The Myth About “Authentic Self” – The People We Loved and Parted Have Imprinted on Us.

Have you ever wondered which “You” is the real “You”?

By Pang Zijun, Facilitator/Implementation Consultant, Arbinger Singapore/Malaysia | December 29, 2020

Having to behave differently in front of different people and in different occasions, have you ever wondered which “you” is the real “you”?

Let’s talk about this today — the “myth” about authentic self.

Relational Self and Significant Others.

Interestingly, to learn about “self”, we need to first look at “significant others”.

From an interpersonal, social-cognitive theory of the self and personality psychology, “self” is relational..

Our “selves” are entangled with others. Our patterns of behaviours and experiences in the course of everyday interpersonal life, are resulted from our relationships with what we call “significant others”: individuals who are or have been deeply influential in our lives and in whom we are or once were emotionally invested in.

“Significant others” don’t have to be the people we know for the longest time, have the deepest relationships with, or loved dearly. In fact, they might be the people we hated the most, or the ones we only knew for a short period of time but experienced something unforgettable with.

We normally don’t have a long list of our significant others, but they are critical in shaping our “relational self”..

It means, each of our significant others is linked to our “selves”, with each linkage capturing relatively unique aspects of ourselves, in relation to this significant other.

Our “selves” are thus entangled, shaped in part by ties with our significant others, whether these individuals are present physically or only symbolically.

Our sense of “self”, including thoughts, feelings, motives, and self-regulatory strategies, may thus vary as a function of relations with significant others.

So, every “self” is authentic, but the problem is we don’t like some versions of our “selves”…

“Self” is, in fact, an incoherent and inconsistent complex system..

Given the complex array of knowledge we have about our “selves”, our entire pool of self-knowledge, just like our memories, cannot be cognitively accessible at the same time. Rather, only a subset of this pool is in working memory at any given moment.

The “self” that guides our cognitive processes, emotions, and behaviours always, is a series of our incoherent, inconsistent “relational selves”, not a complete and unified “self” as we imagined.

Just as our different memories get triggered when seeing different things, our “relational self” also has a triggering/evoking process.

Contextual cues such as familiar environment and atmosphere, interpersonal cues such as a person’s look, tone, choice of words, and odour… can remind us of our significant others, therefore activate the “self” in relation to this said significant other.

Does that mean our significant others totally shape us for who we are?! Not necessarily.

We CAN become the “self” we like and prefer (the version we think is “authentic”).

What kind of relationship you choose determines what kind of “self” you will shape?.

There are basically two kinds of relationships:

The I-Thou (You) relationship in which we see others matter like we matter, and stay alive to other people’s needs, goals, worries and burdens, and

the I-It relationship in which we see ourselves and others do NOT matter on the same level, and we depersonalise others and deny our obligation to them.

In an I-Thou relationship, we simply see other people as people; our thoughts, emotions and behaviour towards others come from our connectedness with the humanity of them, which naturally and powerfully informs us how we can be helpful.

In such relationships, we do what we need to do or what is right in any given moment. Whenever this “relational self” is activated, we feel free, liberated, and natural, simply because it is natural!

In an I-It relationship, however, we see other people as objects; our thoughts, emotions and behaviour towards others are influenced by what value others have for us, and coated with our self-focus and/or blame.

Whenever this “relational self” is activated, we feel drained, exhausted, calculated, and unnatural, because our humanity is disconnected from others’.

The relationship we have with others shapes us. But if we can establish more I-Thou kind of “relational self”, activate them frequently, this “self” can indeed become the “self” that is most manifested.

To be “authentic”, the key is to choose (our relationships) wisely!