Recovering the authentic self.
I am reassured to read that things are going well for you during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic. I got your letter about the component of spiritual health named “authenticity” and your concerns about the Cardinal sin of phoniness and pretentiousness. Your questions about how the practice of life review and examination, and discernment leads to an enhancement of authenticity are very interesting and so here are a few of my thoughts.
My first thought is about what the psychologists call the “false self” and the “true self.” The false self gets constructed in our attempt to please and obey other people. Some people call this social conditioning. At its extreme, some people are called “people pleasers” who live their lives for others’ approval and to avoid their disapproval. Such people do not have control over their own lives but are living their lives for others.
I remember a priest, Father James Callan, who gave a sermon on addiction to approval being like a drug addiction. People sometimes are so addicted they have lost touch with what they think, feel, and want, and having taken on the thoughts, feelings, and preferences of others they have no idea what deep down they really think, feel, and want. Such people often become perfectionistic, obsessive and compulsive, and terribly anxious and depressed and even suicidal. The idea of doing a life review and examination for them is a foreign idea which leaves them confused, perplexed, and sometimes overwhelmed. Sometimes they seek relief in alcohol, drugs, and mood altering behaviors like gambling, sex, work, and religiosity.
One way of thinking about these situations is soul murder. The person suffering from clinging to a false self having been conditioned by the expectations and requirements of the world of the ego, is empty and terrified of being alone. Being able to engage in a search for truth and meaning with a nonjudgmental, non anxious, trusted other is a very significant experience contributing to getting back in touch with one’s true self, one’s genuine and authentic nature. This process is a clearing away of the barriers and obstacles to an awareness of Love’s presence in one’s heart of hearts.
Sometimes, people will suggest to a person suffering, “You need to find someone to talk to.” The person being suggested in our society is most often a psychotherapist. Unfortunately, not all psychotherapists see their role as facilitating spiritual development but at its fundamental purpose that is really all that good psychotherapy is, to help people get in touch with their authentic self.
In our Unitarian Universalist faith we covenant together to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and the acceptance and encouragement to spiritual growth. It is a major part of our faith to nurture and facilitate the experience of the authentic selves of ourselves and our fellow congregants. A person would like to think that UUs are less pretentious and phoney than people in the general population.
For now, be well, stay well.
Your loving cousin,