Embracing Your Authentic Self

What does it truly mean to be human?

This age-old question has captivated the minds of philosophers, scientists, and seekers alike for millennia. As we navigate the labyrinth of life, we often find ourselves grappling with profound mysteries, seeking meaning, and yearning to unravel the essence of our humanity. Welcome to the world of existentialist psychology, a field that delves deep into this fundamental inquiry, offering profound insights and practical tools to navigate the intricate landscape of the human condition.

Existential psychology is not about inundating you with clinical diagnoses or bewilderingly technical terminology. Instead, it invites you to explore the very fabric of your existence—the thoughts that keep you awake at night and the moments of deep introspection that illuminate your inner world. At its core, existential psychology is about embracing the human experience with all of its complexity and nuance.

The Search for Meaning

From the moment our earliest ancestors gazed up at the stars and contemplated their station in our universe, humanity has been on a quest for understanding. Our innate curiosity and thirst for knowledge are defining traits of our species. Existential psychology resonates deeply with this aspect of our nature, acknowledging and validating our innate desire to seek answers to life’s profound questions: existence,  responsibility, freedom, and veritable meaning.

We all yearn for purpose, a guiding North Star that infuses our lives with significance. Whether we find it through our relationships, work, or personal passions, the search for meaning is a universal pursuit. Existential psychologists such as Carl Jung and Viktor Frankl remind us that even in the face of adversity, we can uncover purpose and harness this realization for positive change within ourselves.

Freedom and Responsibility

Existential psychology also emphasizes the concepts of freedom and responsibility. We are beings endowed with the power to make choices that shape our destinies. However, this freedom comes with a profound responsibility—to take ownership of our decisions and actions. This perspective empowers us to live authentically, aligning our choices with our deepest values and beliefs.

Confronting Existential Anxiety

Existential psychology acknowledges that all humans grapple with existential anxiety from time to time. This is the uneasy feeling that arises when we contemplate the uncertainties of life, the inevitability of death, and the weight of our choices. Existential psychologists do not shy away from these anxieties; instead, they provide tools to confront and manage them. By acknowledging and exploring these anxieties, we can discover ways to live more fully while remaining true to our authentic selves.

Seeking Authenticity

Living authentically and expressing our true selves is at the heart of existential psychology. As humans, we often discover parts of our personalities, emotions, or behaviors that we modify to conform to societal expectations or save face. Existential psychology openly recognizes this tendency and encourages us to reflect on how society and culture might be shaping our behaviors without our conscious input. It invites us to peel away the layers of external influences and unearth our core beliefs and values that govern our experience of reality.

How Counseling Can Help

How do these philosophical ponderings apply to everyday life? Existential psychology offers a valuable toolbox for counselors to assist individuals in their personal journey. Whether you seek to explore your values, cope with anxieties, or align your choices with your authentic self, counseling rooted in existential principles can serve as a guiding light on your path. It is a journey of self-discovery and personal growth—one that you need not embark on alone. If you find yourself contemplating these profound questions, remember that there are counselors ready to accompany you as you explore the depths of your humanity and uncover your unique wisdom.

Real World Example

How might this psychological framework actually be used in a therapy session?

Imagine a scenario where a person seeks therapy to address a pervasive sense of emptiness and confusion in their life. They’re grappling with questions about the purpose of their existence and feeling disconnected from their “true” self.

  • Establish a Working Relationship

A therapist who is well-versed in existentialist concepts will begin by creating a safe and empathetic therapeutic environment. They acknowledge the client’s existential concerns and validate their search for greater meaning and authenticity.

  • Exploring the Search for Meaning

The therapist will engage the client in a reflective conversation about their values, interests, and past experiences. They will encourage the client to explore what truly matters to them and what might infuse their life with a sense of purpose. Through open-ended questions and active listening, the therapist helps the client to identify potential sources of genuine meaningfulness, such as creative pursuits or nurturing relationships.

  • Freedom & Responsibility

Existentialist principles are then woven into the therapy. The therapist discusses the concept of freedom and responsibility to oneself and others, emphasizing that the individual has the power to make choices that align with their authentic self. Clients are encouraged to reflect on their life choices and to take ownership of them, hopefully cultivating an understanding that this self-directed agency may serve as a path to more fulfilling modes of existence.

  • Confronting Existential Anxiety

Existential anxiety is also addressed directly. The therapist helps the client explore the source of their anxiety, which may be rooted in the fear of confronting life’s uncertainties or the gravity of our mortality. Through techniques that may include mindfulness and cognitive reframing, the therapist assists the client in developing coping strategies to manage and transcend their anxiety. They emphasize that it is natural to experience such anxieties and that they can serve as catalysts for personal growth that we carry with us.

  • Seeking Authenticity

In successive therapy sessions, the client is encouraged to peel away the layers of external influences that have shaped their behavior and self-perception. Together with the therapist, they examine societal and cultural pressures that may have led to choices which do not honor our authentic selves. Through introspective exercises and self-reflection, the client begins to uncover their core beliefs and values, gaining clarity on what truly resonates with their genuine sense of self.

  • Integration and Onward

Over the course of therapy, the client hopefully starts to integrate existentialist insights into their daily life. They make choices that align more closely with their true internal values, leading to a greater sense of fulfillment and purpose.

While psychological research supports the idea that aligning oneself with authentic inner values can lead to greater well-being and psychological health, it is important to note that individual experiences may vary. The process of identifying and living in accordance with one’s values is highly personal and is likely to be influenced by various factors, including cultural, social, and environmental contexts. Therefore, therapeutic interventions and approaches that emphasize value alignment may be beneficial for those seeking greater fulfillment and purpose in their lives.

Article Written By: Rook Schapman

Rook Schapman - Doctora, Master's Degree in Mindfulness

Rook Schapman 

Rook is a psychological intern at Matone Counseling and Testing. They received their master’s in clinical psychology from Western Carolina University, where they are currently pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology.

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