How Do We Lose Our Authenticity?

You are currently viewing How Do We Lose Our Authenticity?

Children are a great incentive and impetus for parents to learn about themselves, about each other and about life itself. Unfortunately, much of the learning may occur at their expense.

Dr. Gabor Maté, Physician, Addition & Trauma Expert

WE ARE BORN KNOWING NOTHING BUT AUTHENTICITY

I used to dress like a cross between a bag lady and a fairy princess. This was when I was very young, about three to five years of age. According to my mom, I went through a period where the first words out of my mouth (in Mandarin) the moment I woke up were, “I wanna wear a dress.” I loved skirts and dresses and couldn’t wait to wear them every day. A part of me felt alive and pretty in a dress. The movement around me both mesmerized me and brought me joy when I twirled. 

But the dress wasn’t enough on its own. I would also accessorize with long beaded necklaces that came down past my knees and slouchy bags that dragged around my ankles, picked off from the adult’s closet to complete my ensemble. Sometimes I’d add an umbrella; other times, I’d throw on a make-shift cape or headdress for added pizzazz. 

That was the outfit that made me feel amazing. Dressing myself (on the days that I was allowed to) was one form of self-expression that I loved as a child.

Although hobo chic has made a trendy comeback since, I’d say my wardrobe choice has definitely taken on a more mainstream look as I’ve gotten older. It’s now less abstract expressionism and more modern-day contemporary, although my husband will unwittingly, periodically signal with a look of wonderment when I slip back into eccentric moments (some people just don’t understand the comfort of a mumu dress).

The point is, we were all born with an unabashed love for self-expression, of who we are and what we want. Just observe children under the age of six – they dance, sing, speak, gesticulate, play (and in my case, dress) exactly how they want without a care about what anyone else thinks. We were born knowing and embodying authenticity. In fact, covering up authenticity is very difficult for young children.

HOW LITTE HUMANS LEARN TO CHANGE WHO THEY ARE

This isn’t to say children can’t hide their authenticity, but it doesn’t come naturally and it has to be taught. In other words, there has to be a reward associated with suppressing authenticity, or a withholding of love and acceptance for expressing the default mode, which is pure authenticity. 

Over time, we learn what’s expected of us (even if we don’t want to do it), what the right response is (even if it’s not our truth), what’s acceptable (even if it’s not acceptable to us), and what’s desired (even if it doesn’t bring us joy). Slowly, we become more distanced from our authentic self, in exchange for being accepted, loved, protected, and feeling a sense of belonging.

The psychological term for the emotional bond that we need as a child more than anything else is called attachment. 

When does bargaining with one’s truth start? I believe the negotiation between authenticity and attachment begins from day one.

Given the choice of attachment versus authenticity, attachment always wins.

Gabor MATé

We learn very early what our caregivers expect of us. We do this because adjusting our preferences and behaviors keeps us alive. We come into the world expecting nothing but love, care, safety, security, understanding, and comfort. These are our basic needs as an infant.

If we don’t get our needs met, we begin to adjust our behavior, because we’re smart. We might try looking adorable, cooing, grabbing, crying, pouting, kicking, biting, or screaming. As a last resort, when all else fails and we believe no one’s coming to help, we go quiet, tune out, or escape into an internal world to cope. 

Our primary goal as an infant is to win the affection of our caregiver because that secures our ability to survive, and without a caregiver’s attention, we die. It’s that basic. According to trauma and addiction expert Gabor Maté, when given the choice of attachment versus authenticity, attachment always wins. 

One could say it’s normal and a part of life.  

This negotiation of authenticity continues through our formative years and into adulthood as it shapes our identity. Throughout our lives, we’re constantly bargaining with our world – to what extent can I remain authentic while gaining acceptance and belonging?

TRADING AUTHENTICITY FOR ATTACHMENT

The level of trading our true self for attachment can range from the palest to the deepest trauma. 

Maybe your mom appeared to be content only when you were quiet and undemanding, so you learned to silence yourself. Or maybe people seemed to be upset when you were too emotional, so you suppressed your emotional outbursts, both joy and sadness. Or maybe your dad seemed to beam with pride when you dreamed of being a doctor, and less so when you shared your love for crafting. Perhaps someone shamed you for liking the color pink, or your eccentric taste, or your curiosity for the mundane. Maybe you had to endure or see things as a child that no child should ever see or endure, but you accepted it because you needed the attachment to survive. 

Whatever it was, we all went through this process – negotiating and fine-tuning ourselves based on our environment for what’s acceptable. 

Some of us were asked to give up very little of ourselves from our caretakers, while others traded more than they could afford or wanted to, in exchange for attachment.

To paraphrase the author Shahida Arabi, children are born knowing only how to love. So a mistreated child doesn’t stop loving others – she stops loving herself. 

Some of us had to give up a lot of ourselves. Some of us traded more than we could afford or wanted to in exchange for love and care.


THERE’S A PART OF YOU THAT ALWAYS REMAINS TRUE

No matter what your situation was and how you got here today, your authentic essence remains in your core. There’s a part of your inner self that can’t ever be altered. 

