The Paradox of the Authentic Self

Much is mentioned about our authentic self as, like, we have to know what it is and be true to it.

I worry that I don’t know what mine is and so I’m sure I can’t possibly be true to it.

But, because it seems that a lot of people think it is important, I keep trying to understand what it is. However, pretty much at a stand still on the issue, I decided to make an enquiry into the possibility that an authentic self doesn’t exist. With that enquiry in mind, I found myself getting down to the tin tacs of the issue.

So, finally, my conclusion is that, yes, there is an authentic self, and no, there isn’t.

How did I get to this?

Well, perhaps it is because I like the idea of fuzzy logic, that things can either exist, not exist, exist and not exist (as a way of being) or, exist or not exist (as a way of being). But I also get to the conclusion in realising that an authentic self is a label for something that is in play with another thing that is called being inauthentic.

Those who promote a notion of the authentic self include, Dr Phil; Life Coaches whose idea about this seems rote, like a belief; psychologists; and gurus. Philosophers can be both hazy and clear about it.

This is what the promoters say:

  • There is a composite of skills, talents, wisdom, attitudes, perspectives that, when expressed, are going to be identifiably “YOU” like a fingerprint.
  • That “YOU” might be different from the expectations of those around you, including family.
  • “YOU” are hidden when living by others expectations that drain you of the critical life energy you need to pursue the things you truly value.
  • “YOU” show up as a calling, an expression in action, fulfilment.
  • “YOU” are a complete, whole being in integrity
  • “YOU” as a calling, impacts others.

keepItRealFrom various writers there are a range of characteristics about how you live life that point to you being authentic or inauthentic:

  • Anxiety is a reaction of hiding something or pushing to accomplishing something and is a sign of inauthenticity.
  • Inauthenticity shows up as protection of self
  • Authenticity is action focused on process.
  • Certain habits ‘feel’ inauthentic.
  • It is seen as a peaceful, centred feeling.
  • A calling requires silence, reflection
  • It shows up when you are doing things that make you deeply happy
  • Authenticity is finding friends that go with those activities
  • It is supported by the ‘feels good for me”
  • It is unsupported by fear, doubt, conformity, manipulation, gossip and group misery, pride, shame or guilt.
  • Shows up when you trust your gut and common sense
  • Shows up when you find your talents and explore them
  • Shows up when you appreciate the thing of yourself that are different than most people.
  • Shows up when you ‘enhance’ yourself
  • Shows up when you value your beliefs; forgive yourself; believe your dreams; know you are needed by other; are respecting yourself; make up your own mind
  • Being authentic is how you feel at the moment and you can say it.
  • As action without guarantees
  • You can ask for help
  • You can be okay as rejected
  • You can embrace negative emotions.
  • Is thinking things through independently, arriving at beliefs and ways of living that you can personally take responsibility for
  • Has a connection with what you loved as a child
  • When you own the values you have
  • What you have fun with
  • What about life are you drawn to
  • Is comfortable in your body

As I run down this list that seems so lovely, I find that there are many paradoxes. For example, my ‘common’ sense tells me trust science and that what is ‘common’ belief is rarely true. Likewise, deriving an idea from the common meaning in society is quite at variance with a special “YOU”. Another example is when I am caught in the expression of negative emotions like anger, it could be considered authentic to express that I am angry as long as I do it calmly but would be inauthentic if I expressed my anger, angrily or with in overt physical response. It is, however, inauthentic, to respond that we SHOULD not be aggressive, yet authentic to be peaceful. And to be sure, the former is bound to be inachievable because the effort to contain anger cannot be maintained, while being peaceful achieves non-aggression as a side-effect.

Other paradoxes can be seen in applying authenticity to the pathological mind. In a certain way, a psychopath can never be authentic, even though their psychopathy might be exactly their special identity. To be sure, the psychopath is invariably manipulative, just as the person with anxiety disorder is invariably self-protective. Each are, authentically like that. If they hide their real selves in an attempt to be socially acceptable, then they are considered inauthentic, even though we would all respect the effort.

On the altruistic side of the coin, if a person consciously chooses to serve others needs, they are authentic servants.  Yet if they unthinkingly take on the values of their upbringing to serve others they are, by definition, inauthentic servants. If the latter person is happy, they are still inauthentic, although their happiness is authentic. If the former person is happy, it is a sign of their authenticity.

It might also be noted that our special array of talents etc, are not so much different from everyone else’s, just as all fingerprints are recognisable as fingerprints. And, indeed, there may only be a small range of values that contribute to authenticity such that all humans host them in one way or the other, and as such, their expression may look very close to living by others expectations becasue we might be authentically living within and around each others expectations  So I find myself sitting in this strange web of paradoxes, on the one hand, entirely clear about Authenticity, and on the other, entirely convinced that it we do not have a thing that is “US” that is stable, whole, in integrity, ie authentically me.

In the Baha’i Faith, there is not this issue of an authentic self. There is an aspiration that each person shall become independent in thought and spirituality and the resources for life. There is acknowledgement that there are processes of education in the family and as a life-long endeavour, that this independence will flourish, that the independent person comes from the interdependence with others. For sure, there is “YOU” as an authentic Baha’i who lives as a calling for impact of others. And that Baha’i “YOU” is impactful as open to engaging with all the diversity of the human planet, learning from that diversity and teaching into that diversity, and learning as the response from teaching into that diversity. It has been useful, as a Baha’i to enquire into the authentic “ME” and use tools to check for the signs of authenticity and inauthenticity, on a path to independence and interdependence. That Baha’i path reaches out and catches the hands of everyone, testing what it means to be a Baha’i, to be human, to be in unity. Here, on this path, the “ME” wobbles around among the others, as it goes off on its very unique route, and, so, I can only reckon that this wobbly path is authentic while every individual responses and reactions is awash with authentic and inauthentic drivers. And it is only in acknowledging that there is no authenticity, that I might be indeed, authentic.


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