What does it mean to be authentic?

Why is it important?    How can I be my authentic self?

Being authentic is probably one of those things which has to be experienced to be understood.  I used to envy those who seemed to embody a state of calm, when so often I was smiling sweetly as if everything was ok and yet my stomach was churning, my chest was tight and my breathing restricted!

I talk and write a lot about the importance of being authentic, of being true to yourself and of how to connect with your authentic self. But I’m often asked, “But what does that mean?”, “Why is it important?” and “How can I be my authentic self?”

This is what I’ve learned so far about what authenticity means to me, why I believe it’s important and how I have learned to become more authentic.

What does it mean to be authentic?

 The Authentic Self is the ‘real’ you – your heart and soul – the essence of who you are.

It’s when you recognise everything as information, including your body sensations, feelings, emotions and intuition. It can be found in your creative moments, your tears and innovation. It is curious, it operates as the beginner’s mind and it expands your potential as an individual where anything is possible.

It’s our birth right to be authentic. But from the moment we are born we learn to adopt different beliefs and behaviours from our family, school, community, and culture. At times these can be useful, but over time we disconnect from our true feelings, emotions and we limit ourselves.

When we decide to step into our authentic life, we begin to challenge these beliefs and behaviours and reconnect with our true feelings, emotions and intuition.

So, how do we know if we are being authentic, or not?

Here are a few examples: –

When we are being authentic, we:When we are NOT being authentic, we:
Make choices which feel good for ourselvesMake choices which please others
Choose loving, harmonious relationshipsStay in unhappy relationships
Take chances and follow our intuitionStay stuck in old patterns of behaviour
Acknowledge our feelings and emotionsIgnore our feelings and emotions or overly express them
Align our heart with our mindsListen only to the limited voice in our heads
Respond to what is going on in the momentReact from conditioned beliefs about what might happen
Think things like:

“I tried my best”

“I can choose to ask for help”

“I am ok as I am”

Think things like:

“I should have known better”

“I have to manage n my own”

“I’m not good enough”

 The authentic life is not a destination it’s a journey we are on and it’s the work of a lifetime!

Why is it important?

Well, because it seems that there is a connection between our ability to be authentic and of experiencing fulfilment.

It’s a huge topic and one that has been well researched by Professor Stephen Joseph, author of Authentic: How to be Yourself and Why it Matters.

“Authenticity is about being true to yourself in each and every moment. Living an authentic life may indeed be the surest way to fulfilment.”
Professor Stephen Joseph

Last year I discovered research done by Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative nurse. She found that the most common regret of those about to die was not having the courage to live a life true to oneself.

The challenge is that many of us don’t know we are not being authentic, until one of life’s events stops us in our tracks and makes us question ourselves. I know I didn’t! Much of our behaviour is conditioned by our childhood experiences and our patterns are so unconscious that we don’t even realise that we have a choice. Or even that we could change.

In my experience the benefits are huge!  When we connect to our authentic self, our true feelings, emotions and intuition we make choices and decisions which bring us joy.  We choose fulfilling work and naturally pursue a life with meaning and purpose.

When we learn to communicate from our authentic self, we develop trust in relationships and enhance our ability to lead, parent, manage and be engaged in authentic community.

“When you access your authentic self, you don’t have to control your circumstances or what’s going to happen next. You can step into the vulnerability of being present in the moment.”
Linda Kohanov

What are the blocks?

When we wear a mask, it can have an emotional toll!

It wasn’t until it got to the point where I was really unhappy, and it was more uncomfortable to hide my true feelings than to be honest about them, that I took my first step towards my authentic self and was able to ask for help!  I wrote about this in one of my first blogs Just Be Yourself – in August 2015.

What are some of these blocks to being true to ourselves?

