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It is not uncommon for patients undergoing therapy to express feelings of alienation from themselves. They may say things like, “I don’t feel like I’m really me” or “Sometimes I don’t even recognize the person I’ve become.”
In cases like this, it’s important to reflect on your sense of authenticity. Acting sincerely (that is, being true to yourself, standing up for what you believe in, and sticking to your core principles) can be a powerful antidote to self-alienation.
Here are three signs you may need to rekindle your relationship with your “real you.”
No. 1. You keep a secret that you no longer want to keep
There is something alluring about secrets and keeping secrets. We all want to be “in the know”. We want to be part of information that other people don’t have. We prefer to be in the inner circle than on the periphery.
Much of this is based on our need to feel connected to others. This in itself is not bad. However, there are some consequences of keeping secrets that can cause psychological harm.
Some secrets can oppress us. They affect our ability to interact and communicate with others. The more we try to suppress the mystery, the more it pops up in our minds.
People who reveal a big secret often describe the experience as a “burden off their shoulders,” even in cases where revealing may be detrimental to their close relationship.
Much of this can be explained in terms of authenticity. When we keep secrets based on our sense of authenticity, we are behaving in a destructive way. We may deal with these feelings in unhealthy ways, such as dulling our thoughts with alcohol or withdrawing from previously pleasurable experiences.
Often the only way to balance our psychological state is to share secrets that make us feel insincere. Therapy is a safe place to explore these possibilities.
#2 You are a different person at work than you are at home.
For many of us, our work can make us feel alienated from ourselves. We are forced to wear thick leather and are asked to behave in ways that we may not be entirely comfortable with. Many employees are hesitant to reveal their true identities for fear of being seen by colleagues.
In some work environments, there is a strong connotation of conformity, so that everyone acts more or less in the same way (possibly adopting the personality traits of the leader(s) of the organization). Any rejection of the status quo can be viewed by superiors as an attack on the organization itself.
If you find yourself feeling this way, it’s likely that your sense of authenticity is being affected. You may be conflicted about the “real you”. Is “you at home” genuine, or is “you at work” really the real you?
Over time, our psychology finds a way to resolve this cognitive dissonance in one direction or another. The problem is that without actively working through those thoughts and feelings, we don’t always have control over the direction of the solution. We may end up becoming the person who was once a stranger to us.
Number 3. You live a double (or triple) life
Most people equate a double life with an affair or hiding something very important from your next of kin. While this is one of the definitions of a double life, it is important to know that there are other, less severe forms of double or triple life that can also lead to feelings of inauthenticity. Most of them have their origin in trying to do too much.
Consider the following scenario. Imagine a mother who is simultaneously trying to take care of young children, succeed in her career, and be a good daughter to her aging parents. While these are all great goals, it is unlikely that anyone will be able to excel in all of these responsibilities at the same time. This often leads to feelings of insincerity and self-blame (for example, “Last week I had to take my parents to dinner” or “I can’t miss another parent-teacher meeting”).
In these cases, it is necessary to practice kindness to yourself, realizing that you simply do not have time to be everything to everyone. Reducing the number of things you expect yourself to do each week can help restore your sense of authenticity.
A strong sense of authenticity is the cornerstone of a happy and healthy life. The next time you feel disconnected from yourself, take a moment to think about whether you might be (1) holding on to unwanted secrets, (2) struggling with your work identity, or (3) trying to achieve so much that you constantly feel overwhelmed. .
To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Handbook.