Authenticity can be defined as honesty with oneself. In other words, being true to yourself. Authentic people have learned how to be honest with themselves and live according to their personal value system. Developing this ability is not always easy. The authentic individual recognizes the connection between all living beings and can be vulnerable and set boundaries within their relationships. Self-esteem is based in authenticity. Thus, being true to yourself, living in accord with your personal values, results in feeling good about yourself.
A step toward authentic self-esteem is to become aware of how you are thinking and what you are saying to yourself. Most of us are unaware of the things we are telling ourselves that can be damaging to our self-esteem. If we were raised in a situation in which a caregiver insulted us, we will continue to, unconsciously, repeat that insult, until we become aware of it. When we become aware of negative messages, we may have introjected, we can begin to change them. Mindfully increasing awareness of how we are thinking and what we are saying to ourselves is vital.
Thinking in a highly critical and judgmental manner, is another problem that can affect our self-esteem. If we are highly judgmental of others, we are most likely judging ourselves, as well. Although evaluation and judgment are normal, it is also normal to have biases and make distortions in evaluations and judgments. With increased self-awareness, people can recognize when they may be distorting their perceptions. As a result, people can make evaluations that are more realistic, and less harsh.
For many years now, advertising in our culture has manipulated and distorted perceptions of reality. It can be difficult for people to know who they are and why they are doing something, if much of what they do has been prescribed by advertising, or cultural norms. The BBC documentary, The Century of the Self, focuses on how, “those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.” Adam Curtis, 2002. Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernase used Freud’s theories to, “create the model consumer” and to “manage the unconscious mind of the consumer.” As a consequence, many have followed their prescribed definition of success as financial success and live lives of empty prosperity.
In order to be authentic we need to be thoughtful about what we believe, what we value, and who we choose to be from moment to moment. Rather than automatically accepting something because others have done so, it is healthy to question the beliefs and thoughts of other’s before taking them on as ours. Therefore, developing our individual perspective and value system is vital for authentic self-esteem.
Meaning is another quality that is important for living a life with authentic self esteem. This means living a life with a sense of purpose. Meaning is based in what each of us finds important. Without it life has no purpose, no guidelines. A few ways we find meaning is through our career, relationships, causes, lifestyle and spiritual beliefs. Meaning connects us to something that is greater than ourselves. Knowing what we feel is important results in our making informed choices concerning what to do with our lives. As a consequence of living in a way that is true to our personal values and meaning we develop a sense of integrity, which is a vital aspect of authentic self esteem.
Integrity is the quality of having honest motivations for one’s actions. It is the opposite of hypocrisy. Someone who has a sense of wholeness in their life has integrity. A person who can behave according to their values, beliefs and principles is living a life of integrity.
Developing authentic self-esteem is part of the maturation process. In Men in Therapy, (2009) David Wexler writes, “A hallmark of the mature, authentic self is the ability to appraise the personal past and the personal present with a minimum of denial and distortion,” (page 245). Accordingly, this requires people to accept responsibility for their part in relationships that work well, and, for those that do not work well. Blaming others is a sign of immaturity and, furthermore, suggests that people who blame have self-esteem so low they cannot bear thinking about their mistakes. Additionally, blame prevents empathy, which is imperative for an intimate relationship. According to Wexler, “Empathy is considered to be one of the highest forms of affective development,” (page 253).
Self-awareness is where authentic self-esteem begins. Mindful awareness of the messages we are giving ourselves, helps us improve our self talk. Another consequence of mindfulness is our noticing when we are thinking judgmentally and the distortions that are part of those judgments. This is a state of being from which we can increase our recognition and resistance of the attempts of others to manipulate how we think. Defining our personal value system and developing a meaningful life, a life of integrity is part of an ongoing process that occurs as we grow and change. Woven throughout this process is accepting responsibility. Without acceptance of responsibility we cannot mature. Recognizing that we are fallible human beings who make mistakes renders us more vulnerable and lovable. The process of developing a sense of mature humility is one that results in authentic self-esteem. Authentic self-esteem is based in who we are and who we are becoming, here and now. Authentic self-esteem has nothing to do with what we look like, what we own, who we know, where we have traveled, how much we know, our IQ, number of degrees, or level of creativity. We can raise our authentic self-esteem every day, from moment to moment, here and now.