Your “authentic self”
Your authentic self is right here in front of you. It is the summation of your life programming from your parents, siblings, peers, teachers, employers, societal norms, and the marketing world. In other words, you are the product of who everyone else has told you to be. All the messages are internalized and become your own inner voice telling you how you should be. The outcome is a lot of noise in your brain of self-judgement and that of others. We call it “self-esteem.” It is a mismatch of your powerful unconscious brain versus your conscious one. It is endless and wears you down.
When I read the above for the first time, I laughed and thought the author must be crazy because that’s not your authentic self. What he’s describing is your programmed self, something that most people are completely unaware of. In effect, just because someone thinks they are an “adult” and are “independent”, it doesn’t mean they are psychologically mature and psychologically independent.
In fact, if you look at Life as a roleplaying game, we are effectively non-player characters during the initial part of our lives growing up (similar to Ryan Reynolds character in the movie Free Guy) because we are so dependent on our societal programming to survive when we are younger.
That’s what the author is trying to get at here though. He’s saying that this initial stage is completely normal and thus our dependency is normal as well. So who we are at this stage is authentically who we should be. It would be like a caterpillar being depressed that it’s not a butterfly yet when becoming a butterfly is a part of its life process. This mirrors with the absurdity of youth today being depressed that they haven’t figured out who they are yet before they have even lived their life and had enough experiences to figure out who they actually are.
What becomes more problematic is that thoughts and ideals are perceived as real to a given person as a car or table. They become our version of reality or life filter. Once this life lens is set, it becomes reinforced over a lifetime—unless you choose to become aware of it and change it.
As we grow into adulthood this programming starts to become rigid and permanent, unless we become aware of it and realize it’s just a construct. Right now, for many people, they are becoming aware of it though because major life challenges often make you question your reality and your programming in turn. This is basically what the pandemic has been doing for a lot of people over the past few years, thus leading to the Great Resignation in the workplace, whereby people are questing for a better way of working.
You are who you are today. You can see yourself by becoming aware of what you react to, what makes you anxious and angry, what are your behaviors and attitudes towards yourself and others, how much personal responsibility you take for your actions, and what level of compassion and empathy you feel for others.
For example, most of us know that compassion is a good idea. But what happens when you are upset? You may say or do things that you are not proud of, and compassion goes right out the window. It is because compassion is a conscious construct and anger arises automatically from your unconscious brain. It is a million-to-one mismatch. That reaction in the moment is who you are because something in the present connected you to something threatening (or perceived as such) in the past. You are there and not here. It is also who you are.
What’s being described above is a person levelling up their level of consciousness which increases their awareness of themselves and the capacity of their consciousness. In Robert Fritz book The Path of Least Resistance, he describes this shift as one from a reactive to a responsive state of being. For those familiar with Robert Kegan’s work, he would describe it as a shift from a socialized mind to a self-authoring mind.
Richard Barrett’s work further helps us to see how these levels of consciousness are constructs that can be mapped out and how the value of compassion requires quite a high level to fully achieve and truly live as a way of life (rather than just being occasionally compassionate from time to time). A good example of this would be someone like Mother Teresa whose compassion was a way of life.
Your real authentic self
This all sounds challenging but there is a lot of hope once you realize how the complexity and depth of your life programming are playing out today. The key word is “awareness.” Once you are aware of how your past is continually playing out in the present, you can direct your attention to where you want your brain to develop. It continues to change every second—the term is “neuroplasticity.” Awareness creates the “space” you need to redirect your attention. Any amount will allow you to begin your journey into your new life. The sequence is 1) awareness 2) separation 3) reprogramming.
As you learn to take full responsibility for every one of your actions without judgement, you can create any reality you want by consistently making better choices. This new evolving person is still your authentic self. You just don’t have to keep searching for it.
In effect, once you become aware of your past “self” as a programmed ego construct, you are on your quest of discovering your larger True Self that lies hidden deep below it. I’ve described this like a journey to a new world, whereby you begin to discover it “within the in-between moments of the old world.” So while the “search” may be over at this point for your authentic self, as the author notes, the evolution and emergence of this large sense of Self “like a New World emerging from the Ocean of You” can still take the rest of your life to fully understand.