Your Very Own Self


It starts innocently enough, perhaps the first time you recognize your own reflection.

You’re not yet 2 years old, brushing your teeth, standing on your steppy stool by the bathroom sink, when suddenly it dawns on you: That foam-flecked face beaming back from the mirror is you. You. Yourself. Your very own self.

It’s a revelation—and an affliction. Human infants have no capacity for self-awareness. Then, between 18 and 24 months of age, they become conscious of their own thoughts, feelings, and sensations—thereby embarking on a quest that will consume much of their lives. For many modern selves, the first shock of self-recognition marks the beginning of a lifelong search for the one “true” self and for a feeling of behaving in accordance with that self that can be called authenticity.

A hunger for authenticity guides us in every age and aspect of life. It drives our explorations of work, relationships, play, and prayer. Teens and twentysomethings try out friends, fashions, hobbies, jobs, lovers, locations, and living arrangements to see what fits and what’s “just not me.” Midlifers deepen commitments to career, community, faith, and family that match their self-images, or feel trapped in existences that seem not their own. Elders regard life choices with regret or satisfaction based largely on whether they were “true” to themselves.

It’s also a cornerstone of mental health. Authenticity is correlated with many aspects of psychological well-being, including vitality, self-esteem, and coping skills. Acting in accordance with one’s core self—a trait called self-determination—is ranked by some experts as one of three basic psychological needs, along with competence and a sense of relatedness.

Yet, increasingly, contemporary culture seems to mock the very idea that there is anything solid and true about the self. Cosmetic surgery, psycho-pharmaceuticals, and perpetual makeovers favor a mutable ideal over the genuine article. MySpace profiles and tell-all blogs carry the whiff of wishful identity. Steroids, stimulants, and doping transform athletic and academic performance. Fabricated memoirs become best-sellers. Speed-dating discounts sincerity. Amid a clutter of counterfeits, the core self is struggling to assert itself.

“It’s some kind of epidemic right now,” says Stephen Cope, author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self. “People feel profoundly like they’re not living from who they really are, their authentic self, their deepest possibility in the world. The result is a sense of near-desperation.” From an article by Karen Wright

Here I sit showing the signs of age: reading glasses, mostly gray hair (but grateful to still have hair!), untouched natural lines on my face, memory not as razor-sharp as it once was, a paunch at my waistline, a few ages spots on my arms and so on. I have never given serious thought to changing any of it except losing 25 pounds. All of it is me just as I have naturally evolved.

It’s a personal thing, but I think for me there would be something dishonest about hair dye or plastic surgery. As a man it would be bothersome if I did remade myself synthetically and other guys found out. I’d not casting aspersions toward men who do, just saying that it’s not right for me.

Being real and authentic has become more and more important to me as the years have passed. I’ve earned every line on my skin and every gray hair. My face and body is an accurate living record of my life. I am 100% grateful to be who and what I am. It took a lot of hard work to get there.

The authentic self
is soul made visible.
Sarah Ban Breathnach