An inquiry into the Authentic Self

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” -C. G. Jung

Welcome to my first blog post (aka. Reflections).

This first post is meant as an introduction to my work.  As a self development coach my primary focus is to help my clients in their personal growth  towards living a more fulfilling and authentic life.  As a foundation to understanding my work, I will be expounding on a few of the psychological theories that have informed my view .

Authentic Self

So what is the “authentic self”?  Why is it important to live authentically and connected to our essential nature?  How is this different than our “persona” ?

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, Authentic is defined as— not false or imitation, true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character In contrast, the Persona is defined as— an individual’s social façade or the roles we play in life.

As a self-development coach, I work with clients who express discontent with their lives on many levels.  They aren’t always able to express the reasons for this unhappiness.  They experience a kind of flatness in life or lack of joy and motivation,  though they may have attained  success in certain areas of their life.  Symptoms may present as chronic depression or feelings of emptiness inside.

These same clients come identifying with their narratives or the personas they have adopted and this is what defines them.  These limited  self views block the access to their full potential leaving valuable parts of themselves unknown.

I believe that living a life that is more integrated and  one that reflects our true nature helps us to achieve more happiness and fulfillment in all areas of our lives.  As a product of this new found wholeness, our happiness becomes less dependent on outside sources and more self-generated.  By becoming more aware of our true nature and present with ourselves, we are able to tap into more of our  innate potential as individuals .

Positive Regard

By beholding and being  fully present with my clients,  I practice what humanistic Psychologist Carl Rogers called, unconditional positive regard. This non judgmental approach of reflecting back the qualities that I “see” in my clients allows  for the opportunity for  them to question their adopted self -identification.

There is something magical that happens when we feel seen and validated. It touches us in the deepest part of our selves.  It opens our awareness to new possibilities that were never considered before.  The illumination of our essence by another reconnects us to the authentic in ourselves and re-invites  a re-telling of our personal story.

 

The Mirror Stage

Every man carries with him through life a mirror, as unique and impossible to get rid of as his shadow.”  ~W.H. Auden

Many psychological theories attest to the importance of being mirrored in our earliest development.  According to these theories a newborn until about age five, is not capable of self-reflection. In order for a child to develop a healthy sense of self he needs to be seen and reflected in his unlimited potential.  Jacques Lacan, a French Psychoanalyst and Psychiatrist, was one of the first to state the importance of mirroring in a child’s early ego development.  According to Lacan, an infant, from the age of 6 months will comprehend his image in a mirror as an object even though he is not capable of recognizing it as himself. 

Early Ego development 

Lacan termed this initial stage of self–identification, the mirror stage. He observed this in the behavior of infants as they interacted with a physical mirror. The infant would gaze upon his own reflection with amusement experiencing the relationship between his body movements and the image he saw reflected. The mirror-stage provides a way to establish a relationship between the infant and his reality.

Lacan called this the ideal I, the precursor to the identity the infant will assume after resolving the confusion he experiences due to the dissonance between what he sees and what he can control with his own body.  To resolve this tension the infant eventually identifies with the mirrored image that serves as the idealized ego. Lacan hypothesized that this ego is the product of false recognition and has caused the child to become alienated from his authentic self.  Lacan’s mirror stage paved the way for the theory of Object relations.

Object Relations

Smile in the mirror. Do that every morning and you’ll start to see a big difference in your life.”~Yoko Ono

Though Melanie Klein was largely credited with developing this theory, it was Psychoanalyst, D. W. Winnicott who introduced his understanding of object relations and mirroring as a developmental stage.  He believed that the only possibility for the infant to establish a relationship between himself and reality was to be seen from the outside.

In psychological terms, this being seen from the outside is referred to as “mirroring”. Winnicott believed  that the mother’s function in the infant’s development was to hold and handle the infant in a way so that he can experience his unlimited potential. The infant is able to see his reflection through the mother or primary caregiver’s face that allows for the healthy development in the emerging child.

The False Self

Similar to Lacan’s literal mirror example, tension occurs when the infant’s affect is not mirrored and responded to by the mother. Winnicott posited that the infant at this stage cannot see himself as a separate being, but sees the mother as himself.  If the mother is available to mirror the infant, he will maintain his sense of omnipotence, but if the mother is unavailable or if she is self absorbed and expresses only her own mood, the infant will respond by looking elsewhere in the environment to be reflected or else mistake the mother’s affect as being himself. The infant quickly learns to abandon his true self and adopts a false self instead, thus distorting the emotional development of the child.

