It is not uncommon for patients in therapy to express feelings of self-alienation. They may say things like, “I don’t feel like my true self” or “Sometimes I don’t even recognize the person I’ve become.”
In cases like these, it’s important to reflect on your own sense of authenticity. Acting authentically (ie, being true to yourself, standing up for what you believe in, and sticking to your core principles) can be a powerful antidote to self-alienation.
Here are three signs you may need to rekindle your relationship with the “real you.”
#1. You keep a secret that you no longer want to keep
There is something attractive about secrets and keeping secrets. We all want to be in the know. We want to be aware of information that other people don’t have. We prefer to be in the inner circle than on the fringes.
Much of this is based on our need to feel connected to others. This is not, in itself, a bad thing. However, there are some repercussions of keeping secrets that can cause psychological damage.
Some secrets can weigh us down. They affect our ability to interact and relate to others. The more we try to repress a secret, the more we find it surfacing in our consciousness.
People who reveal a big secret often describe the experience as a “weight off their shoulders,” even in cases where the disclosure may cause damage to their close relationships.
Much of this can be explained from the point of view of authenticity. When we keep secrets that prey on our feelings of authenticity, we lead ourselves down a harmful path. We may deal with these feelings in unhealthy ways, such as numbing our thoughts with alcohol or disassociating ourselves from previously pleasant experiences.
Often the only way to rebalance our psychological state is to share the secrets that are making us feel inauthentic. Therapy is a safe place to explore these possibilities.
#2. You are a different person at work than you are at home
For many of us, our work can make us feel distant from our true selves. We are forced to wear a thick skin and are asked to behave in ways that we may not be entirely comfortable with. Many employees are hesitant to reveal their true personalities for fear of how their colleagues might see them.
In some work environments, there is a strong tinge of conformity, so everyone acts more or less the same way (perhaps taking on the personality traits of the organization’s leader(s). Any rejection of the status quo way of doing things can be seen by superiors as an assault on the organization itself.
If you feel this way, it likely affects your sense of authenticity. You may feel conflicted about the “real you.” Is “home you” the real you or is “work you” in fact the real you?
Over time, our psychology has a way of resolving this cognitive dissonance in one direction or another. The problem is that without actively working through these thoughts and feelings we don’t always control the direction of resolution. We may end up becoming the person who was once a stranger to us.
#3. You’re living a double (or triple) life.
Most people equate living a double life with having an affair or hiding something of great importance from their immediate family. While this is one definition of a double life, it is important to know that there are other less severe forms of living double or triple lives that can also lead to feelings of inauthenticity. Most of them stem from simply trying to do too much.
Consider the following scenario. Imagine a mother trying to take care of young children, succeed in her career, and be a good daughter to her aging parents at the same time. While these are all great goals, it is unlikely that anyone can excel at all of these tasks simultaneously. This often leads to feelings of inauthenticity and self-blame (ie, “I should have taken my parents out to lunch last week” or “I can’t afford to miss another family meeting PTA”).
In these cases, you need to practice self-respect, realizing that you simply don’t have time to be everything to everyone. Reducing the number of things you expect to do each week can help restore your sense of authenticity.
Feeling a strong sense of authenticity is the cornerstone of a happy and healthy life. The next time you feel disconnected from yourself, take some time to reflect on whether you may be (1) keeping unwanted secrets, (2) struggling with your work identity, or (3) trying to accomplish so much that you constantly feel overwhelmed extended .