I entered a spiraling path of contemplation earlier this week, which occurred as I was reflecting on the overarching purpose of talk therapy or counselling. This definition came to me in a state of reflection, “Counselling is the creation of a space for the facilitation self-exploration. This act assists individuals in connecting with a language, allowing them to authentically express their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.” This led to the questioning of authenticity. What is authenticity? How does one live in and emanate from a place of authenticity?
This began a brief delve into the history of authenticity. It is assumed that ancient Greek philosophers were the first to study authenticity. However, the first documented use of authenticity occurred in the 1700’s by Jean-Jacques Rosseau. Rosseau argued that personal authenticity is diminished by the need for the esteem of others. Thus, authenticity is derived from the natural self and inauthenticity is a result of external influences. Martin Heidegger, an existential philosopher followed Rosseau in his discussion of authenticity in the 1900’s. Heidegger believed authenticity to be a choice; choosing the nature of one’s existence and identity. Heidegger added to this definition by linking authenticity to an awareness of one’s mortality. He believed that authenticity can only be achieved by keeping in mind one’s inevitable death. The final philosopher I will bring into this discussion is Jean-Paul Sartre, whose research occurred in the mid to late 1900’s. Sartre argued that authenticity requires the assumption of full responsibility for our life, choices, and actions. Anxiety occurs through the realization that our personal freedom is constrained by nature and society.
The common thread in all of these conceptualizations is one that authenticity exists when we are in alignment with our internal essence and we act in congruency to this. In theory, this seems quite charming and simple.What if one isn’t connected to their internal essence? What if one has internalized external messages and is being led astray, thinking they are living in accordance with their essence?
The irony of writing about authenticity was fully revealed to me today as I took an unexpectantly difficult look inward. As someone who prides herself on being reflective and aware, I was shocked to stumble across a twisted knot of pain in my core that seemed to be impenetrable; a compounded wound beginning in childhood, slowly growing as I have. This experience is demonstrative of the reality of embodied pain and how deeply and unconsciously it can be stored. Resultantly, this led to further questioning of the achievability of authenticity.
At the end of the day (literally and figuratively), all I can conclude is that we embrace what appears to be authenticity in so that we feel as though we are acting in accordance with our values. We operate from this state until it no longer feels authentic, at which point we determine how to step into this newly discovered authentic way of being. This is a beautiful reminder of the impermanence of existence; so too are our concepts of self ever changing. This week my friends, I encourage you (and I) to embrace yourself with gentle, caring concern.
May the road rise to meet you,