Navigating the Maze of the Authentic Self

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At the core of our human nature is the drive to live an authentic life. What authenticity looks like varies for each person; however, its importance cannot be understated. From birth, our innate talents, desires, hopes, and ambitions exist as a seed waiting to germinate. Under optimal conditions, parental love, attention, and support sprout the root system that will eventually blossom into a self-actualized human being. Such conditions are foundational to an authentic life as they allow an individual to take the necessary risks to explore who they are, develop their skills and capabilities, and, most importantly, stumble countless times with belief and courage that each ‘failure' is but a new direction toward self-fulfillment and self-actualization. 

There exists a paradox in becoming one's true self that it is only through vulnerability and self-discovery that authenticity develops. Authenticity is not something suddenly discovered as one would find buried treasure. Instead, it is intentional and purposeful navigation through what I view as an internal maze that leads us to the inward discovery of who we authentically are and what we truly want out of life. I see authenticity and the discovery of one’s true self as a maze because it can be challenging to arrive at the core of who we are. So many times in life, we hit ‘dead ends’ that leave us disappointed or we go down the wrong path and find ourselves in situations that do not make us feel fulfilled. The true self is not something easily found. It is an internal journey that reveals itself over time. 

For many people, it can be unclear if they are living out their true self or an inauthentic aspect of self. So many times throughout life we are told we should be something or feel something that may not necessarily be in alignment with who are truly are at the core of our being. For some people, the knowledge of not living one’s true self exists at the conscious level; these people either know or feel a sense of inauthenticity but may feel stuck or unable to find a new way of being. For others, however, the experience of not living one’s true self can express itself indirectly or unconsciously. I view mental health symptoms as signals that a person is not in alignment with their true self. Such symptoms could include:

•    Depression

•    Anxiety

•    Psychosomatic ailments or unexplained medical conditions

•    Reoccurring dreams

•    Self-sabotaging or self-destructive behaviors

•    Sexual dysfunction

•    Relationship distress

Once an individual can take the risk to be themselves and live a life of authenticity, these symptoms will dissipate. You are not depressed, you are not anxious, you are not disordered. What you feel, though deeply distressing, is only a signal that you are not living a life you want and you are not yet known. You are so much more than a diagnosis. You are a myriad of possibilities not yet known and lived.

To revisit this concept of a maze, those who struggle with the pains of mental illness or live in a state emotional suffering are either lost in the maze of discovering their true self or have circled the outskirts of this maze afraid of entering and discovering what they may find. Despite these fears, I believe that, within each of us, there is a drive and need to enter and reach this center of authentic self. We ache and hurt because we know there is something more to life and something more to who we are. For those who circle the outskirts of the maze, the only way out of suffering and pain is to take the risk to enter. And for those who may be lost or stuck in their maze, each wall that we encounter is but a guide that points us in a different direction. What these walls look like vary for each person—it may be an identity that we assumed that no longer fits with who we are, a job we have outgrown, or a relationship that has fizzled out. However, each wall leads us closer and closer to the center—our true self.

For those who may be considering psychotherapy, my understanding of your symptoms and my approach to helping you reflect the ideas written above. The symptoms you feel are critical emotional signals that, in some way, you are living a life that is not your own, and you have not reached the center of the maze of your true self. You are neither broken nor are you less of a person for what you feel or the life you are living. You hurt because you need to know yourself and the world needs to see who you are. The discovery of one’s true self is a transformative process. For each person, this path towards self-discovery will be unique in the time it takes and the true self that will become known. I do not know where the end point lies. I do not have the answers to who you truly are or how your life should look. Such questions evolve as we navigate the maze of self-discovery inside of you. What I do know, however, is that this maze can be traversed, and, through diligent effort, courage, and vulnerability, an authentic self will be discovered.

In the discovery of one’s true self, the closer you become to reaching the center of who you are, your life will slowly, but surely change. Things which once seemed impossible are doable; love and connection you thought would never be obtained start to enter your life; a sense of internal peace and security you envied in others find grounding inside of yourself. The external world you live is an internal reflection of who you are. As you change internally and discover the authentic, true self that lies within, your outer world, by virtue, will become harmoniously aligned with the internal authenticity of self, and from this place, your life will truly be yours.