You and Your Naked Self
Who are you, really? Leanne Elliott explores the idea of discovering your authentic self.
A cliché piece of advice I often heard while growing up was, ‘Just be yourself’. Words I can appreciate now, but which I didn’t truly understand at the time. We all do it. Adjust our character, our mannerisms, our language to suit the environment we are in.
We are not exactly the same person at work as we are with our friends. Nor are we the exact same person at university as we are at home with our parents, and so on. These varying environments influence our outward persona and how we conduct ourselves at that specific moment in time. So while society is telling us to be our authentic selves, we are also expected to behave, think, and interact in ways which are appropriate to the situation and environment.
I am at my most natural self when I am alone. And with close family, I can speak with a freedom not felt elsewhere, share the odd private joke without fear of offence, not feel ashamed to be still wearing my pyjamas at midday, and I can engage in genuine, open discussions about any contentious issue. Whereas when I am at work, the language I use becomes more formal, I am more conscious of workplace expectations, and I dress to suit the role I am in (hint: it’s not PJ’s). In short, I behave and think differently in each of these environments.
“The authentic self is the soul made visible.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach
So, if we do change according to our environment and situation, who are we really? Is there even such a thing as an authentic self?
The answer is: kind of. Though our authentic self is not some static state of being, rather, it evolves alongside us as we age, learn, and experience the world. It is demonstrated by our words and actions, and can be influenced by how we think others perceive us. It can best be described as the parts of ourselves, our core beliefs, characters, and perspectives, for which there is no compromise, and, which remain with us irrespective of our environment or situation.
Put simply, the authentic self is what is underneath our humanistic, cognitive, and biological selves… it is our ‘naked self’.
Facing our naked self is a process of seeing and understanding who we were, are, and want to be. It involves looking at ourselves from the outside, as others see us. It is a process which requires us to dig deep, face our shadows, and trust in our strengths, to gain an understanding of our own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, abilities, perceptions, and relationships. It is a life long process of negotiating with ourselves, and of defining solid principles and clear boundaries which help guide us through the complicated world we live in.
Should you speak up or stay quiet? Should you do something about it, or go about your daily business? Should you do what your boss says even if you are not comfortable with it? Should you stop and help the old man sitting on the side of the road with his walker and belongings strewn out on the footpath beside him? Someone emails you the answers to an important test, do you look at it or delete it? Your best friend betrays you, can and should you forgive them? You see police officers continue to kneel on a person’s back and neck even after the person has stopped breathing, what will you do? Often the decisions we make shape who we are and over time they form the naked self.
“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare
The good news is, once you spend time stripping away the layers which cloak your naked self, making decisions when you are faced with difficult situations becomes easier because you already know your own boundaries, capabilities, ideals, strengths and weaknesses. But again, nothing in this universe is truly static. People, laws, ideas, beliefs, technologies, even star constellations change…everything changes over time, and so will you.
Being older than the average university student, I have had ‘a few’ more years to reflect on what is at the core of who I am. I have had the opportunity to reflect on situations where I have needed to take a stand based on my principles, knowing there would be negative consequences, and, situations where I have remained silent or turned a blind eye to something I thought was wrong, simply because I was not willing to bare the consequences of becoming involved. Reflecting on the times I have lifted people up and let people down, where I have avoided uncomfortable truths for selfish reasons and where I have shown unadulterated emotion.
I have discovered things about myself which I love and hate, which are thrilling and disappointing, which I am proud of and which I am uncomfortable with. I have worked to change negative and purposeless aspects of myself, such as ego, jealousy, fear of change, and, to reaffirm the parts of myself which matter most, such as compassion, honesty and self-worth.
Some of the lessons I have learned during my own journey of self-discovery are: self-worth is intrinsically linked to inner peace, where possible be willing to find compromise, no one is perfect, pick your battles wisely, and, always be ready to accept and live with the consequences of your thoughts and actions.
For readers who are interested in learning more about the concepts of authenticity and self, I highly recommend the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. There are also interesting short videos online by Alan Watts, Jordon Peterson, Philosophies for Life, and the Academy of Ideas.
Feature Image: Madelyn Gardiner, Yak Media Designer