That Polonius guy from Hamlet once said, “To thine own self be true.” And though Shakespeare was definitely blessing the world with some timeless truth by writing those words, which place value on being authentically you, putting them into practice isn’t so easy in a Facetune-forward world. Because really, what does it even mean to be true to yourself? And also, do I have to consult Hamlet SparkNotes to figure that one out? Because, TBH, I don’t want to relive any part of 10th grade.
Well, phew, according to at least one expert, there’s another way. “Being true to yourself starts with allowing yourself to know what you know, feel what you feel and want what you want,” says Helene Brenner, PhD, licensed psychologist and creator of the My Inner Voice app, “Of course, your feelings can change. What you know may be based on incomplete information. You may want some things that aren’t really feasible in your life.”
The internal conflict that often arises here is that we shame ourselves about how we shouldn’t be feeling or wanting what we want. “We’ll even deny our true desires or feelings, and we’ll pretend that we don’t know things that we honestly know to be true,” she continues. “And very often, we do this because we know that if we are true to ourselves, honest even with ourselves about what we know or feel or want, we will disrupt a relationship, or maybe even several relationships in our lives.”
As someone who was once fearful of leaving a demoralizing job because of the financial strain it would put on her life and a resulting never-ending guilt trip from her parents, does that ever ring true. Being authentic isn’t always easy since it can impact other people in practice, so how can we summon the courage to be true to ourselves? Well, below find three great ways to get started.
Learn to be true to yourself—with the following three tips as a starting point.
1. Vocalize what you want (what you really, really want)
After identifying your desires, bring your inner voice to the outside. “Sometimes the first step is to allow ourselves to say to ourselves first, and then to others, ‘This is what I truly want. It may not make others happy, and I may not yet know how I’m going to get it, but this is my truth,'” Dr. Brenner says. “And sometimes it may be to admit that we know something that we don’t want to know, because it means that something has to change.”
2. Identify when situations make you feel uncomfortable
Maybe you can’t exactly figure out the “why” that explains a certain relationship making you feel unhappy. But even if there’s no clear-cut reason, don’t silence that nagging feeling. “Sometimes you may sense that something’s going on that’s making you uneasy, but you can’t quite put your finger on it,” Dr. Brenner says.
“Sometimes you may sense that something’s going on that’s making you uneasy, but you can’t quite put your finger on it…chances are you’re sensing something, and that’s worth listening to.” —Helene Brenner, PhD, licensed psychologist
But just because you can’t yet articulate it perfectly doesn’t mean you’re imagining things “The details of what you’re feeling may not be quite right, but chances are you’re sensing something, and that’s worth listening to,” she adds. So while a knee-jerk breakup may not be most advisable, do leave room for the gut feeling to lead you to something.
3. Don’t let fear hold you back
Many opportunities are scary, but scary doesn’t have to mean bad, and just because a decision might be big (and include big implications to match) doesn’t mean it’s not worth making.
“Fear and excitement go together,” Dr. Brenner says. “When you’re true to yourself, you’re often taking a risk. Ask yourself, ‘Am I really in danger or just afraid of the unknown—just afraid of going after what I truly want?’ If the answer is the second part of that question, take a deep breath and do it.”
4. Don’t belittle yourself
Our inner monologues aren’t exactly kind 24/7, so we need to make a concerted effort to redirect our thoughts when we start bullying ourselves. “Instead take a moment to take a slow breath and just listen without judgment to your feelings, as if they were your dearest friend speaking to you. It has a reason for being there and just wants to be heard,” she says. “Feelings are to be listened to but are also like the weather—they can’t be denied, but they are also not permanent.”
5. Be brave in your vulnerability
“Speak from your heart with someone you trust,” says Dr. Brenner. “A little tip: Tell them first that you want to share something really important to you, and see that you have their attention first before you start. You will feel more connected to yourself and to them. If they don’t respond in a way that is affirming, take a deep breath, come back to your heart, let it know you hear and affirm it, and ask you dear one if something is troubling them.” Even if they don’t respond in the way you want them to, feel proud of yourself for sharing one of your shiny, sparkling innermost truths
6. Tap into your intuition
You know that little voice inside of you that speaks up every once in a while with tiny, insightful orders? Listen to it. “We often know way more than we give ourselves credit. Try asking, What do I know to be true for me in my bones? Take your time, start from the most obvious undeniable concrete facts and then say, and what else do I know fo be true for me in my bones? Speak slowly out loud,” says Dr. Brenner.
This post was originally published on March 19, 2019; updated on March 19, 2020.
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