We’ve all heard the phrase “be true to yourself,” but what does it really mean?
Life and society is full of pressures to change who we are in order to fit in, make money and be accepted.
In the midst of all the noise and conditioning, here are the most effective ways to be true to yourself and live an authentic life.
1) Get to know yourself
There’s no way to be true to yourself if you don’t really know yourself!
So how do you do it?
There are many psychological methods, spiritual paths and religious teachings that advise you how to come into touch with your true self and true nature.
The common theme that emerges is that we have to face ourselves in all our positives and negatives and integrate or at least accept that before we can move on to truly owning ourselves and being ourselves.
In this article I will be primarily using the framework developed by groundbreaking Swiss psychologist Carl Jung.
As Jung explained:
“Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.”
According to Jung, much of our authenticity lies in our subconscious, which we remain largely unaware of until consciously going through certain experiences and conscious processes.
Jung says we each have four archetypes or parts of ourselves that we need to understand and integrate before we can become individuated, by which he means authentic.
These are the persona, the shadow, the anima/animus and the true self.
2) Take off your mask
To come face to face with your persona, your shadow, your anima and your real self, you need to start by taking off the mask.
The mask is the persona, our social self or constructed self.
This is the polite smile we give at work, or the images we post on social media that show us in our best or most sympathetic light.
It’s part of who we are, absolutely, but the persona is not authentic and not in touch with the deeper undercurrents in our subconscious.
In order to access the truth in our personal and collective unconscious (the unconscious experiences and symbols shared by all humanity), we need to proceed to our shadow self.
When you take off your mask you then come face to face with the aspects of yourself known as the shadow.
3) Face your shadow
Describing the shadow as “bad” is far too simplistic and unhelpful.
The shadow isn’t bad, and may even contain various positive and beneficial traits. The thing about the shadow is that it’s repressed.
The shadow is the self that’s too afraid to come out because it won’t be understood, accepted or validated.
The shadow may include some stereotypically “negative” things like enjoying violence or sexual excitement over cheating or thinking about cheating.
It may include attitudes of superiority or inferiority over others, anger, determination to succeed at all costs, or feelings of deep sadness and loneliness.
The shadow is still you, and facing it means fully accepting that it’s not an “other” or a “devil” but in fact a part of your valid experiences and repressed emotions and desires in life.
“The shadow exists as part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, instincts, and shortcomings.”
This brings us to the next point…
4) Understanding your anima and animus
According to Jung, all men have a female side (the anima) and all women have a male side (the animus).
This idea may be controversial in today’s gender politics, and is often misunderstood.
According to Jung, the woman’s animus is her unconscious rational instinct and drive, and the anima is the man’s unconscious irrational and emotional instinct and desire.
The anima or animus are essentially counterweights to the social gender roles we are expected to play.
Women are expected to be more emotional and receptive, but their “true self” or animus, seeks a rational and more disciplined way of living, creating a tension.
Men are expected to be more rational and disciplined, but their psyche’s inner anima actually seeks a more emotional and expressive way of living, creating a tension.
An integrated animus allows a woman to embrace her more rational and less emotional side, accepting and loving this part of her inner experience, while an integrated anima allows a man to be in touch with his emotions and comfortable with embracing the more sensitive and receptive side of himself as well.
5) The path to individuation
According to Jung, the path to individuation occurs as we wrestle and become conscious with ourselves about these parts of who we are and our inner contradictions.
Getting to know yourself in introspective moments and in the experiences we have in life is the way that you begin to live an authentic life.
Rather than digging up the unconscious or trying to “discover” everything about what’s hidden under there, the Jungian model instead asks us only to engage with some of the unconscious and make it part of ourselves.
The unconscious still needs to stay mainly unconscious and has its role to play behind the scenes. Becoming aware of our whole unconscious as a person or as a human species would be utterly overwhelming.
But facing and integrating the parts of the unconscious and understanding the interplay between our persona, shadow self and anima is the way we become who we really are: a combination of these factors but also something unique and one-of-a-kind that’s more than just that combination.
This brings me to the rest of the ways to be true to yourself and live an authentic life, which are all required parts of the process of undergoing Jung’s self-individuation journey.
6) Practice self-honesty
The Jungian process won’t work if you’re not honest.
To get to know all the parts of yourself you need to look in the mirror and really accept what you’re thinking and feeling.
You need to drop the labels put on you by society, science or religion and just stand with yourself and your sense of being.
You exist here in this moment and you have various desires, hatreds, fears, joys and confusions.
That’s life: be honest about them, rather than trying to over-define or analyze, just be honest about what’s going on inside you.
7) Stop people pleasing
Next up is to stop people pleasing.
When we focus on living up to the expectations of others, we glue our mask on our face.
Jung’s persona is impossible to let go if you are too scared to let other folks down.
Uphold your commitments and be a person of your word, by all means, but never make the mistake of living your life just to live up to the ideals of others.
Remember, it’s you in the driver’s seat.
8) Find what moves you
Becoming yourself and understanding the parts of yourself is about finding what moves you.
All too often we like the music, books, places and beliefs of other people and allow their experience to serve as a cookie cutter for what we think our experience “should” be.
But real life begins when you find what really moves you and stop looking for approval or even understanding from others.
So they get it and love you? Great.
So they think you’re weird and hate you? Great.
This is your life you’re living, not a popularity contest.
As the poet Rumi said:
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”
9) Find what wounds you
The other part of finding your shadow and your animus or anima is to be honest about what wounds you.
It’s not the same for everybody.
One person may be rejected in a breakup and go through a tailspin of despair about their self-worth and future while another hurts but moves on quite quickly.
One person may experience confusion in finding their career that throws their whole life into turmoil, while another has career frustration and disappointment that still barely scratches the surface of their psychic well-being.
Understanding what truly hurts you and throws you off balance is a key to becoming who you really are, in addition to finding what you love and what moves you as mentioned in the previous point.
10) Never limit your options
Most of all, in the process to become who you really are and express that in the world, never limit your options.
The world around us was built and created.
You may love parts of it and hate others.
But your own life is a form of building and creating, too.
You weave a tapestry with who you are and how you interact with those you connect to on the path.
As author Ross Caligiuri put it:
“If you feel like you don’t fit into the world you inherited it is because you were born to help create a new one.”
Living an authentic life
If you don’t live an authentic life, you will, by definition, live an inauthentic life.
The cost of this is higher than we can imagine. In fact, the cost of living a life that’s not true to ourselves is often our own soul.
Living a life that’s true to you is a necessity.
If you try to only walk the path laid out for you or live up to societal or familial expectations, you end up on your deathbed realizing you lived somebody else’s life, not your own.
Use the tips above to always be true to yourself and become fully authentic, empowered and effective in your life.