Finding your authentic self is a H U G E part of any personal growth or self discovery journey. In order to start to find your authentic self, you need to have a background of what it is, why it matters, and why it’s so hard to remain authentic. Once you have an understanding of those things, you can start uncovering your authentic self. We’re getting into allllll of that goodness below, and I also have a free download for you if you want to take this practice deeper, so keep reading!
I knew exactly how I was supposed to act by the time I was the age of 10.
I knew I was supposed to get straight As, go to college, start a good job, get married, buy a house, have children, and retire.
I knew I was supposed to focus on school and couldn’t socialize until I had all my homework done and studied for a test that wasn’t even scheduled yet.
I knew that my room needed to be clean otherwise I couldn’t hang out with friends.
I knew I was to be a “good girl” and sit quietly until I was spoken to.
I knew I wasn’t supposed to complain about anything because I had shelter, food and an education to be grateful for.
I knew I wasn’t allowed to speak up unless I wanted to get yelled at.
I knew money was scarce so I needed to save money before I could spend it.
I knew I needed to go on play dates outside of school in order to fit in.
I knew I needed to be outgoing in order to be liked.
I knew my survival guide to get by without getting in trouble or criticized. And I knew what I needed to do feel accepted.
And I followed that survival guide religiously for the next 16 years until it wasn’t keeping me safe anymore. Until I realized that it was holding me back. Keeping me stuck in a life that didn’t feel authentic to me. Causing SO MUCH anxiety instead of protecting me.
That survival guide became my rule book- the ways I needed to act in order to feel safe.
So when I broke these “rules” as I grew up, I felt anxious.
When I spoke up, I felt like I was going to get yelled at. Cue anxiety.
When I spent money, I felt like I should have been saving. Anxious.
When I socialized, I felt like I should be productive instead. Anxious.
The problem was that these rules weren’t true. I didn’t need to always save money to feel safe - I could spend and still be okay. I didn’t need to always be productive to feel valued- I could have a balance between socializing and working. And I didn’t need to stay silent- I could use my voice and still be accepted.
I was living my life assuming these rules were concrete, and as a result, had anxiety that was controlling me and my decisions.
It was a ruuuuude awakening when I realized that I was still living by my parents’ rules at 26. When I realized I was living other people’s lives. When I realized I was shape shifting to please other people. And when I realized that I was denying myself of my own needs to avoid hurting other people’s feelings.
It was a slap in the face realizing how far away from my authentic self I was, but I’ve made such huge strides in the last 2 years. MY GOD were there growing pains. But boyyyyyy was it liberating.
There are still so many ways I need to grow to fully release myself from the shackles of inauthenticity, but I’ve learned a lot about finding your authentic self along the way.
So, here are some of the insights, perspectives, and tips that helped me find, become, and embody my authentic self.
What does it mean to be your authentic self?
Sometimes I think the words "your authentic self” can sound scary- like it’s a spiritual figure from another realm of the universe you are trying to connect with.
But your authentic self isn’t some vague spiritual figure, and it’s not something outside of you. Your authentic self is the version of you that is underneath all of your programming and conditioning.
Your authentic self is who you are underneath the masks you wear and roles you play. It’s who you are when no one is looking. It’s made up of the things you do, enjoy, and believe when you’re not trying to receive outside validation. It’s the way you spend your time that is true to you. It’s the things you value despite others’ beliefs, perceptions, and opinions of you. It’s the version of yourself you know you are despite any fears, doubts, and anxieties. Your authentic self is who you are at your core when you feel most like yourself.
Your authentic self comes out when you’re acting in alignment with YOUR beliefs and values- not the beliefs and values that were put onto you or you feel like you should have.
If you want a more in-depth explanation before you learn how to find your authentic self, I put together this article for you about what your authentic self is and why it’s important.
Why authenticity matters
When you find your authentic self and start living authentically, you can start embracing other people’s authentic decisions, because you know what it’s like. You know the challenge, the ups and downs, of finding your authentic self and how hard it is to maintain it. So, you can support other people who do the same. You start being empathetic to the ways they act and start respecting the decisions they make.
