brian j plachta
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How to Discover Your Authentic Self
by brian j plachta on October 25th, 2019

“I had a strange experience the other day,” my buddy Tony said. “For the first time in fifty-five years, I stopped while I was shaving, looked at my reflection in the mirror, and said out loud, ‘I really like myself.’ It felt really good. Is that weird?” he asked as we shared our second cup of coffee.

I shook my head. His question didn’t seem weird to me at all. Many of us, myself included, suffer from the dis-ease of trying to figure out whether or not we like ourselves. It’s often a moment-by-moment struggle. One minute we love and accept ourselves as we are, warts and all, and the next we think we’re damned for all time.  

If not resolved, this unholy tension can lead to a life-long struggle of trying to solve the mystery of who we are and who we’re not.

It seems there are two versions of ourselves that bobble back and forth in our minds. Thomas Merton calls these two selves our false self and our true self. Debbie Ford, in her book The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, calls them our shadow and our light. Others call these two competing images our authentic self and our fictional self.

I like the term “authentic self” best because it points to our inner core. It suggests God created us with our own distinct personalities, talents, and gifts.

A recent article in the HuffPost defines the authentic self this way:

“There is another level of identity that is the real, true, genuine substance of who you are—your authentic self. That is who you are at your absolute core. It is the part of you not defined by your job, function or role. It is the composite of all your skills, talents and wisdom. It is all of the things that are uniquely yours and need expression, rather than what you believe you are supposed to be and do.”

Our authentic self is filled with inner beauty. It lets the light of grace into our hearts. It’s filled with compassion for ourselves and others.

The fictional self is the one the world defines for us. It’s centered on the roles and expectations family, friends, and co-workers have for us. While it might seem easier to wrap our self-image around our jobs and our other titles, when we do, we lose our self-identity. We squelch our true gifts and talents. We feel incomplete.

So, how do we distinguish between these two selves? How do we live our authentic self?

I find the image of an onion helpful.
At the center of an onion is a beautiful white bulb that looks like a pearl. The pearl is radiant. It shimmers in the light. It’s soft like satin, yet resilient and strong like a diamond.

Over the onion’s core are layers of thin skins that develop. Membrane tissues form around the core to protect it from wind and storms. Each thin skin shapes and forms as the onion grows in size.

You and I are like an onion. Deep within our hearts is the core, our true essence. We’re created by God with Infinite Beauty. We are God’s pearl, fashioned and molded with the Creator’s loving hands. We are the image of gentle compassion. Infinite love. Inner strength.

As we age, like the onion, we never lose our authentic self. It’s tucked safely within our hearts.

When we experience life’s ups and downs—a loved one dies, a friend abandons us, we lose our jobs—the onion skins of our personality grow over our hearts to protect us from the pain.

Some skins are filled with wisdom. They guide and teach us how to live through life’s trials and triumphs.

Other skins cover our hearts with self-defense mechanisms. “I’ll never be vulnerable again. I won’t ever trust my heart to anyone.”

I realized the other day one of my onion skins is the superman complex. I feel like I have to fix everyone and everything, including myself, to keep my world safe and prove I’m a good person. My wife humors me when she notices my superman hovering around my heart. She gently tells me, “You can take off your cape now.”

As I do the inner work discovering my authentic self, I sometimes ask God these questions:

•What are the unique qualities of my true self, my core, my essence?

•What are the onion skins I’ve developed that need to be peeled back layer by layer so I can grow?

Helped by wise mentors and counselors and through daily quiet time alone with the Creator, we understand and embrace our authentic core. We become willing to examine our self-defenses, gently pulling away those protective skins that no longer serve us.

It’s an on-going journey. We never “get there.” But if we perceive it as life’s greatest adventure, the ride becomes one of joy and lasting beauty.

Maybe one day, like Tony, we too might look into the mirror and tell ourselves, “I really like you!” When we do, perhaps we’ve discovered our authentic self.

On a sheet of paper, draw a circle that represents your inner core, your essence. Write down in the circle the names of each quality that makes you beautiful like an elegant pearl.

Next, draw and name the onion skins—the self-defense mechanisms you’ve adopted to protect yourself. Gently ask the Creator for the grace to grow, for the willingness to slowly peel back those layers that no longer serve your heart.

Then celebrate your authentic self.

—brian j plachta

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Sandi Nicely - October 25th, 2019 at 11:17 PM
Love your perspectives!
brian - October 26th, 2019 at 3:49 AM
thanks sandy!! God bless.
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