knowing Yourself, an Amazon.com Listmania List

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We Are All In This World Together

“Many brave men lived before Agamemnon, but all unwept and unknown, they sleep in endless night, for they had no poets to sound their praises.”    — Horace

A friend of mine told this story recently:  “I was living in San Francisco which has a large population of homeless and poor.  Each day it was painful to notice the contrast between the beautifully dressed, seemingly self-confident people, and the poor who shared the streets with them.”

“One day I realized I could empathize with how those homeless people felt.  I’d lived my whole life feeling I didn’t belong, with no family I could turn to, and not knowing if I would survive another day in my misery. The compassion I felt was a reminder to me not to form my opinions about people by how they look.  It doesn’t matter what people think they see in me, or anyone else. Each one of us is wounded.  It’s just that some wounds are on the inside instead of the outside.”

We are all in this world together and for a purpose, no matter what the circumstances of our life.


Don’t Judge Me by the Way I Look

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“Many brave men lived before Agamemnon, but all unwept and unknown, they sleep in endless night, for they had no poets to sound their praises.” – Horace

A person in one of my group therapy sessions once told this story.  “I was living in a city with a large population of homeless and poor.  Each day it was painful to notice the contrast between the beautifully dressed, seemingly self-confident people, and the poor who shared the streets with them.”

“One day I realized I could empathize with how those homeless people felt.  I’d lived my whole life feeling I didn’t belong, with no family I could turn to, and not knowing if I would survive another day in my misery.  The compassion I felt was a reminder to me not to form my opinions about people by how they look.  It doesn’t matter what people think they see in me, or anyone else.  Each one of us is wounded.  It’s just that some wounds are on the inside instead of the outside.”  Remember that we are all in this world together and for a purpose, no matter what the circumstances of our lives.

Judgment Day

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“I shall tell you a great secret, my friend.  Do not wait for the last judgment, it takes place every day.”  — Albert Camus

It is easy to hope that at some time in the future we may redeem ourselves by some great act of heroism or undergo a dramatic conversion of sorts.  But in the meantime, all too often, it’s business as usual.  Too easily we can become used to our unhealthy behaviors, denying that our acting-out has harmed anyone… except ourselves and those we love and who love and trust us.  Deep down we knew we were judging ourselves and being judged.  Now, each day, we can assess our actions and evaluate our behavior.  In this way, we learn how our behavior has affected every part of our lives and our relationships.

It is time to change.  The longer we wait, the more ingrained are our habits and ways of perceiving and deceiving.  If we live a lie, we will be judged accordingly, by ourselves and those close to us.  We can change and grow and move ahead into the openness and fullness of each new day.

The Risks I Took and the Risks I Take

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The Risks I Took

“One can never consent to creep when one feels the impulse to soar.” —Helen Keller

The risks I took in my two previous relationships were profound. I look back at my behavior in each of those relationships, and I am absolutely horrified; ashamed even. I took the chance in those relationships that my partner or any other loved one would discover the truth about my promiscuity. I juggled multiple relationships; multiple lives even.

I gambled that I wouldn’t pick up a sexually transmitted disease (STD). I gambled that I wouldn’t pass on an STD to my partner.My life in those relationships was built like a house of cards. Without either of my partner’s actively investigating me, my schedules, computer histories or personal items, still found out about my activities. The data would somehow present itself to them. It would appear to them through some freak action it seemed. I may not have gone so far as to label myself as a compulsive gambler, but in retrospect, I was. I risked our very own lives for the thrill of living dangerously.

Both relationships ended similarly; the expectation they had of honesty was not respected and my behavior presented them with risks they did not choose to take.

By the time I had finally hit my own “rock bottom”, I could claim two failed suicide attempts and a hospitalization of more than a month and a half for recovery of an addiction to crystal meth. During that hospitalization I was diagnosed as being HIV+. The deadly STD had silently infected me, thrived even, within me. A viral load of close to 2 million and a CD4 count in the double digits began to make me aware that my body felt differently than it had in the past.Infections and malaise became the norm for me.Eventually, I was classified as being in “full blown AIDS” and was told by one doctor that I would be lucky to be able to live out my life for another two to four more years.

The Risks I Take Now

In my life as it is now, I am part of a relationship that allows me to channel my willingness to risk into constructive change. For the first time, I am experiencing true love and respect – both as a receiver and active giver of these feelings. I am, for the first time in my life, mastering the attainment of rigorous honesty with my present partner and loved ones; something that eluded me in the past. I can trust that what I am able to do now will help me grow; I can act and then let go of the outcome.

I try to make choices that result in the healthiest outcome possible. However, I am human and imperfect.Overall, I wake each day grateful to be happy and alive.Although in the past, it was my willingness to take risks that got me into trouble; it is this same willingness that has given me the platform from which I can grow. I am still taking risks, but these risks are now risks of love which keep me in this healthier form of life and relationship each and every day. The ghosts from my past still drift through relationships, hurting their loved ones and fooled into a shallow, misguided sense of happiness by their risky behavior. Those images are held in my mind as a touchstone to remind me of how I choose not to be. Today, I feel proud to take risks in order to enlarge my life.



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