Western philosophers have sought some pure and enduring touchstone of “I-ness” ever since Socrates began interrogating the citizens of Athens. He famously asserted that the unexamined life is not worth living—but left vague exactly what insights and actions such inquiry might yield. Aristotle later connected the fruits of self-reflection with a theory of authentic behavior that was not so much about letting your freak flag fly as about acting in accord with the “higher good,” which he regarded as the ultimate expression of self-hood.
Spiritual and religious traditions similarly equated authenticity and morality. Enlightenment philosophers secularized ideas of selfhood, but it took the 20th century’s existentialists to question the idea that some original, actual, ultimate self resides within. To them, the self was not so much born as made.
“The philosophical question is, do we invent this authentic self?” says [ethicist John Portmann of the University of Virginia]. “Or do we discover it?” Socrates believed we discover it; the existentialists say we invent it.
“There isn’t a self to know,” decrees social psychologist Roy Baumeister of the University of Florida. Today’s psychologists no longer regard the self as a singular entity with a solid core. What they see instead is an array of often conflicting impressions, sensations, and behaviors. Our headspace is messier than we pretend, they say, and the search for authenticity is doomed if it’s aimed at tidying up the sense of self, restricting our identities to what we want to be or who we think we should be.
Increasingly, psychologists believe that our notion of selfhood needs to expand… An expansive vision of selfhood includes not just the parts of ourselves that we like and understand but also those that we don’t. There’s room to be a loving mother who sometimes yells at her kids, a diffident cleric who laughs too loud, or a punctilious boss with a flask of gin in his desk. The authentic self isn’t always pretty. It’s just real.
We all have multiple layers of self and ever-shifting perspectives, contends psychiatrist Peter Kramer. Most of us would describe ourselves as either an introvert or extrovert. Research shows that although we think of ourselves as one or the other (with a few exceptions), we are actually both, in different contexts. Which face we show depends on the situation.
“Whether there is a core self or not, we certainly believe that there is,” says social psychologist Mark Leary of Duke University. And the longing to live from that self is real, as is the suffering of those who feel they aren’t being true to themselves.
Inauthenticity might also be experienced on a deeper level as a loss of engagement in some—or many—aspects of your life. At the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts, where he often teaches, Stephen Cope opens his programs by asking attendees to reveal their deepest reason for being there. “Eighty percent of the time, people say some variation of: ‘I’m here to find my true self, to come home to my true self,’ ” he reports. That response is as likely to come from young adults struggling to build careers and relationships as from people in midlife reevaluating their choices. “They say, ‘Who am I? Now that I’ve had a decent career and bought a house and had a marriage, I’m still feeling profoundly unfulfilled.’ by Karen Wright http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200804/dare-be-yourself
Such a thoughts as “who am I? and “what is the real me?” used to spin in my head like 10 peopleall talking all at once. That experience is not completely gone, but the ongoing inner dialogue is not constant and down to a voice or two. To wonder “what and why” is dependably human but any more I don’t ask such things of myself a great deal. My conclusion? Allowing me to mostly just be as I am is probably the best practice I ever began. As the “real me” has shown through, my discovery has been I like most of what I have found. I am grateful for those life changing insights.
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