In this season of constantly being told to love ourselves regardless of what others think and to radically embrace our uniqueness, what happens if we don’t authentically like ourselves? Where do we put the pressure to be our own best friend when we aren’t even sure if another person genuinely cares about us and isn’t just trying to tolerate our existence? What if being ourselves comes with the stinging boomerang of rejection? Being our “authentic self” is trickier than most bloggers, self-help authors, and counselors realize. I’m both a therapist and self-help author, and it’s taken me time to recognize how hard it can be to incorporate authentically liking ourselves into everyday life.
Sometimes, there are aspects of our personality that even make us cringe.
We hear our words and see the reactions on the faces of those close to us. We’ve hurt them. Sometimes, we’re not nice people. We get stretched too far and too wide, and we snap. In an instant, we become the parent we never wanted to be and promised ourselves we would never become, yet, here we are crying alone in the bathroom at a restaurant because we just lost our mind (not to mention in public) with our strong-willed toddler who just can’t seem to be a decent human being that day. It’s not easy to be our own bestie in those crying bathroom stall moments, is it? Our authentic self was ugly, which is nearly impossible to fully accept and be proud of at the moment.
When we talk about finding our authentic self or embracing who we really are, there are numerous paths we can wander down. Some writers talk about finding our authentic self as being on a journey to discover what we really like and to find our core personality in a world that might try to change who we are and alter our voice. This type of personal development is fantastic and something as a trauma therapist, I fully support. Many of us have gone through life experiences that shifted our ability to know ourselves at an honest level. Sometimes we’re just not sure of what we feel. Following a path of gentle self-discovery is an experience every human being should embark on. I like the ease of asking key questions to guide our thoughts past the clutter of who other people want us to be so we can discover what we actually think and feel.
The type of authentic self teaching that concerns me is the pressure to always be happy with ourselves, in spite of the messy, chaotic world that we bounce around in. Loving ourselves at all times, in all seasons of life, feels impossible to many, and I believe it leads to even more disappointment or self-hatred for not being as fully put together as say, others we compare ourselves to. Some people really do struggle with looking at their very private, inner turmoil and compare it to the outer, less messy images of the people around them. This type of inner dialogue always leads us nowhere good and fast. Yet, many are living in the state of mind of not liking themselves but faking they are embracing their true self.
Maybe we can resolve this inner discord by fully rejecting the pressure to like ourselves all the time, in every moment, no matter what is swirling around us and instead, embrace a real-world perspective that life is sometimes a mess, and so are we.
Perhaps embracing our authentic self means building in a margin of error for the days we just don’t care about anything, but are still on our feet and fighting to make it to the next day.
Maybe we need to stop pushing the idea of being our own best friend who loves us every second no matter what, to be that friend who never gives up on us, even on our really rough, scary days. The friend who admits we blew it, helps us clean up the mess we created, and cracks a joke to make us smile through it all. We need to be that form of a friend to ourselves. Be the one who accepts that our authentic self is going to include slightly losing it from time to time because we are humans with a lot of daily pressures. Embracing our authentic self needs to include the whole picture and not just the pretty highlights we want to present to the world or the pressure to never have messy moments.