Shadow selfBehavioral scientists have come up with a new ‘discovery.’ There is no such thing as your true self. Their research was based on interviews with people about authenticity, and they come to the conclusion that humans are biased about the concept, associating it with morality and believing that the true self is innately good. And, as people grow and change, their image of ‘self’ changes as well.

What does this prove? Not that there’s no such thing as the authentic self, simply that most people have no idea what that means!

From the moment of our birth, we start learning things. And much of what we learn is about behavior. Some behavior is acceptable in the society we grow up in, some isn’t. So we learn to behave in an acceptable manner. Up to a certain point, this is simply harmless socialization.

All humans have both a rational brain and an instinctual brain. So socialization is, in part, training our rational self to occasionally overrule our instinctual self. If one of the two sides starts to totally dominate the other, the imbalance can cause confusion and even personality disorders.

According to Carl Jung, our instinctual self is the foundation of our personality. Our persona is the face we present to the outside world, and it varies and changes according to our socialization (and whom we are facing). We wear one mask at home with our parents or children, another at school or work, yet another with our lover, etc. That doesn’t mean we’re different people, it simply means that we act and react differently. Our actions and reactions are also ruled by our shadow, hiding in the instinctual self. And the shadow is just as important as the persona (not to speak of the animus/anima, the feminine instincts in males and masculine instincts in females).

Jung speaks of the Self as the integration of all these archetypes. Development of this Self is the goal of personal growth.

So how would we define authenticity? Not as the capacity to be good, morally upright individuals. Not necessarily as how we experience ourselves or how other people experience us. Our authentic self is the person we are when persona, shadow, and animus/anima have become an integrated whole; when our instinctual self and our socialized, rational self are in balance.

In a healthy personal development, we become more and more integrated, more authentic, as we grow older. This doesn’t mean we’re better people, it might mean we’re happier people, but only if we’re not under constant pressure by societal norms that aren’t ours. It does mean we’re stronger, more balanced people. Not everyone is lucky enough to experience a healthy personal development. Asking those people to give a definition of authenticity seems to me to be going at things the wrong way around.


  1. Nice, and very true (the morality bit) in my estimation. May I recommend that you check out Michael Pollan’s newest book, How to Change Your Mind. It’s an investigation of the history and the contemporary research into psychedelics as therapeutic measures. The connection is to the way we, as mature adults, fall into set patterns of behavior that are not necessarily reflective of sensory input from our world nor necessarily healthy.

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