The Authentic Self
There is a popular concept out there called 'The Authentic Self.' In essence, this is about seeking to know one's true self. Who you really are. This journey requires introspection and self-awareness.
We often vacillate between our authentic selves and versions of ourselves we think other people want to see. Unfortunately, many people don't realize there is a true version of themselves until much later in life and suffer from having lost their emotional freedom. It is very sad to see.
The fact is we all struggle with finding our authentic selves. It is a lifelong journey. There are many resources to help you with this but here I want to focus on what stops you from finding your true self in the first place, also, what to do about it as a first step.
The Masks We Wear
We all wear masks. These are versions of ourselves we want the world to see. Your mask might be a professional role or a certain status, such as being a put-together business leader or high performance athlete. Or your mask may be a certain personality trait such as always being happy-go-lucky or the person that makes everybody happy.
It can be argued that sometimes masks can be important. Such as when you need to protect yourself and have personal boundaries. Short-term, even a "poker face" mask might be necessary.
The issue with a mask is that, long-term, you won't real experience joy with others because they will never know the real you. You will always be aware that in your heart that this is not the real you. It can get really lonely. This can be especially debilitating when you are surrounded by everybody, yet feel like you are really known by nobody. It becomes very alienating and we are isolated in plain view. This is often referred to as 'Crowded Loneliness" and has become a very prevalent challenge today. Masks contribute to Crowded Loneliness.
How to Know You Are Wearing a Mask
Here is a tip I like to use on myself. I have learned that a mask "BEEPS." BEEPS stands for:
If you identify, or are identified by others, based on certain behaviours, events, experiences, people and substances, this may be a sign that you are not living your authentic self. It is important to note that BEEPS, in of themselves, are not inappropriate. It is when we identify with them more than we seek self-awareness and the true self that there can be trouble. One sure sign if BEEPS are used to feel better about ourselves in response to emotional hardships or stressful circumstances.
For example, if you are known as a gamer and identify with fellow gamers, you may be wearing a mask. Again, this is not to say being a gamer is a bad thing, but you may be wearing a mask. Often with video games there is a sense of teamwork and control that can be found inside a game reality that is missing in real life. Personally for me, I go to video games when I am stressed and slowly the mask starts to form (I was a World of Warcraft addict and guild leader for many years). I still find myself self sucked into games like Overwatch today (geez thanks Blizzard).
Test BEEPS for Peace
Peace is that cozy feeling that all is right in the world even when things are tough. When we are operating from a place of authenticity we have peace regardless of circumstances. BEEPS may feel good or be rewarding upfront, but after, there is no peace.
Sharing another personal story, one time I had to confess I was wearing a mask that I did not care about people's opinions of me (behaviours). From the outside, I seemed impervious to any criticism. My wife envied me because she was always aware of how the opinions of others affected her. But in reality, I was scared to death of what people thought about the real me along with all my flaws and weaknesses. There was no cozy peace when I acted this way. I hated being vulnerable. So I crafted a mask to hide it. But again, inside, I knew there was no peace.
The problem with a mask is that you think you can see through it--that the mask has eye holes. You can't see the outside reality properly through the eyes of a mask. BEEPS distort the picture. So I had to get real and share my true feelings with my wife. I had no idea how much it was preventing us from being close in our marriage. Together, we worked on taking off the mask and I was able to pursue who I really was and the source of all my fear. Our relationship went to a whole new level and she credits that moment for being a major turning point. I wouldn't trade that kind of peace for anything.
We Need People To Point Out the Masks
Remember, we can't see through our masks. We also can wear them so long we have no clue they are on our faces in the first place. This is where people who love you are critical. We need to give them permission to gently point out if they think we are wearing a mask that BEEPS.
This takes courage. But just being aware of the fact there is an authentic self and it may be hidden behind a mask that BEEPS is a great first step.
Let me know your thoughts or questions.