Everyone is on a search for authenticity. It is something that everyone has a deep desire for. We may not know what it looks like when we see it, but we all have an expectation and idea of what it may be like. It is like the idea of perfection. Know one really knows what perfection looks or feels like, because no one except Jesus has ever attained it, but we have an idea of what it would be like. What we know about authenticity is how we give it our best shot to scramble after what we think it is and what will give us fulfillment personally.
We seek after authenticity and seek a way for living that leads us to happiness. Unfortunately not all routes we may take are equally authentic. It stands to reason that if there is a true self we are working to become, that there is a false self we can also be. “If there is a way of being that is true to my deepest self, then there are also many other ways that are false.” David Benner.
It didn’t take us long in life to discover that we needed to look after ourselves. Early on we began to develop a plan of coping with life and achieving our definition of happiness. We began to figure out what made us feel good about ourselves and we worked at trying to fulfill those needs for love, survival, power and control. This is where our basic identity began to form, and the way we lived and the experiences we had began to form in us an identity and a way of seeing the world around us. It also began to form in us the deepest desires which will drive us throughout our lives. Many of the behaviors we now have are a simple result of our souls searching for its needs to be met. And a lot of it is subconscious, because we don’t even recognize the behaviors for what they are.
We grow up learning what our strengths are, or the things we thing we do well that bring us the things, or feelings we are looking for. But some grow up learning what their weaknesses are, struggling to simply enter the world feeling like they have any value at all. These feelings and behaviors make up our sense of identity. And many times the identity we portray is not who we are at all. It is just the way we handle life and we have lived it for so long we never question it at all. It is something we simply accept, and expect others to as well. The problem is we can often see the false identity in others, but it is very hard to spot in our own lives. Because it is our “normal” approach to life that we simply accept is the way we all live. It has become like the air we breathe. We are so accustomed to it we are no longer aware of it. In order for us to change we have to be willing to see ourselves as different from we see ourselves currently to be. Our self-image and our desire to hold on to it, or be willing to let it go will decide whether we can break free from the molds we were put into, or we will continue to live in bondage to a way of living and seeing life. A bondage to a self that was created for us and is not who we are.
Saul is a perfect example in scripture of someone with a false self-identity. He was fanatically zealous and ruthless, consumed by personal ambition and terrorized the early Christian church. After he encountered Jesus his life was completely changed, and he saw himself completely different. He had exchanged his image of self for a new one. He came to understand who he was, and who he was in Christ.
The core of our false self is “the belief that my value depends on what I have, what I can do, and what others think of me.” Basil Pennington. Thomas Merton describes it as “… winding experiences around myself… like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and the world as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.” Our false identity is always wrapped up in something other than us. We make ourselves feel important by what we do, or how others think about us. We place a value on ourselves by how many friends we have on Facebook, or how many people agree with our opinions. “Because it is hollow at the core, the life of a false self is a life of excessive attachments. Seeking to avoid implosion and non-being, the false self grasps for anything that appears to have substance and then clings to these things with the tenacity of a drowning man clutching a life ring.” And so we have the race “keeping up with the Jones’ ”
This isn’t much of a way to live and without the willingness to see ourselves as different that we are we will never be able to break free of the cycle and discover our true identity.