The other day, a dear reader wrote to me that she was reading the post about How To Change Your Life When You’re Sick Of It, but couldn’t get past the part where I emphasized the importance of self awareness and finding your authentic self. Here are some excerpts from her email:
“One of the major issues I face is being raised by a narcissistic family… People like me have learned to serve other people’s (often crazy) needs. And that makes them unable to reach their true self. They have forgotten who they are and finding out that ‘the goal of my life’ …was actually what I was raised by my parents to be, has shaken my world…I have tried visualization as a way of ‘re-inventing’ myself and the love I never had as a child, but when I’m asked ‘what do you like doing?’ I honestly have NO idea. I get no joy from my achievements, I can’t have fun, I can’t be happy at any job.”
I had tears in my eyes reading this, because it sounded so familiar. I used to be a hopeless people pleaser, and I too, used to be in a place where I had no idea what I actually liked. To the point where I felt like nothing would give me joy, nothing would be fun, and nothing would make me happy.
But eventually I was able to find my authentic self. I came to understand my inborn personality traits. I came to recognize my natural strengths and weaknesses. I became aware of my true likes and dislikes. I learned what puts my brain in flow and I learned what I needed to do to experience pure joy.
I learned to separate the authentic me from the show I was putting on to benefit other people.
In this article, I want to teach you how to find your authentic self, by sharing the exact steps I used to get there.
How To Find Your Authentic Self
1. Learn To Meet Your Own Physical Needs
What does meeting your physical needs have to do with finding your authentic self?
The two may seem completely unrelated, but I believe one is a prerequisite for the other.
A big part of finding your authentic self is finding out what you like.
What brings you joy?
What brings you happiness?
And the answer is NOTHING as long as you are not making your physical well-being a priority. People pleasers are so focused on other people and meeting other people’s needs that they often neglect to take care of themselves. Taking on too much. Not getting enough rest. Failing to set aside time for exercise or cooking healthy meals.
But here’s the thing. Your authentic self will not emerge if you are sleep deprived and stressed out. You can give yourself all the authentically YOU activities in the world, but if your body is not feeling well, your mind won’t feel well either.
So start giving your body some love. Make your physical well-being a priority. Make your body a vessel that your authentic self can thrive in. 🙂
2. Give Yourself Space
Finding your authentic self requires focusing inward – focusing at yourself – for a while. This may sound obvious to some, but it can be incredibly hard for people who have spent their entire lives focused on other people’s needs and demands. To make it a tiny bit easier, I hereby give you permission to do these two things:
I. Distance Yourself From The People Who Destroyed Your Authentic Self
You will not find your authentic self among the people who destroyed it in the first place. When your authentic self first emerges from the ground, it will be a fragile seedling and you don’t need narcissists and abusers stepping on it and destroying it all over again. Your authentic self will need nurturing care, so distance yourself from the people who are not capable of giving you just that.
It may be that you just need to distance yourself temporarily until your authentic self is strong and mature enough to withstand the pressure. But sometimes the only way to move forward is by permanently cutting ties to your painful past.
II. Set Aside Time For Yourself
You also need to give yourself time to explore. You are literally going on a quest. An expedition. A treasure hunt.
And it will take time.
You need time to read, to ponder, to try new things.
If you are sharing your life with loved ones (the non-abusive kind), let them know what you are doing and why you need to take some time for yourself right now. They love and want the best for you, so they will understand.
3. Open Yourself Up To The Possibilities
You have been taught that there is only ONE right way to be. If you think of your “self” as an outfit you wear, then they handed you ONE uniform and told you to mold your body to fit that uniform. Even if it was too big or too small or too itchy for YOUR body.
But whoever taught you that there is only one uniform was wrong. Narrow-minded and, oh, so wrong.
There are actually more than seven billion right ways to be human.
So pretend that you are going shopping for a new way to be. If you were looking for new clothes that fit better than your old uniform, you would walk around the stores and see what else is out there. Browse the racks for an outfit that fits you better than the uniform you were handed. An outfit that doesn’t scratch or constrict. An outfit in which you can move through the world in comfort. An outfit you will be proud to wear. Like it was custom-made just for you!
So go shopping for a new way to be with your eyes and mind wide-open.
Who could you be?