  • Our inability to acknowledge how we truly feel
  • Our reluctance to feel, show and express our emotions and
  • The voices in our head, the false truths, the stories which were created in our childhood to keep us safe, to comply or for the sake of acceptance or approval

Here is a list of some of my behaviours before I had my ‘eureka’ moment:

  • Accepted invitations to events that I didn’t really want to attend
  • Stayed in an unhappy relationship for too long
  • Stayed on at parties when I was tired and wanted to go home
  • Allowed people into my space when I really needed time to myself
  • Pretended I knew what I was doing to avoid showing my lack of knowledge
  • Put on a brave face at times of grief and suppressed my tears
  • Changed my mind if someone else expressed a dislike in my choice
  • Hid my fear and pushed myself to do things at the expense of my safety
  • Denied my vulnerability, my fear of not being good enough (or getting it wrong) and didn’t ask for help when I needed it.

Even though in some areas of my life I did exactly what I wanted to do (and perhaps was seen as focused or stubborn), at other times I reacted from my conditioned patterns of belief and behaviour. I didn’t know that I had a choice. I didn’t respond to my feelings and emotions of anger, fear, vulnerability and grief – even though they rumbled on in my body!

I didn’t know that if I acknowledged these emotions, they would give me information, which if I acted upon would mean that the emotion would dissipate on its own! I didn’t know that I could be without that anxious feeling in my chest, I thought it was a part of who I was!

I’d love to tell you that I unraveled all these patterns of behaviour overnight, but I didn’t! It’s taken me the past twelve years and the work continues!

Here are some examples of the limiting beliefs which I’ve heard from clients over the years and which can be a clue that we are not being authentic.

“It’s not ok to take time out for me”
“To be successful I’ve got to be busy/work really hard”
“If I set boundaries they will struggle”
“Someone might be upset if I don’t do what I think they want”
“If I don’t do what they want I will hurt them”
“It can’t be so easy”     “I’m not allowed to have a voice”     “I’m not enough”
“I’ll never be good enough”    “I’m not valued”     “I never get anything right”
“I always get things wrong”    “If I do something wrong, I’ll be punished”
“Nobody likes me”   “They don’t understand me”
“I must be good and not rock the boat”
“It’s all my responsibility”    “It’s all my fault”    “I can’t cope”
“I should have achieved this by now”   “I should know how to do it”
“It’s ungrateful to want more”

How can I be my authentic self?

Awareness is the first step to change.

The good news is that when we realise that we are not being authentic, we can change our way of being, our beliefs and behaviours.

It takes time, support and patience, but in my experience is well worth the effort and leads to a life with more fulfilment.

“Knowing that things do not feel right is one thing but making changes can be difficult. It takes courage to face up to ourselves, humility to accept what we learn about ourselves and discipline to take action.”
Professor Stephen Joseph

I believe that at our core and essence we are authentic and so the real work is letting go of all the conditioned patterns of belief and behaviour which we have adopted and are masking our inner truth.

  • Acknowledge your true feelings and emotions and use them as information
  • Set clear and consistent boundaries
  • Challenge your limiting beliefs and behaviours – explore the conditioned pattern, acknowledge their purpose and value and find new and more helpful ones

And so, I am pleased to let you know that I am now able to: –

  • Decline invitations if I want to
  • Set boundaries and let people know when I’m free to talk, when I’m available for work or for fun
  • Acknowledge my fear and keep myself safe
  • Feel vulnerable and ask for help, support, more information, time or space when I need it
  • Cry when I’m sad or grieving
  • Make authentic choices and decisions, ones which feel right for me
  • Enjoy the party whilst I’m there and go home when I want to

The biggest benefit of being authentic and true to myself is that I spend more time in a state of calm and peace and experience more moments of joy, excitement and fulfilment. The added advantage is that this ripples out into my relationships and everyday life.

Each time I’m faced with another ‘trigger’ I know that if I acknowledge and work through it, I can get back to that relaxed, calm and joyful state again.

I’m so grateful to be on the journey to a continually evolving deeper authentic self.

“When the basis for your actions is inner alignment with the present moment, your actions become empowered by the intelligence of Life itself”
Eckhart Tolle


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