Your true self is what makes you who you are. There are parts of you that have a sense of “rightness” to them, however, finding your true self is not straightforward. It’s a layered process with many stages of realization. The seven layers of identity are one of many systems you can use to find your true self, better understand what makes you the unique individual you are and how you can reach your potential. (Estimated reading time: 12 minutes)
“Be yourself – everyone else is taken.”— Oscar Wilde
“Be your true authentic self!”
You may have heard this buzz phrase used often. It has become a fixture in the lexicon of personal growth, and has even found its way into the corporate world, where people are asked to “bring their whole and authentic self to work.”
But what does it mean to find your true self? It’s touted as the holy grail of happiness, yet its meaning remains elusive. If you want to live your best life, you must pursue specific desires and live in accordance with your values rather than falling in line with social expectations and what people think is good for you.
Some studies back up the promising prospects of being our true selves. Feelings of authenticity produce several social and psychological benefits, including improved wellbeing, higher self-esteem, better relationships, and boosted work performance. Considering all these benefits, it’s no wonder that everyone wants to be authentic.
Telltale signs that you are being your true self include: showing your honesty and integrity when interacting with others, matching your words and your actions, your actions and behavior appearing genuine, and your online persona matching your offline one.
The issue with this standard is that we must create our own yardstick to determine where we stand and find our true self. We need a construct or an idea of who we are when we feel most aligned, fulfilled, and happy. Having a clear sense of identity has proven to be an effective way to do it.
As we unravel the many layers of our identities, we can understand the nuance and duality within us. Even if we behave in contradictory ways, having a grip on our inner workings makes it easier to understand them. We can spot outside influences that enter our world and decide whether or not we choose to accept them.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that “character is destiny.” By taking charge of our authenticity and getting clear on our “true self,” we can move further along the road to meaning and contribution with faith and confidence.
Authenticity hurdles: caveats about the true self
The road to authenticity is a slippery slope. Despite knowing the definition and requirements, we can get sidetracked along the way as we try to find our true self. To stay intentional and focused in our personal unfolding, we must keep these three caveats in mind:
1. The role of social approval
The 1998 animated movie Mulan was influential in the development of many girls who grew up in the 1990s. It broke the tradition in which the male hero rescued a damsel in distress and made a woman the hero instead.
Yet the path to becoming a hero was rife with challenges – even before Mulan dealt with the Hun Army and its evil leader Shan Yu. She struggled with the expectations placed on her as a girl in Imperial China when ideas about gender and virtue were restrictive to modern sensibilities.
In the song “Reflection,” Mulan returns home after a humiliating attempt to impress the matchmaker. In the song, she expresses her desire to show the world who she really is instead of pretending to be the archetype of a perfect bride and daughter.
She knows that’s not who she is. She realizes that in her attempts not to disappoint her family, she is betraying herself. But if she’s not the type of girl who fits this mold, then who is she? Destiny unfolds, and she somehow finds herself in the imperial army disguised as a man – the cover-up that made it possible to show her brilliant military genius and skill.
Only after she discovers her true self can she honor her family from an authentic place. She finds her match in the handsome and brave army general Li Chang.
The lesson from the tale of Mulan is that the quest to find your true self involves a careful balance between our personal expectations and socially approved qualities. Sometimes that might require us to walk away, either temporarily or permanently, from those who don’t give us the freedom and space to embark on the journey of self-discovery.
2. Is the true self just an illusion?
The true self is imbued with meaning, but there isn’t a lot of science to support it. It’s a psychological concept that reflects a personal reality; a subjective notion that depends on our circumstances, personality, values, and beliefs.
Psychologists have argued that selfhood is intrinsically determined and, therefore, changeable. We are evolving organic beings, and being reduced to labels and checkboxes to fit into neat categories limits our possibilities. After all, we behave and take action based on the perception of our personality and capabilities.
Brain science shows that the sense of self is an illusion. However, the word “illusion” does not imply that the self does not exist but that what we see is not always what it seems. The self we experience is merely a powerful depiction that our brains construct to benefit us in the context of our physical environments.
Buddhists also subscribe to the illusion of self, using another route. They believe that nothing is constant and that everything changes with time. Our steady stream of consciousness changes the shape of our characters. That’s why our minds and bodies are constantly in flux.
3. The impact of ego on the true self
If the self is formless consciousness or presence, the ego is the false self. Spiritual leader Eckhart Tolle introduced this idea in his book, “A New Earth.” In Tolle’s teachings, the ego gets in the way of the true self or prevents universal intelligence from shining through.
The ego is an entity that results from mental and emotional conditioning and influences how we view the world and act within it. Recognizing and dissolving it is a necessary part of the evolution of consciousness, both individually and collectively.
The ego is more than vanity and grandiosity. It is also feelings of self-hatred and inferiority that can give us a sense of identity. For instance, someone with a victim mentality and “poor-me” syndrome might derive a sense of self from the mean things people say, or they might interpret events in a way that makes them seem like they are a target of ill will.
Tolle says that overidentification with the ego causes a sense of separation and accentuates the “otherness” of other people. For example, if someone cuts you off on the road, you might start labeling them as “rude” and “inconsiderate” and fixating on everything wrong with them.
When this happens, our ego takes hold of us, and we are blocked from the true essence of who we are, which is love. We need to tap into our innate compassion. In other words, our ego will get in the way of displaying our true self until we bring attention to it.
What is the true self, and why is it important?
Your true self is essentially the essence of what makes you who you are beyond the superficial capacities, trappings, and labels you showcase to the world. There are parts of you that have a sense of “rightness” to them. You feel comfortable displaying those qualities like a shoe that fits just right.