Alternatively, when we live inauthentically, we are judgmental. We are critical. We gossip. We compete with each other.
“How dare she not come out tonight. She never wants to hang out with us.”
Each time we don’t applaud someone’s efforts for making authentic decisions, we perpetuate the cycle.
When you are being inauthentic, everyone looses. And when you break free from the shackles of inauthenticity, you teach other’s that everyone has the capacity to do so.
Remaining inauthentic only perpetuates the cycle of inauthenticity - the more you hide behind your masks, the more you expect others to do so also. But as soon as you start becoming your authentic self, you have broken the cycle. Now, there is one less person expecting other’s to play small and one more person empowering others to live large.
How we loose our authenticity
The pressure to be inauthentic begins at birth.
When we were growing up, we never questioned what we were being told because we never thought we had to. If our parents told us that work was more important than socializing, we believed them. If they told us it wasn’t acceptable to speak up, we believed them. We trusted our elders because why wouldn’t we?
It even goes further than what we were told verbally. As children, we immediately picked up looks of pride or disgust from our parents. These nonverbal cues were just as important in shaping us as the verbal ones were. And the accumulation of all of the verbal and nonverbal cues made up Our Survival Guide. Our guide for how to successfully get through life feeling loved and without shame or criticism.
To break it apart, here is an elementary way to visualize how Our Survival Guide forms when we are a child:
If I complain, Mom tells me to shut up and be grateful. It hurts when I hear Mom say that to me because I feel like she doesn’t love me when I complain. That means complaining must be bad. I feel really loved by Mom when I’m quiet and I don’t say anything. I guess that means that I shouldn’t speak up. I guess I’ll be quiet from now on.
As children, we will do almost anything to receive love and approval. The more we received love and validation for the ways we acted, the more it reinforced the actions in Our Survival Guide, and the more we distorted and molded ourselves to become the model child our elders wanted.
Just like in the example above. The child felt shame when she complained, so she stopped doing that action. She felt loved when she was quiet, so she started acting that way more. And just like that, that child is now molded in a way that forced her to loose a piece of her authenticity.
The more instances we have where we had to mold ourselves to feel accepted and loved by our elders, the more we were separated from our authentic selves.
The process of finding your authentic self begins by uncovering what your individual Survival Guide consists of. You need to learn all of the messages you picked up growing up, and understand how it shaped you into who you are today. Only when you can separate who you are from who you were told to be can you start to find your authentic self.
Why being authentic is so hard
As mentioned above, deep in our subconscious lives a skewed vision of who we are, how we are supposed to be, the ways we are supposed to act, and the roles we are told to fulfill. Challenging that vision in any way sends us into panic- we feel unsafe. If we were told to act in certain ways to receive love and approval, what does acting in the opposite ways potentially mean? Shame, judgment and criticism.
Challenging the beliefs we have about ourself and how we think we should be means intentionally putting ourselves through the pain of feeling shame. It feels safer to live in ways we think we will receive approval, even if that means sacrificing our authentic self.
Even if we start to bear the pain of challenging that vision, the more we challenge it, the more we go through an identity shock. This feels even more unsafe, making the thought of reverting back to what we knew that much more appealing.
Figuring out who we are without the image we believed is painful, and if we don’t know any better, why would we intentionally put ourselves through that pain?
How do I know if I am being authentic?
Unfortunately, only through acting out of alignment will you start to understand what it feels like to be inauthentic and what things, decisions, and actions are actually authentic to you. It will take time, but as you get further into your growth journey, you’re going to learn how to identify when you are being authentic and when you are living out of alignment with your authentic self.
To be aligned with your authentic self is to be connected with your self worth - knowing that you are worthy of love simply because you exist.
When you have high self worth, you’re able to separate yourself from those old beliefs you picked up from childhood about who you should be. You’re able to see who you are authentically, and because you have high self worth, you’re able to unequivocally show up as YOU in the world.
