It is not uncommon for patients in therapy to express feelings of self-alienation. They may say things like, “I don’t feel like my true self” or “Sometimes I don’t even recognize the person I’ve become.”
In times like these, it’s important to reflect on yourself the feeling of authenticity. Acting authentically (ie, being true to yourself, standing up for what you believe in, and sticking to your core principles) can be a powerful antidote to alienation.
Here are three signs you may need to rekindle your relationship with ‘the real you’.
#1. You are keeping a secret that you no longer want to keep
There is something attractive about secrets and keeping secrets. We all want to be ‘in the know’. We want to be aware of information that other people don’t have. Better to be in the inner circle than on the fringes.
Much of this is based on our need to feel connected to others. This is not, in itself, a bad thing. However, there are some consequences of keeping secrets that can cause psychological harm.
Some secrets can weigh us down. They affect our ability to interact and connect with others. The more we try to suppress a secret, the more we find it emerging in our consciousness.
People who reveal a big secret often describe the experience as a “weight off their shoulders,” even in cases where the disclosure may cause damage to their close relationships.
Much of this can be explained in terms of authenticity. When we keep secrets that affect our sense of authenticity, we lead ourselves down a harmful path. We can cope with these feelings in unhealthy ways, such as numbing our thoughts with alcohol or disconnecting from previously pleasurable experiences.
Often, the only way to rebalance our psychological state is to share the secrets that make us feel inauthentic. Therapy is a safe place to explore such possibilities.
#2. You are a different person at work than you are at home
For many of us, our jobs can make us feel distant from our true selves. We are forced to wear a thick skin and are asked to behave in ways that we may not be entirely comfortable with. Many employees are reluctant to reveal their true personalities for fear of how they might be perceived by their colleagues.
In some work environments, there is a strong undertone of conformity, such that everyone acts more or less the same way (perhaps taking on the personality traits of the organization’s leader(s). Any opposition to the status quo course of action may be seen by superiors as an attack on the organization itself.
If you find yourself feeling this way, it’s likely affecting your sense of authenticity. You may feel conflicted about the “real you.” Is ‘your house’ authentic or ‘your work’ is the real you?
Over time, our psychology has a way of resolving such cognitive dissonance in one direction or the other. The problem is that without actively working with such thoughts and feelings, we don’t always control the direction of the solution. We may end up becoming the person who was once a stranger to us.
#3. You are living a double (or triple) life.
Most people equate living a double life with having an affair or hiding something of great importance from their immediate family. While this is one definition of a double life, it is important to know that there are other, less severe forms of living double or triple lives that can also lead to feelings of inauthenticity. Most of them have their origin in simply trying to do too much.
Consider the following scenario. Imagine a mother who is simultaneously trying to take care of young children, succeed in her career, and be a good daughter to her aging parents. While these are all great goals to have, it is unlikely that anyone will be able to excel at all of these tasks simultaneously. Often, this leads to feelings of inauthenticity and self-blame (ie, “I should have taken my parents to lunch last week” or “I can’t afford to miss another PTA meeting”).
In these cases, it is necessary to practice kindness towards yourself, realizing that you simply do not have time to be everything to everyone. Reducing the number of things you expect to accomplish each week can help restore your sense of authenticity.
Feeling a strong sense of authenticity is a cornerstone of a happy and healthy life. The next time you feel disconnected from yourself, take a moment to reflect on whether (1) you may be keeping unwanted secrets, (2) struggling with your work identity, or (3) trying to achieve so much that you feel constantly overwhelmed.