Trauma and the Authentic Self

Trauma and the Authentic Self

Trauma and the Authentic Self

This powerful therapeutic exercise will help you discover who you really are (your authentic self) and separate that from the version of ourselves that we present to the world.

Be Yourself. Everyone else is already taken

Oscar wilde

How many times have you heard people to say to you “Just be yourself”? The term is thrown around a lot but what exactly does it mean? In my last post I talked about learning to love ourselves, but how can we do that if we don’t know who exactly we are loving?

In order for us to truly be able to stand in our truth and proclaim to the world “this is who I am!” we first need to take a closer look at ourselves to figure out exactly what constitutes ‘I’ or ‘me’.

Now believe me, I completely get that it is far easier to live with the version of yourself that you present to the world, rather than the actual you buried deep inside.

I know that getting honest with ourselves means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable instead of hiding behind the facades that have got us this far. But before you run away leaving a cartoon like hole in the wall with cries of “this isn’t what I signed up for”, just remember this:

By giving yourself permission to be vulnerable and shining a light on your truths, you are showing immense strength and taking action that can genuinely result in change.

And if you still feel wobbly or unsure, you can take comfort in the fact that I would never ask you to do something that I am not prepared to do myself. So, with that in mind I will go through the following written exercise with you. But I will actually post my real true thoughts, beliefs and feelings right here in this blog!

Indulge me for a while and let’s do an exercise together that I read years ago in a Paul McKenna book. I have since studied it during therapy training and have used with clients over the years with great success.

If you prefer to watch this exercise, please see the video below

First, we are going to identify three parts of ourselves:

  1. Pretend Self (who we pretend to be)
  2. Negative Self (who we are afraid we are)
  3. Authentic Self (who we truly are)

Our pretend self is the ‘us’ that we project to the world. It is how we like to be seen. Sometimes we do such a good job with this part that we even forget that our true self is somewhere inside!

In order to unpick this a little, lets answer the following questions together. I like to use a nice journal because my process of self-discovery and ultimately self-love is really important to me so I tend to write my journal entries in a lovely book that I intend on keeping forever.

I will put pictures of my real diary with my actual real answers to these questions to show I am absolutely 100% in this with you and I practice what I preach!

Questions to help discover your pretend self:

How do you like to be seen?

Bright, colourful, kind, confident, like I know what I am talking about, stand out from others and visible

Which aspect of your personality do you hope people notice first?

Kindness, honesty, warm and friendly

If your life were trying to prove something about you, what would it be?

That I am good at something – Therapy. I’m likeable, engaging, friend material, I’m the organiser and responsible one.

Now, I hope that you have been as honest as I have in answering those questions! Because the next set can be tough to swallow.

Questions to help you discover your Negative Self Image:

What is the opposite of each of the traits of your pretend self?

Dull, shy, plain, selfish, don’t know anything (stupid), invisible, cold, liar, unfriendly / not worth being friends with, I don’t know who I am, I’m no good at anything, I’m unlikeable, I’m boring, I can’t take part in things, irresponsible.

Which of your secrets will be discovered after you die?

My journals and private thoughts about my past trauma.

Who is your least favourite person and why?

Person X – Controlling, dismissive, selfish and arrogant

Person Y – selfish, controlling, cruel, stupid, uncaring, dismissive, doesn’t listen, arrogant, egotistical, always has to be right.

Wow, that one is really tough isn’t it?! I can hear some of you wanting to dismiss that these things could ever be anything to do with any part of you and I can also hear some pennies dropping for others of you. Remember this is our negative self-image which has been programmed into us over the years, quite often from childhood.

If you think about it, isn’t it obvious that a child who is told “children should be seen but not heard” would have trouble communicating? Or having parents who were busy with work and had no time to play, a child might feel invisible? It is easy to see that a child who is only reminded of their mistakes, instead of praised for their efforts and achievements, may feel they are not good enough. I’m sure you get the point and can start to understand already how some of your negative self-image came to be.

The last question is important because what we most dislike in others is actually what we are most afraid can be found in ourselves! Just stop and take an honest look at what you have written. Is that true for you? Are you afraid that you have those traits too?

Remember, this is NOT the real you!

This is an important layer to understand. The negative beliefs that we take on from childhood form our critical thinking that squashes our true selves. Then in order to deal with that we have to create the pretend self to put out there to the world in case the world thinks “I’m dull, boring, useless, not good enough” etc.

I don’t know about you, but for me just simply acknowledging these truths allows me to have greater compassion towards myself. How many of us run around with an inner critical voice? The answer by the way, is everyone! We are far quicker to criticise ourselves than we are anyone else and I think it is really important for us to acknowledge that, intercept the critical talk and have compassion and love for the hurt little child inside of us.

Of course, underneath the layers we have just worked on lies our true authentic self. The person that we really are can feel like we are coming home. Have you ever felt like that? I know I have… singing in the car at the top of my voice, having silly chats with myself in the mirror and dissolving into giggles. Standing in a forest and being moved to tears by the majesty and beauty of nature. These times are the most wonderful, blissful, liberating and peaceful experiences. Just simply being myself.

Questions to help discover your Authentic Self:

Who are you when nobody is watching?

Silly, fun, chatty, smiley, loving, warm, compassionate, non-judgemental, accepting, relaxed, at peace, excited, full of self-love and acceptance, creative, imaginative, sure of self.

If you felt totally safe, what would you do differently?

Tell my family about my past, write a book and an online course, set up as a therapist again, run/jog/ride a bike.

Who would you be if you lived beyond your fear?

The most amazing me! A public speaker, an author as well as a therapist. My true self, whole and free, standing in my truth.

So now that you have done this exercise, it makes sense that deep inside us lies our real self. Sadly, this is suffocated by the next layer up, which is the person we are afraid we are, desperately wanting to be validated. So in order to make sure people still like us and we can survive in the world, we create another layer on top of that; the person we pretend to be. Consequently, we get so exhausted “keeping up appearances” as it were, that it burns us out.

On top of that, whenever we do anything “wrong” or make a mistake, we jump on that mistake. We are our own worst enemy because the cracks in the top layer allow the inner criticism to emerge. It bubbles up from the beliefs of the negative layer. This means our true self ends up ignored, shunned and suffocated. Sometimes if we do this for long enough, we even forget about the beautiful authentic self altogether that lays at the very heart of us.

Now that we have identified that part of us, we can be more aware of acknowledging it and enjoying it. In addition, we can extend compassion and love towards the parts of us that have been hurt from past experiences and understanding towards the part of us desperately trying to be liked and understood in this world.

I truly believe that every single one of us is amazing!

Feel free to check out my last blog post “setting healthy boundaries and learning to say no”. Trauma can result in us building these protective layers around ourselves and part of that can mean we don’t even know what our own boundaries are or feel that we are not allowed to implement them.

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With love and warm wishes, Heather

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