What variations of human are there?
For many people, the purpose of personality tests and self awareness exercises is simply to bring their authentic self to the forefront of their consciousness and to give them words to describe it. These people may already be living mostly in alignment with their authentic selves and the tests and exercises simply reinforce what’s already there.
For people who have been taught that there is only ONE right way to be, learning about personality variations can serve as an eye-opener in terms of what is possible. Look, there are MANY ways to be and they are all OK. What inborn personality traits could you have? What are the natural strengths and weaknesses that might be yours?
4. Try On Different Selves
Wanna know why I’m 100 percent certain that I’m an introvert? I know, because when I was leading an extravert’s lifestyle I was miserable, but ever since I allowed myself to turn inward more, I have felt a gazillion light years better both physically and mentally.
Wanna know why I’m 100 percent certain I’m at my best when working by myself and for myself? I know, because when I was an employee working within an organization, I was stressed and drained all the time, but ever since I started doing solitary work with only myself to answer for, I have felt relaxed and productive.
Wanna know why I’m 100 percent certain I’m more interested in feelings than in things? I know, because when I try to read books about technical topics, I dose off within a few minutes, but when I read self help books, I’m so engrossed I lose track of time.
Trial and error.
As if you were trying on outfits, try on different activities and lifestyles and ways of being until you find the pieces that fit you the best. Try reading books on different topics. Try new hobbies and activities. Try being with different types of people. Try being alone.
Your authentic self is not some magical being you will find in your past. Your authentic self is in the present. In what makes you feel well today. In the here and now.
And you will find your authentic self by experimenting in the here and now, following these three guidelines:
I. Ignore What You Can Do Well
Note that “what you are good at” is not the best clue at this point. You will not find your authentic self in the skills you have acquired to please other people. Some of your current skills may match your natural strengths or they may not.
II. Follow What Makes You Feel Well
Instead of following what you can do well, it’s more informative to follow what makes you feel well.
When you are acting in opposition to your authentic self, you are putting on an act. And putting on an act takes effort. It’s tiring and stressful. It’s uncomfortable. Even if you are used to it and you’ve been doing it a long time. It feels off. You are not content.
When you are acting in alignment with your authentic self, there may be an initial period of awkwardness, as there is with anything new, but the prevalent feeling is peace and calm. A natural flow. Contentment. Excitement. A knowing that you are doing the right thing for you.
III. Push Through The Feelings Of Guilt And Selfishness
Peace and calm and flow. And… guilt.
I grew up in an environment where tangible acts of service and tangible results were valued. Cooking, cleaning, fixing… The world that my authentic self is most comfortable in – the world of abstract ideas – was not tangible and therefore not valuable. You can’t eat it or touch it or see it.
So to this day, whenever I sit down at my desk to write, I feel a pang of guilt. Shouldn’t I be washing the dirty dishes first? Shouldn’t I fold the laundry? Shouldn’t I pick up the toys off the living room floor?
Am I being selfish? Am I a selfish person for wanting to do something that feels so good to me?
These questions flood my mind for a moment. But what I have come to realize is that these questions are not coming from me. These are the voices of the past and I don’t need to let them dictate my actions today.
So as I sit down at my desk to write, I tell myself, no. No, I shouldn’t do the tangible things first. And no, I won’t let the guilt stop me. Someone else’s authentic self thrives on a sparkling kitchen sink and folded laundry. My authentic self thrives on the words I put together to make sentences. My act of service is in feeding people’s minds, not their bodies.
To arrive at my peace and calm, I need to break through the wall of guilt I was trained to feel.
And that’s what you need to learn to do too. Maybe you were trained to be practical when your authentic self wants to delve in dreams and ideas. Or maybe you were trained to be academic when your authentic self just wants to use her hands.
Either way… Push through the feelings of guilt and let yourself do whatever makes you feel well.
5. Know When You Have Arrived
Your authentic self is a sum of many parts. You won’t find all the parts at once. They will come to you one at a time.
And one day you will have found enough parts to feel whole. Maybe not all the parts, but enough.
Enough to know what makes you feel good.
Enough to know where moments of hope and happiness can be found.
Enough to know that you are on the right path for you.
And that it’s YOUR path you are following. Nobody else’s.