The true self also embodies the virtues of the higher self. The traits that make us a “good person” with morals and values lead us to act in ways that benefit our loved ones and society as a whole. As social beings, we want to feel like our best selves and make a difference in the lives of others.
To better grasp the concept of the true self, think about a time when you met someone who seemed comfortable in their skin. You may have thought, “that person knows who they are and what they’re all about!” Their words and actions showed their firm belief in themselves and their vision. They had a strong sense of presence.
A persona with a true sense of self is not all about themselves and pushing their agendas on others. Their drive and passion come from a place that’s real and sincere. Being around them is uplifting and elicits a genuine response.
The good news is that you can also experience the same sense of alignment and confidence, but you must learn how to find yourself and embrace all aspects of who you are. Even the unsavory parts that don’t make you very proud.
Operating from a place of authenticity is also essential when navigating important and complicated decisions. When we reach those inevitable crossroads, we must tune in and intuitively know what feels right. That inner voice that offers direction will come through clearly if we have done the work to define our true self’s essence. Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Finding the true self is a layered process with many stages of realization. Carl Jung described it as “individuation” —the path to becoming more aware of oneself. Even though we may act differently in different contexts, there is a core self that is consistent over time.
The Seven Layers of Identity
We are a combination of different layers. Each part contributes to our selfhood. Knowing the seven layers of identity gives you a holistic overview of your identity and help you find your true self.
The seven layers of identity is a framework from the book “7 Seals” by life coach Manu C. R. Legein-Vandenhoeck. As you assess each layer, ask yourself where you stand and add up your performance on all seven to get the full picture of your current state. In this way, you’ll know which layers need more attention at this point.
1. Body: Your physical self is who you are. It’s not a possession but a part of your being. Your body reflects your health on all levels – mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. That’s why it’s essential to be tuned in to your body and stay grounded and present with it.
2. Emotional: Your body houses your feelings and emotions. Feelings are transient and flow like water in a river without getting stuck. Emotions are feelings crystalizing in your being after an event until you process it healthily. Your body and emotions are intimately connected.
3. Ego: The ego, in this context, refers to your center of power. It indicates your capacity toward a balanced and healthy “I am” and your self-esteem. This layer is all about “doing,” and when you’re able to stand in your power, you have the conviction to carry out your plans in the face of challenges.
4. Loving: We all have a web of relationships that consist of family members, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances with whom we share a connection. No matter how long the encounter is, they leave an impression on you. We also connect with ourselves, other creatures, and nature. We are the product of the relationships that we’ve had in our lives.
5. Speaking: As social animals, we must express our thoughts and feelings. The speaking layer refers to our ability to communicate what we want to convey to others. That’s why some of the most influential people in the world are excellent communicators, whether in speaking, writing, or other forms of expression.
6. Seeing: This layer is about how you perceive the world and your propensity to ask the big questions in life. When you’re strong in this area, you’re not just looking at the surface but seeing deeper into a situation, noticing the meaning, symbolism, and significance. Buddha said, “If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.”
7. Knowing: Having the awareness to self-analyze and understand the world is an ability that’s unique to humans. We process information and events to gain knowledge and wisdom to facilitate our development and growth. When this layer of identity is honed, we can know what is real and what is an illusion.
The seven layers of identity are one of many systems you can use to understand better what makes you unique and how you can reach your potential.
Five ways to express your true self
Once we know the various layers of our identities, we can take steps to accentuate the parts of our true selves we want to express in the world. This isn’t always easy as there will be the temptation to sway us away from it, especially when under the influence of others or placed in situations with high pressure and stress.
For this reason, we must develop daily practices to keep us steady and focused.
Here are five that you can incorporate into your everyday life:
1. Develop personal standards
Your standards form the bedrock of your identity. They are essentially your rule book for living. Your career, relationships, and personal prosperity will reflect what you believe to be true about yourself and the wider world.
Here are some examples of personal standards:
- I will not knowingly hurt or hinder another human being in my pursuit of growth
- I will question the long-term ramifications of what I do
- I will treat my body with respect by caring for and nurturing it
2. Deal with blocks that prevent true expression
Many things get in the way of expressing your true self: other people, low self-esteem, fear, and a lack of resources and information. Are there some shadow traits or family baggage that get in the way of your unfolding? Identify those blocks and create a plan to work on them as you try to find your true self. This may include reading books and articles, working with a coach or therapist, and taking a class.
3. Let your life reflect your authenticity
Creating a lifestyle and environment that centers on your authenticity includes how you dress, the design of your home, how you communicate, your hobbies and passions, your career choices, the causes you support, and the kinds of people you surround yourself with. Your life should represent what you stand for and what you’re all about, proving that you “walk your talk.” Let go of any fake things you do to “look good” to others.
4. Prioritize ‘me time’
Just as you have to spend time with a loved one to strengthen your bond, you need to spend quality time with yourself to get to know yourself better: what do you like or dislike? What do you feel? What do you value? During these solitary sessions, you can engage in soul-enhancing activities such as meditation, writing, prayer, and repeating mantras and affirmations.
Through these practices, you can forge and deepen your connection with your true self. You learn to accept your imperfections and get comfortable with your vulnerabilities.
5. Be open to experimenting and re-inventing yourself
You are a living, breathing entity that requires constant attention and updates. Having a core essence that you stay true to doesn’t mean that you have to remain stagnant and not change things up once in a while. In our fast-changing world, we must stay on trend by experimenting and re-inventing ourselves.
Connecting to our authentic essence is a journey we’re all undertaking. We all approach it at different speeds and intensities. But ultimately, we all yearn to connect with the greatness all around us. To connect with the great power we sense in our surroundings, we must look within at our true selves.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Do you believe it’s possible to find your true self? If not, what do you think is getting in the way, and how can you overcome it?
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