The Pursuit of Your Authentic Self
By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC www.CreativeExpressionsConsulting.com
Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers, and Adults
“I love running when it is over”
That statement is on a t-shirt I own, and it is often a thought that runs through my head when I do not want to do something that I know is good for me. I am not referring to the basics of living; for example, get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of water, etc. But rather, the parts of myself that I often forget to practice to stay in a centered, intentional, goal-oriented presence of being. These hard-to-do but need-to-do things to keep me focused. An example is the push I must give myself to run at least 5 times a week. This act of running is not only for the physical benefit but the mental as well. It is my time to allow myself space to process all the thoughts that encompass my daily life. I feel whole after running, I feel calm, I feel like myself, and that is why I love running after it is over.
Change in oneself does not occur until we are uncomfortable. Change is not easy. If you picture in your mind a butterfly; a butterfly must be a caterpillar first and go through a difficult metamorphosis. If you have ever watched a butterfly breaking out of its chrysalis, it has to shake, wiggle, and use a lot of energy to break out. In most instances, helping the butterfly out of the chrysalis will prevent it from ever flying. The butterfly needs the struggle in order to strengthen its wings and fly.
In the present moment, we are seeing change happen all around us. We realize that change does not happen overnight, but rather, it is a process. Leaves and flowers just do not appear; there is a process of change which requires hard work and nurturing. As humans, taking inspiration from nature can provide perspective into our own lives. We just need to make that choice.
At times, running makes me feel physically uncomfortable but pushing through that suffering leads to gains in speed and confidence in myself as a runner. Acceptance of the self and what works for each of us to grow as people is a different process for everyone. I do believe that part of that process is to face your suffering and ask yourself honest questions that will help you discover your values which will help you deal with suffering and pain.
Ask yourself the following:
What do you value?
Are your behaviors prioritizing your values?
Are you living to your highest values and your most authentic self?
If you answered "yes" to the last two questions above, then you can live a life of acceptance and contentment.
Life presents situations that create anxiety, anger, pain, and suffering. What do you do then? Ask yourself the following questions:
What is happening in the here and now?
Are you living passively? Aggressively?
How can you live and approach life in an assertive and authentic manner?
Practice and paying attention are required to be assertive. Paying attention to how you are experiencing and expressing yourself in your relationships with self, others, and the world is a key component to learning to be your authentic self.
How do we become our most authentic self?
A way to practice becoming our most authentic self is to practice mindfulness and experience your life in the here and now. As a human, it is helpful to learn how to sit with your feelings. An approach that one can use is a body scan. This entails closing your eyes and scanning your body from head to toe, focusing on where you feel the emotion you are experiencing. Face the feeling without avoiding it and ask yourself the following questions:
What are you feeling?
Where do you feel the emotion? Is in in your shoulders? Back?
Where do you hold it? Do you hold it in your chest? Head?
What does it feel like or look like? Can you describe it in detail?
To become aware of your authentic self you need to spend time and focus in on the here and now.
One way to work towards being in the here and now is to adopt an existential therapeutic viewpoint which is based in existential philosophy. It is not a focus on symptoms, but the purpose is to struggle with personal meaning and to focus on the inevitable human conditions: death, responsibility, freedom, and pursuit of meaning. This therapeutic approach rejects the idea that the unconscious mind or instinct drives our behaviors. Rather, it embraces human freedom and choice. Your past does not determine your future.
You can construct your own reality and you are capable of self-reinvention.
To do this, however, you must take responsibility for your behaviors. You become the author of your own experiences. As a human, you may be tempted to point the finger of blame on anyone other than yourself. Instead, focus on your I-am experience and ask yourself: Who am I if I am separate from others? If one cannot be alone, a person will seek relationships, fusion with another, because they have not developed the inner strength, identity, and sense of completeness necessary to face the piercing anxiety associated with isolation.
What is the meaning of your life?
Human beings have an internal striving for meaning and finding meaningful pursuits in the world. How can you help yourself embrace and pursue meaning? If humans are meaning-makers, you need to be willing to look outside yourself to find meaning. The following are some ways that this can be done which may help you connect to your authentic self:
Practice altruism by serving others through kindness and unselfishness acts.
Dedicate yourself to a cause.
Create something beautiful, powerful, and meaningful through a creative act.
Begin to face suffering with optimism, dignity, and integrity.
Change is not easy but is worth it if you want to pursue your authentic self. If you are living your life with anxiety, fear, guilt, and suffering, you are not being your authentic self. Irvin Yalom, an existential psychotherapist believed that if one is to love oneself one must behave in ways that one can admire (1980). Therefore, you can learn to effectively and creatively cope with the normal anxiety that accompanies existence as a human by creating change in yourself.
For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog. Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here: www.CreativeExpressionsConsulting.com
Frankl, V. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Beacon Press.
Sommers-Flanagan, J. & Sommers-Flanagan, R. (2018). Counseling and psychotherapy theories \ in context and practice (3rd ed.). Wiley.