We often hear people saying that we should strive to live an authentic life as being authentic means that we live a life that makes us truly happy. But what does it mean to be authentic? To be true to ourselves? How do we know that we are living a life that we want and not a life that is influenced by past messages and beliefs?
Being authentic means that our words and actions come from a real place within us and are consistent with our own true values and beliefs. Being authentic means to be yourself and not an imitation of what you think you should be, influenced by what you’ve been told by others. In gestalt therapy these ‘shoulds’ are called ‘introjects’ which create a mechanism that interrupts spontaneity and creativity in our lives and may disrupt our ability to make meaningful contact with our environment and the people around us.
Introjections are messages, attitudes and ways of feeling and acting that we have taken in and accepted from others without any questioning. These introjects are usually messages which were passed on to us directly or indirectly from our primary caregivers or any person who had an important role in our childhood. If I think about some of the introjects that I have received as a child growing up in Malta, I can easily think about several messages related to family life, attitudes towards work, sex, religion and others that have often influenced my decisions and how I chose to live my life. The problem with introjects is that as an adult, we may then find it difficult to develop our own personality. The more introjects we saddle ourselves with, the less room there is for us to express ourselves and discover who we truly are and what we really want in life.
As we go through our own personal journey in life, we sometimes find ourselves dealing with unnecessary anguish because what we want and need is not congruent with what we have been taught. We sometimes miss out on opportunities because they do not fit with the messages that we have received in life, and we choose what others want so as to avoid disappointing or hurting them. Unfortunately, this means that we end up in unhappy jobs and relationships where we find ourselves wondering how we ended up living a life that we cannot recognise as our own.
Taking the time to reflect on what resonates with us and what is truly ours is a step that we must all take. If we do not do this, we end up carrying around baggage that is not our own; baggage that brings about unnecessary fear, guilt and shame. Being authentic means to be real, and what is real for me may be very different from what is real for you, and that’s ok. Living authentically is also not static, because we are constantly changing, becoming aware of ourselves, facing fears, doubts and having the courage to live a life that makes us feel more alive.