I just watched a fairy movie with my kids and the ending song, perhaps a moral of the story, sings: “I want to be free to be who I am.” I’ve heard this message frequently, where there is some homage given to being our authentic selves. Sometimes it seems as if being authentic is the highest value in our culture right now, yet I wonder if honoring the authentic self is really worthwhile.
On one hand, our need to belong and be loved is clear. I think this need is woven into the image of God in us. We have dignity and we are worthy of respect just as we are because we are made in the image of God. Our deepest authentic self is created good. I also think there is a belief that if we can be our authentic self, we will be happy – kind of like getting back to Eden.
On the other hand, well, let me use myself. My authentic self is really not all that attractive. When I am being authentic, I am easily angered; I’m really drawn in by gossip; I misunderstand others’ intentions; I make gas… You get the picture – it’s not pretty. I realize I may be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think it’s only my authentic self that is a bit rough. When I hear stories of people “finding themselves,” it often seems like the person is rather unconcerned about how their behavior affects others.
And if someone gives us difficult feedback about our behavior, our first stop is not to challenge our authentic self, but to consider the person judgmental. It seems to me that if we let ourselves be authentic, for the sake of being authentic, we can trample others in the process.
I wonder if we might be able to see authenticity in more nuanced ways. Can we acknowledge our deep desire to be known and loved, and also include the fact that we’re quite broken? The fact is, we offer our gifts, talents, and unique personality in good ways when we are authentic; we also reveal our need for others’ patience, love, and forgiveness when we are authentic.
Love is what sets Christians apart – considering others’ experiences as just as important as expressing our authentic self. It’s accepting that Eden won’t happen here, no matter how authentic I am. It’s being willing to sacrifice myself for the sake of someone else. And it’s about not letting our own craving to be loved get in the way of loving those around us.
Dr. Veronica Johnson is co-founder of Envision Counseling Clinic and is a Licensed Psychologist in Castle Rock, Colorado. She has specialized training and over 15 years of experience working with individuals who experience same-sex attractions and find themselves in conflict with other aspects of their identity, such as their spirituality. For women and teen girls who struggle with eating disorders, Veronica uses Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills to help clients regulate their emotions, particularly around food, perfection, and self-image. Having worked for PREP, Inc. Veronica is trained in PREP’s well-known and effective communication skills for couples. She is trained in EMDR, a technique used to overcome symptoms arising from traumatic experiences. She has also edited books and written articles for publication.
Dr. Johnson is devoted to love and authenticity whether in the counseling office or elsewhere. She is guided by biblical understandings of who we are and what life is about. She uses an interactive style of therapy that puts men and women at ease. Clients feel cared for, challenged, and encouraged in Dr. Johnson’s office.
Dr. Johnson obtained her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Regent University in 2012 shortly after completing her doctoral internship at Eden Counseling Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. During her doctoral training, she was an active research member at the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity. Her masters degree is in Professional and Biblical Counseling from Colorado Christian University, and she is also an alumnus of Biola University, in Los Angeles, California.
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