So, here are some things you may feel when you start to align with your authentic self or when you find your authentic self:
- You allow yourself to be just as you are
- You speak your truth even when you fear criticism
- You are comfortable being transparent
- You allow yourself to be imperfect
- You honor your and other people’s differences
If you’re not feeling an abundance of the above, there may be a good chance that you are out of alignment.
In which case you might be feeling some of the below:
- You feel like you can never get anything right
- You’re saying no when you want to say yes
- You make decisions based on others’ feelings and neglect your own
- You feel “off” and disconnected from yourself
- You feel like people don’t know who you really are
- You may not even know who you are
- You can’t think of things that you enjoy, value, and believe
If you want to learn about how to know when you are being your authentic self or if you are living out of alignment, go in depth with this article here.
How to find your authentic self
I know you don’t want to hear it but….it’s a process.
Identify your patternsYou’re not going to sit down and find your authentic self in one sitting. And you’re not going to wake up one morning like, “AH HA I am my authentic self”. You’re going to slowly uncover it over time with each pattern and belief that you uncover.
I see the process of finding your authentic self to be 2 steps:
1. Identify what you are not and
2. Identify what you are
It is only through the act of figuring out what you are not, that you can identify who you are. So getting clear on the things, actions, and qualities that don’t feel authentic to you will help you start to identify the things that are.
So how do you identify who you are not?
Identify your patterns
This inauthentic version of you came to be because of the shame you felt in childhood that led you to believe that you needed to behave in a certain way in order to be loved and accepted. These behaviors and beliefs about yourself are what became your Survival Guide.
So, ask yourself. What is your Survival Guide? Those are the things you need to uncover. You can’t understand who you are without having identified the beliefs about yourself that control you.
Go inward. Become aware of how your past is affecting your present reality. Identify the beliefs that you picked up from childhood that are still running the show. Identify the ways that you act NOW that are protecting those beliefs.
What messages did you hear from your parents/teachers/elders on the ways someone should think and behave? What did they tell you to do and not do? What did they criticize other people for?
When did you feel shame or unloveable? What did you internalize about those moments? Did you develop behaviors to protect yourself from that pain?
Answering these questions will give you clues to the beliefs you have about yourself, the ways you act out of protection, and the things you do to receive validation. These are all the ways that you are out of alignment with yourself.
This can be challenging and dark because you’re facing your core limiting beliefs (please, please, please seek help if it gets to be too much). But your pain will heal as you grow awareness of where those beliefs about yourself came from and can connect back to who you really are.
Once you discover that you are repeating an emotional pattern, you can start the process of dismantling those deeply ingrained ways of being, thinking, and behaving.
You can’t find your authentic self without first holding yourself accountable for all of the ways you’ve been showing up inauthentically.
Start to take accountability for the ways you have participated in your own inauthenticity. Get honest with yourself - ask yourself, what are some ways I know I’m being inauthentici? What am I doing that I know doesn’t feel true to me?
Take the time to really consider this because there might be really obvious things like the career choice you made just to make your parents happy. Or the ways that are not so obvious like consistently sacrificing your rest time to make plans with friends because you’re scared of hurting their feelings.
It’s easy to blame other people. Yeah, but my dad pressured me. Or I can’t say no, she’d be so pissed. But it isn’t until we realize that we are both the problem and solution in every situation that we can start to change. For this reason, owning your role is an incredibly important step in finding your authentic self.
Hopefully after identifying some of your patterning and why you have acted in certain ways in the past, it’ll be easier for you to take accountability. If you can see the root of your beliefs, then you can see that you were acting in that way for a reason - whether that be because that’s how you were taught or that’s how you needed to act to protect yourself from pain when you were younger.
So, take accountability. But don’t beat yourself up.
Ok…now how do you identify who you ARE?
Identify your own values, beliefs, opinions, desires, and ideas
Only when you identify the ways you are out of alignment with your authenticity can you then start to develop your own self and understand what our values, opinions, desires, and ideas are. Developing these things is how you start to find your authentic self.
Start with your list of who you aren’t - what are the opposites? Start acting in those ways. Use that as a focus for your growth.
I don’t want to be negative. How can I start acting more positive?