The essence of who you are is the part connected to life force energy, your higher self, the universe, life source, god, mother nature, and universal intelligence if you believe in a force that’s greater than yourself.

If you don’t believe in the above, you might find it more useful to think of your essence as who you are unmasked, and stripped of life’s BS. 

How do you know if you’re out of alignment with your authenticity?

  • You say things you don’t mean
  • You mean things you don’t say
  • You laugh and smile when you feel the opposite inside
  • You’re quiet when you’re shouting in your mind
  • You’re bubbly and talkative when you’re really exhausted 
  • You go along with or agree to something that you don’t believe in
  • You’re not lit up with joy
  • Everything feels difficult 
  • You feel in your gut that you’re out of alignment​

Five things you can do today to reconnect with your authenticity

1. Follow the energy 

Notice what energizes you, lights you up, and brings you joy. Then fine-tune that energy and notice what makes you feel funny, talented, beautiful, strong, powerful, magical, wise, connected, loved, compassionate, blessed, whole, healthy, vivacious, alive, and anything else that you enjoy feeling. Go in that direction. Do more of that. 

2. Think less; feel more

What contributes to modern-day stress is our over-thinking tendencies. Our thinking brain works well when it’s the servant to our higher self, not when we make it the master of our being (Einstein agrees). 

Your essence lives in your body. This means you need to feel it to get to know it. Whereas, your brain is filled with society’s and other people’s ideas and thoughts – spend less time there if you want to connect and get to know yourself. 

3. Flow with the current

Your authenticity already exists within you. You don’t need to find it or create it, because it’s already there.

Instead, take off everything that’s not you and feel the direction of your essence – lean into it and allow your energetic currents to carry you. 

You’ll find that when you’re authentically you, you’ll be in more flow states in everything you do. You’ll find fulfillment and lose track of time in the process.

4. Notice what makes you feel bigger, brighter, more expansive, blossoming versus what makes you feel smaller, darker, stagnant, shriveling

There was a time in my life when my head was so full of other people’s wants, wishes, and preferences that muffled my truth. It became hard to decipher what belonged to others and what was mine. I mean, did I really want to climb Kilimanjaro or “do” Machu Picchu, or was that someone else’s goal? (P.S. That was someone else’s goal.)

When you’re faced with a decision or at a crossroads, in addition to doing what conventional teaching has taught us to do – make a pro/con list, think about what makes the most sense, ask yourself how this fits into your five-year plan – also feel out your answer.

Without fail, the right decision for you will always make you feel more expansive and bigger versus boxed-in and smaller. 

5. Turn up the volume on your intuition 

Your gut and your intuition are 100% authentically you. 

Your senses hold a lot of information and they’re the most direct route to your authentic self.  

Here are some common applications of intuition:

  • Going out versus staying home one evening
  • Taking one job over another one
  • Going on a second date with someone or parting ways
  • Marrying someone
  • Booking one flight over another
  • Signing up for a class
  • Reaching out to contact someone
  • Stepping into a shop or making a detour along the way
  • Selecting a vacation destination

Next time you make a decision, try turning down the volume of your thoughts and turning up the volume of your bodily sensations. Notice what happens.

Many people are out of practice connecting with their intuition. If that’s the case for you, start small. Play around with low-risk decisions and questions first to better tune in and connect with your senses. 

Check this out – don’t think about it at all – answer the following with your gut:

  • Do you like to dance?
  • Do you like chocolate, vanilla or swirl ice cream?
  • Do you prefer loud parties or quiet gatherings?
  • Would you rather live in the city or the countryside?
  • Would you rather be close to the ocean or the forest?
  • Do you prefer a fast-paced or slow-paced lifestyle?
  • Do you like new cars or classic cars?
  • Do you prefer fancy-pants dining or rustic cooking? 

There is no superior answer over another here. But the answers to these simple questions are tiny steps closer to who you are, what you prefer, and what you desire. 

When we operate only from our minds, we miss important wisdom from our senses. 

Next time you make a decision, try turning down the volume of your thoughts and turning up the volume of your bodily sensations.

omes into your life – get curious. If a pattern emerges – get curious. 

If an opportunity presents itself – get curious. If a new person comes into your life – get curious. If a pattern emerges – get curious. 


THE ROAD TO SELF-DISCOVERY IS FULL OF LIFE

The thing is, life is fluid. We shape our environment as our environment shapes us.

Influencing and being influenced is natural and is neither good nor bad – it’s the push and pull of the tides of life. 

Maybe my taste in clothing isn’t as eccentric as it used to be, but maybe I’ve also rubbed some eccentricity onto those around me. 

I’ve come to learn for myself that the goal of authenticity is intentionality. Whatever decision I make, I want it to be a deliberate one.

My goal is to continue to look under and peel back all the layers and discard what’s not mine so that I can live with intention.

As the psychologist Carl Jung once stated, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”


If you benefited from this article, consider sharing it with someone else.