LIVING LIFE AUTHENTICALLY
by Margaret L. Stoll, Ph.D.
Human behavior can be directed by any number of motivations. A few of these include the desire for wealth, admiration, fame, security or love. The motivation to live life authentically has a unique set of characteristics and consequences that can be very rewarding.
Living life authentically implies living one’s life according to what feels true or sincere for that person. It entails the sense that one’s external life accurately reflects them, their values and their preferences and adequately meets their needs. We feel authentic when the people in our lives view us in ways that are consistent with how we see ourselves. Being known and valued by others as we are living authentically allows one to feel a deep sense of acceptance and validation. There is also a freedom that comes with making choices that are truly one’s own rather than those contaminated by guilt, coercion, fear or obligation.
It is sometimes challenging to know what is authentic or true. External influences throughout life present a multitude of possibilities and choices. Everywhere there is advice, persuasion and opinion presented to us. Sorting through all this information to determine what are one’s own desires, needs and preferences takes effort.
Early parenting greatly influences one’s ability to know one’s authentic self. Authority-focused parenting is when children generally are expected to learn, listen to and follow rules and expectations of adults. While these children tend to develop a strong sense of right and wrong and may be responsible, successful people, they may not necessarily be good at recognizing their personal needs, beliefs and wishes. Knowing and valuing one’s authentic self is a skill that takes practice. Some of these adults may not even have full awareness that they are missing this quality in their lives.
Raising a child to value and recognize their authentic self is fostered by parents doing just that with the child. Specifically, whenever possible the parent asks for the child’s desire or opinion rather than telling them what to think or do. This can begin with the many daily choices such as what clothes to wear, what cereal to eat, or what activities they want to do. As the child matures, these choices become more complicated. They could entail conflicts over two competing opportunities, issues with friendships or any challenging life circumstance. Parents in this case would help their child consider the consequences of each option, consider how they feel about each outcome and to recognize which feels more right for them. “Right” in this sense includes a feeling of comfort and satisfaction, which is also in line with their values and does not violate what is important to them. Children raised in this manner not only develop the capacity to know their authentic selves but they also naturally listen to and honor it as they go about living their lives.
It may appear that raising a child to live according to their authentic self would create selfish, self –involved people with little regard for the needs of others. However, if parents model the valuing of their own authentic selves and others then this will be reflected in their children. When parents give children choices within the parameters of what is sensitive to or does not violate others’ rights and needs, this consideration becomes part of the child’s basic value system. The parent teaches their child to consider and honor their siblings, peers, even their parents as they go about determining what they themselves feel and need on a daily basis.
The needs to please others, to be liked and to minimize conflict can impede one’s willingness to be true to their authentic self. It takes courage and self-esteem to trust that following one’s self is worth risking these motivations.
Many times people believe that happiness is obtained by acquiring wealth and having various objects and possessions. Frequently, after achieving these goals people do not feel content or fulfilled. This is due often to the fact that there are aspects of the authentic self that demand deeper, more emotionally or interpersonally meaningful goals.
Another reason for dissatisfaction with one’s life may be that in fulfilling what one perceived as their desired goals a person has compromised or violated their authentic self. Choosing a career because it is the same one your parent had or because it offers security while always regretting that you did not follow your own career dreams and passions is an example of this. This is not to be confused with the person who works for years at a job that is not personally fulfilling but that does so to provide financial resources for their children and family. In this case, one’s authentic self may feel accurately reflected in the priority they give to their family’s financial and emotional security and well-being.
If we find ourselves living in a way that chronically does not feel authentic, it may mean we need to remedy that state. This often takes courage. Change can result in loss, in disappointing others or in disruption within oneself. Taking time for introspection, talking to trusted, attentive people and keeping in mind all aspects of the authentic self can move one to a clearer view of what feels “right” or true for them.
The willingness and dedication to try to continue to live an authentic life can result in an ongoing sense of aliveness and meaning. It allows for intimate connection with others and a sense of harmony within oneself and their world. When conflict or dissatisfaction does occur, it provides a way of discovering the source and arriving at solutions or resolution. Psychotherapy is inherently designed to uncover and foster one’s authentic self. In fact, any therapeutic relationship, where one listens, accepts and values the other can be a support to living life authentically.
Dr. Stoll is a Clinical Psychology with offices in Redondo Beach and Glendale. She is a member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network. Dr. Stoll can be reached at (310) 375-3607 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.