What is “The Authentic Self”?
The authentic self can also be called the true self, the original being, the Self, Being, or, in more spiritual language, the Divine Self. All these terms refer to the same aspect of us – the one who was born, who existed before our brain developed enough to create a psyche, or a false self.
Different disciplines have developed different language to describe the authentic self. In transpersonal psychotherapy, the authentic self is known as the Self. Transpersonal psychotherapy helps people to access their authentic self, and use its clarifying power to adjust aspects of the psyche which are causing distress.
In spiritual traditions, the authentic self is known as the Divine within (in Abrahamic traditions), or the buddhi body or jivatman (in yogic traditions). In ontological traditions, it is known as Being.
From Authentic Self to False Self; The Universal Human Tragedy
The false self develops in recognisable stages as our brain matures. In the early stages, the foundations are laid when we develop object permanence (remembering objects exist, even when we can’t directly see or hear them) and the ability to perceive ourselves as separate from the Universe as a whole.
By age two, we are testing out the limits of our separate existence, and learning how to feel secure when we are not with our primary caregivers. The individual qualities of our false self are a result of our biological tendencies and the environment we inhabit. We are especially influenced by the type of physical and emotional care our parents provide.
We develop our feelings about what kind of person we are, and what kind of world we live in, based on these early, formative years. If our caregivers are unreliable, we will internalise the feeling that survival is precarious, and the world is uncaring, or even dangerous. If they respond badly to our crying when we are in need, we will develop a sense of shame. This manifests in feelings that we are not good enough, that there is something wrong with us, and we need to work hard to earn our keep.
Our authentic self is immune to all these environmental influences.
While our psyche is growing, layer by layer, developing limiting beliefs and storing traumas, our authentic self remains unchanged. Luminous, pure, open to the world, and deeply peaceful, the authentic self is always present, underneath our everyday psyche. Often, the authentic self is so deeply submerged that we don’t know it is there, or we don’t know where to find it.
Clinging to the False Self
When this happens, we mistakenly think that the false self is the only self we have. We believe we ARE the false self. We defend the false self as though it is really who we are. We defend the prison we have built for ourselves. We defend the container which holds all of our suffering. We defend the scars from all of our psychological wounds as though they were our heart and lungs.
When we identify with the false self, we defend the prison, instead of returning to being the one who was never imprisoned at all.
We are never so trapped as when we believe the prison walls are a part of ourselves. We are never so free as when we realise that we no longer need the protection of walls at all.