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Your Authentic Self

Date: January/February 2009

Perhaps one of the most undervalued privileges of the human experience is self-knowledge.

Beyond describing what it is that we do for a living, our preference of music genre, or our favourite ice-cream flavour, how well do we really know our self? Much of our adolescence is spent contemplating who we would like to be (or self-loathing who we think we are) in comparison to peer groups and current media influences. As we enter adulthood and strive to be autonomous, self-knowledge is somehow less important than the perception others have of us. We decide on a vocation, a life partner, and all of the other tangible items (e.g., job status, accumulation of material goods, even our decision to have children) that fulfill society's requirement for living a meaningful existence - all without placing value on knowing our self.

Knowing your self comes from journeying within. At the core of self-knowledge is honesty and authenticity. You need to be willing to see yourself accurately, and yet with acceptance rather than judgment. Sometimes this is best achieved when a loved one can act as a mirror, reflecting back to you what they observe. More often, it is your commitment and perseverance to self-awareness that elicits insight, knowledge, and understanding. Out of the honest observation of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, it becomes intolerable to ignore the truth. Self-knowledge promotes positive action.

Out of self-knowledge you are forced to examine your vulnerabilities and imperfections. Through self-awareness and self-responsibility, you see the various events of your life as challenges to grow - and to become more. Through this process of growth, you evolve. Self-actualization (the realization of one's true potential) is the result of the relentless pursuit of conscious awareness and personal growth.

While individuals may initially seek therapy for help and guidance with a specific problem or situation, the inescapable benefit of the therapeutic process is the opportunity for self honesty and clarity. The net result is an understanding and authenticity that comes from being truthful. You may not always like what you see, but your commitment to self honesty is what facilitates positive change.

Some suggestions for attaining greater self-knowledge and understanding

Use a journal to record an exhaustive list of qualities that best describe who you are. Without screening or judging your thoughts, note all of your traits, core competencies, and positive attributes, as well as what aspects of yourself you would like to change. The process of creating such a comprehensive list requires you to identify your self-concept (how you see yourself). The qualities that you wish to change provide you with a place for personal growth.

Self-knowledge and understanding cannot exist without consciousness. Practice present moment awareness by bringing your attention to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours - particularly at times when you are not your "best" self. With conscious awareness, you continue to learn about yourself. Out of self-knowledge, you choose how you want to be.

Without self-honesty, it is impossible to develop a healthy sense of self. Out of honesty and knowledge comes the ability to grow self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem requires that you value yourself and your happiness. You feel confident in your ability to express yourself with honesty and authenticity. To live in your truth means that you honour what is best and right for you and you live according to that.

With greater self-knowledge and understanding, comes increased clarity of what you want from your relationships. You look to cultivate relationships that are based on integrity and truth. Out of your desire for honest relationships, you seek others who have healthy levels of self-esteem, knowing that positive self-esteem sustains the honest expression of one's self. You inherently move away from relationships that no longer contribute to your quality of life, largely because you are willing to recognize the limited capacity of that relationship.

Your ability to be truthful with yourself and others determines the quality of authenticity that you experience. For example, it becomes very difficult to feel authentic happiness when you have dismissed your needs in place of putting the needs of others first. When you believe that you need to sacrifice what you want in order to be loved, cared for, or desirable, you build inauthentic relationships. It becomes only a matter of time before you feel miserable. What you hoped to gain in moulding your life around another human being has become meaningless. You feel resentful and angry with yourself for being taken advantage of and yet you alone are responsible for giving away your power.

When you master the art of fulfilling your needs, not at the expense of others but certainly as an alternative to living vicariously through others, you have the tools for making your current relationships more fulfilling and complete. Cultivating personal happiness (which comes from the effort you place on knowing and valuing the person you are, and nurturing self-love) allows you to create the single most important relationship you will ever have - with your self. enigmatically, it is the positive relationship that you have with your self that enables you to thrive in your relationships with others.

source: The Purpose of Love: A Guidebook for Defining and Cultivating Your Most Significant Relationship (Insomniac Press, September 2007).

In an authentic love relationship, the level of honesty (and openness) expressed is directly correlated to the depth of intimacy and closeness that is experienced. Without revealing your true thoughts and feelings to your partner, he or she can never know you. With mutual self-knowledge comes the potential for creating the highest degree of compatibility between two people. It is only out of knowing yourself intimately, that you can be selective in choosing the most suitable partner. Without self-knowledge you are more willing to tolerate qualities and characteristics that are less appropriate to you.

Self-knowledge as a precursor to authentic love

The better you know yourself, the easier it is to define the qualities and traits that are most important to you in a love relationship. Whether you are in an existing relationship, or in search of one, take the time to establish your list of ideal qualities suitable for a life partner. Prioritize the top 10 "deal breakers" that you absolutely require. Creating such a list helps give you clarity as to what you need to look for. Notice if your "ideal mate" list changes the more self-knowledge you acquire.

Despite wanting to make a good impression and to reveal only your "best" self at all times, honesty and authenticity are fundamental to a healthy love relationship. This means sharing your expectations about what you want from a life partner and what you envision for your life. Knowing that your goals and ideals won't always match up with your partner's is natural. That's the purpose of dating. To convey that you are something different just to align yourself with another person, begins a spiral of inauthentic behaviour. Knowing yourself means that you can readily admit when a relationship is no longer right for you.

Positive self-esteem supports your ability to be truthful and honest. Healthy levels of self-esteem are established out of self-knowledge and awareness. You demand more out of your love relationships simply because of the high value you place on yourself (this is different from the "ego" which is an inflated view of one's self for the purpose of replacing feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt). Seeking ways to support and build healthy levels of self-esteem is an important life-long effort. The higher your level of self-esteem, the more willing you are to seek out for the "best" partner rather than settle for someone who is "good enough."