I don’t speak up for myself. I want to be more assertive. What’s one way I can speak up?
I shut people out. I want to be more open to connection. What’s one way I can connect with someone instead of pushing them away?
For me, my past has led me to be incredibly critical. Once I identified why I acted in this way, I knew that the opposite was to be compassionate, and that’s where I redirected my focus. I started reading on how to be more empathetic and compassionate, I started to take note of how people showed compassion to me, and that’s what I tailored my therapy sessions around.
Over time, you’ll start to build up the list of things that you believe or ways you want to act. This list will become your authentic self.
This is going to feel like a transformation, and over time, you may feel like you’re going through an identity crisis (what I call the limbo state).
Act as your authentic self, not as your wounded child
As you’re transitioning between this old you and new you- I’m warning you now- it’s going to be challenging. It’s challenging because it’s a new way of thinking, acting, and being that directly conflicts with how you’ve been thinking, acting, and being from years before.
But those are the magical moments where change will happen!
The path to finding and embodying your authentic self involves recognizing when your ego wants to keep you safe in your old patterns, and pausing to check in instead of acting. That pause is the magic moment because in that pause you have a choice: do I act in a way that doesn’t align with me or a way that does?
In those moments where you’ve paused to check in, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I acting out of obligation, or alignment and authenticity?
- Am I acting because I feel like I should be doing this, or am I doing it because I want to?
- Am I acting out of fear of losing another’s love, or from self-love?
- Am I acting out of scarcity of what-if, or abundance of the what-is?
- Am I in lack about the future, or empowerment about the present?
- Am I acting out of a desire to please someone else, or a desire to please myself?
- Am I acting out a past pattern, or honestly responding to the present?
Pausing before you act allows you to check in to make sure the decision you’re about to make aligns with the version of yourself you want to be. When you catch yourself in the act of self-betrayal, pivot and shift. Choose a new thought or behavior.
The repetition of this pivoting and shifting is how you start to embody your authentic self.
Choosing new behaviors isn’t easy because, often times, the childhood issues that are causing those old beliefs still aren't healed.
So, if you paused, identified that you want to act in a way that’s out of alignment with your authentic self, and are having a hard time acting in a new way- self soothe.
Here’s what you’ll want to do:
- Bring awareness to the fact that wanting to act in an old way is just the ego’s way of protecting you because of what you experienced in childhood
- Ask yourself, what is my ego protecting? What is my inner child needing? Is it love? Acceptance? Sympathy? Compassion?
- Whatever you identified you needed in step 2, give that to YOURSELF. Give yourself love, acceptance, sympathy, compassion. Act to yourself as you would to a friend. It doesn’t have to look a certain way, but make sure whatever you do, you connect with the relief and love you wish you felt when you were little
- Take the brave step to act in alignment with your authentic self
Find your authentic self, and watch your worth shine
As you start to show up as your authentic self more and more, you start to realize what YOUR thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and values are so you can identify when someone is projecting their own shit onto you. You start to realize what actions are coming from self-imposed duty vs authenticity, from lack vs abundance, from fear vs self-empowerment. The natural evolution of these shifts is inner love and self worth.
When we shift to this level of self love, we are left with a renewed sense of our authentic power and purpose. We connect with ourselves, and feel intimately connected with everyone and everything around us. This is self worth.
Self worth is a wholleeee other important topic. I can’t go into the importance of self worth here without this post turning into a Harry Potter length novel, but if you want a deep dive on why having self worth can change your life, listen to this podcast episode here.
It truly wasn’t until I started to let go of beliefs that weren’t mine and started acting in ways that were true to me that I started to see major shifts in my life. Once I let go of that Survival Guide I created when I was 10, I was more positive, I felt more connected to myself, and became less judgmental about other people’s decisions.
This work is hard, and it can be really confusing! I put together this list of books for you to learn more about living authentically.
And to help you find your authentic self, I put together some journal prompts so you can start to identify your patterns of limiting beliefs. If you’re completely new to this concept, start with this. Once you identify your limiting beliefs, it’ll be clear to you what you need to do to align with your authentic self!