According to Winnicott, ineffective mirroring is the main cause of narcissistic disturbance where the infant is forced to abandon his authentic self. This is similar to Lacan’s view of the ego forming as a false recognition of the true self.   Psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut furthered these theories by introducing his concept of Self Object and authored his psychoanalytic theory of Self Psychology.

Self Object

“Instruction is good for a child; but example is worth more.”

~ Alexandre Dumas

Heinz Kohut used the term “self-object” to indicate how an object or a person can be employed as a way of knowing oneself. Kohut agreed with Winnicott that the mother or primary care person is the first self-object the infant will experience and the mirroring of the special qualities and accomplishments will help to  build a healthy self-esteem in the child.  

Empathy

In addition, the self object  functions to give the infant an idealized object that is modeled in the environment, so that he can merge and identify with it as himself.   He theorized that if the mother is not able to mirror or serve as a healthy self -object, the development of the self suffers injury.  But, if the mother knows herself and models for the child empathy, this will allow for the emergence of healthy psychic development.

These theoretical models agree that if there is not a positive reflection from an external source, the potential of losing connection to the authentic self and identifying with the ego or false self increases. 

So my question is… how can we reconnect or know this authentic self if we weren’t given a positive external source of mirroring? Swiss Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst Carl Jung, founder of Analytical Psychology, presented a more purposeful,  psycho-spiritual perspective of the Self in his theory of Individuation.   

Individuation

“Individuation is an expression of that biological process – simple or complicated as the case may be – by which every living thing becomes what it was destined to become from the beginning” ~ C.G. Jung

Whereas Lacan, Winnicott and Kohut spoke to mirroring as a valuable aspect of emotional and ego development, Carl Jung was more interested with the second half of life when one is seeking to find his/her unique contribution to life. He used the term  “individuation” to describe the process of self-realization or psychological differentiation.

Unlike Kohut and Winnicott who believed that the self is developed by early mirroring, Jung saw the self as innately whole.  According to Jung, the “Self” exists outside of our conscious awareness. It is the center of the psyche or soul and is the organizing element that allows for access to what he called archetypes or pre-existent images.

Archetypes

These archetypes are the basis for the mind and are the components that manifest as the “Self”. These archetypes embody both our personal history, and are linked to our more instinctual, basic nature.  Because the “Self” it is outside of our conscious awareness, our ego is a necessary ingredient to realizing it. 

It is the ego that allows for the inquiry of the images and symbols that consciously manifest from the “Self” through our dreams and life experiences. It is through integration of the unconscious with consciousness, that we are urged towards wholeness. In this way the mirroring happens from the inside and makes it possible to know our selves more authentically. But the ego, being only part of the totality of the “Self’, can be prone to distortions. 

Methods

This is where the many methods for inquiry including: dream-work, active imagination, meditation, drawing mandalas or the beneficial approaches of depth psychology and Jungian Analysis can help lessen the ego’s misinterpretation of the self. My approach employs many of the depth methods and through coaching I help my clients to become more self aware by reflecting back their experiences and holding space  for processing new information.  I assign self-reflection exercises and suggest practices that will help to integrate back into consciousness that which has been lost or forgotten.

Integration

To begin to understand your Soul as an integral part of yourself and begin to connect with your Soul as a part of your full being and your true nature, is the beginning of wisdom and the portal to true joy” 

I have explored and barely touched on some of the many theories self -development and the external factors that can influence, interrupt and delay our individual development that may block the free expression of our “authentic” self.  Carl Jung’s psycho-spiritual  approach of  “Individuation” proposes  that we possess an internal drive that urges us back  towards the “Self” or wholeness.

Soul’s Intention

Our “Soul” has a deeper need than what our conscious ego can identify with. Many experience this  calling around mid-life when the ego feels challenged by some restless need of the internal Self. We may become more aware of this drive when a crisis or life events occur that reveal patterns that point to some undefinable stuck-ness.  We may or may not be conscious of the underlying purpose of these life events that can  leave us feeling more like victims to life’s circumstances. I believe it is through this inner agency  that we are capable of integrating the lost parts of our selves and learning to hold  our experiences within the larger context of the developmental evolution of the”Self”.  This approach leads towards wholeness and self-empowerment.

What does it mean for you to be your authentic Self?

I welcome you to share your thoughts below.

Authentically yours,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *