Finding Love and Joy:
Connecting to the Authentic Self
If you’re wondering how you can integrate all this theory into your life, here are some exercises that can be practiced daily or weekly in order to dedicate some time to the authentic you.
Find a quiet place to sit for a few minutes (this might be a place in nature, or a place where you feel comfortable and safe).
Close your eyes and begin breathing in through your nose, filling your chest, your abdomen, and then your belly with air. Then, breathe out through your mouth, relaxing your whole body. Take 15 deep breaths, and as you do, pay attention to any emotions or sensations that come up. You might become aware of anything from a feeling of sadness or stress, to a physical tension in your back.
Whatever it is that you feel, make a very slight motion of “ok” to it with your head. Accept it, and feel deeper into it with a few more breaths.
Try not to intellectualize it, or attribute it to anyone or anything specific. Just feel it out, and when you are ready, imagine on an exhale that you are letting go of this undesired feeling. You are expelling what no longer serves you (you can even let out a sound, if this helps!). If on the other hand, you felt something good, breathe it in, and on your exhale, relax into this pleasurable feeling. Enjoy the fact that you are taking time to sit and care for yourself.
If you wish, you may use this exercise to set an intention or focus for the rest of your day, such as: “I let go of anxiety and treat myself with compassion.”, or “I allow myself to take time off, I deserve to feel good.”.
Connecting to the Authentic Self Exercises
LET YOUR INNER CHILD OUT
Another fast and simple way to re-connect to the self (and my favorite approach!), is by allowing your inner child to come out through spontaneity and play. Have fun and be silly, alone or with friends and family. For example:
Put on your favorite tune and dance until you feel uninhibited and confident in your own movements,
Or, pick up a paintbrush and splash around with some paints!
Allow for full self-expression, free of judgement or criticism. You don’t have to be a dancer or a painter to do these activities, and you don’t have to produce anything as a result, it’s all about enjoying the process. By allowing ourselves to be spontaneous, we open the possibility to rediscover parts of us which have been dormant, repressed or under-expressed. Creativity is authentic self-expression in its purest form.
Author: Sascha Anna Vriend (Clinical Psychologist and Mind-Body Therapist)
Feeling anxious, lonely, unmotivated, indecisive, unsatisfied or self-loathing are all signs you might be out of touch with your authentic self. But what is your authentic self anyway? Your authentic self is who you are when you are born into this world, your essence, the truest version of you. It is the vibrant, confident, fulfilled you, the one in alignment with your innermost needs and aspirations.
So how do we lose touch with our authentic self?
After birth, our authentic self meets reality. Some life experiences will be great, but others may teach us that certain parts of us are unacceptable or unlovable. Through contact with parents, peers and society at large, we inevitably learn as children that we are imperfect in some way or another. Too sensitive, too needy, too unusual, not attractive enough, not sociable enough, not smart enough. How do we cope? We cope by developing mechanisms, defenses, that allow us to take control of our situation. Because the only way to take control is to take responsibility, we assume the burden of what others see as our flaws or shortcomings. That is, instead of recognizing that others might be unfair or critical, little 5 year old us says: “if only I change, or become more a certain way, I will be loveable!”.
What does this imply?
This is when we begin bending the true self, and most of the time we are unaware of doing so. We start molding to others expectations and needs, building masks in order to feel more valid or accepted. If this occurs to a great extent in our life, we may stray further and further from our essence and, in addition, feel increasingly more self-critical and dissatisfied. We slowly cut off our self-expression, self-assertion, and self-protection, in order to feel secure and fit in.
Additionally, because all our emotions are experienced through our body, another result of this “straying from the self” is a sort of disconnect from our physical being. Cutting off from our true self often means cutting off spontaneous movement and deep breathing, that is, cutting off “feeling” in general. By not “feeling” as much, we don’t feel the rejection or the anguish of our condition, however, we become less able to feel pleasurable emotions too, such as joy and love. In some cases, our bodies may try to warn us that something is wrong, through illness or other symptoms (i.e. anxiety or psychosomatic disorders), causing physical problems that we are unable to attribute to any specific cause.
So how can we get back in touch with the authentic self?
When grown up, many of us seek the answers to our inner struggle externally. We look for a partner that likes us more than we like ourselves, a cooler haircut, or a higher-paid job. We try to please everyone around us, to become important to others according to theirneeds, or simply fit the norm. However, these solutions tend to help very little, as through them we better ourselves only in relation to external standards, or at best, try to fill holes which are unfillable in the present moment because they reflect personal needs (for love and acceptance) that were unfulfilled in a past that can never be re-lived. Also, because our outer world tends to be a mirror of what we feel inside, our deep-rooted sense of disconnect or unworthiness will consistently be reflected back to us, say, by relationships which are unsatisfying or jobs which are unideal.
So what’s the solution? The solution is to stop and re-connect to the self. We need to pause, take a deep breath, and start thinking about how we can take care of the little 5 year old us that lives somewhere deep inside. We need to drop the self-criticism, the self-expectation, the fear of judgement, the guilt, and start to feel compassion and self-love. We need to listen to our own internal voice and move in the direction of what we personally feel, desire and need.
But how, concretely, can we re-connect to the authentic self?
Because straying from our true self often implies a disconnect from our body, one great way to re-connect to the authentic self is to get into your body. Go on a walk, dance, or practice deep-breathing, and whilst you do, mindfully draw your attention to your thoughts and emotions. By becoming conscious of your inner world and practicing self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-empathy, you can begin peeling back the false self and allowing for your true self to come forth.
It is important to realize that embarking on the journey of self-awareness not only creates the opportunity for self-validation, but also for letting go of what no longer serves you. Your present thoughts and feelings may be the consequence of external demands or past events, however, they are no longer attributable to other people or external factors. They are yourthoughts and feelings now, based on ideas and attitudes you have internalized about yourself. Re-connecting to the true self is therefore about letting go of your own self-judgements, demands and constraints. It is about getting in touch with who you were before society or other people told you who to be, how to act, or what to feel, but it is something that has to be done from the inside out. By letting go in this way, you create space for the real you to freely express itself. The right relationship or career will follow. And, although this process might eventually imply shifts in your day to day (how you prioritize, how you spend your time, how you relate to others), remember that by allowing your authentic self out you not only take due care of yourself, but also create the conditions for offering more acceptance, love and joy to those around you.