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The Ultimate Guide to Authentic Living

What is Authenticity?

Authenticity is something that we all strive for in our lives. It's the idea of being our genuine selves, with others and with ourselves about who we are. Authenticity is about aligning with our core values and beliefs, regardless of what others think or say. It's about being bold and having the courage to let ourselves be vulnerable in our connection with others, even knowing that there’s a possibility that we may be judged or criticized.

Characteristics of Authentic Living

  • Authentic people stay true to themselves and their values and act by them.

  • Authentic people don’t try to make people like them.

  • Authentic people take accountability for their actions.

  • Authentic people are non-judgmental.

  • Authentic people are aware & practice self-reflection.

  • Authentic people will unapologetically express themselves and their beliefs.

  • Authentic people know their worth and are not afraid of speaking up for themselves and others.

The Psychology of Authenticity

Many of us learned at a young age that we had to trade our authenticity for safety. As a child, you may have learnt that being your authentic self wasn’t a good idea because it didn't feel safe to be yourself. You may have learned to wear a mask around others at a certain point. Because perhaps, when you wear this mask, people don’t have to know the real you. So you feel protected.

The truth is that the majority of us wear masks around others. This mask can take the form of pleasing people, putting on a persona that we perceive as safer around others. Why? To protect ourselves from rejection, abandonment, criticism or judgement.


To be our authentic selves, we must first become aware of what patterns hold us back from being our authentic selves in the present. Our upbringing and childhood experiences are essential to our ability to be our authentic selves in adulthood.

For example, maybe a child wanted to dress up and wear a pirate outfit to school but was left feeling judged by a parent who told the child to wear something more “suitable.” The child might get the message that their appearance is what matters and integrate this message into what is called a schema. Schemas are a set of beliefs about the world or rules for living that we learn from our primary caregivers. They help us interpret what is happening around us.

In cognitive psychology, a schema is an organized pattern of thought and behaviour. It can also be described as a mental structure of preconceived ideas, a framework representing some aspect of the world, or a system of organizing and perceiving new information.

We carry our childhood schemas into adulthood and continue to interpret the world around us through the same lens we did in childhood.

Our schemas give us an understanding of what's happening around us. We develop schemas early in life, which are often accurate representations of our childhood experiences. Our parents may also have taught us these beliefs.

Maladaptive Schemas

Children rely on their primary caregivers to meet their physical needs as well as their emotional needs. Children develop schemas which we learn by watching our primary caregivers cope with life’s stressors. When a child’s basic emotional needs are not met in childhood, then the child will develop “maladaptive schemas.”

Self-defeating emotional and cognitive patterns are established from childhood and repeated throughout life. They may be composed of emotional memories of past hurt, tragedy, fear, abuse, neglect, unmet safety needs, abandonment, or a general lack of normal human affection.

We look to our primary caregivers to show us how to process emotions, have healthy relationships, set boundaries, and many more habits and behaviours. In an ideal world, our primary caregivers can show us these things. They can self-regulate, meet our emotional needs, and provide us with the tools to learn how to self-regulate. Most importantly, we can learn to be our authentic selves as children without judgment or criticism from our parents.

We live in a culture where emotion regulation and trauma aren’t discussed enough for people to have the knowledge and insight. Many of us grew up with what we can call “emotionally immature” parents. Emotionally immature parents are parents who have not processed their traumas and who often repeat the same patterns and habits that they learned from their parents. These parents often operate from a wounded place because of their unprocessed emotions.

As parents, they might project their unprocessed traumas unto their children. Their emotional responses and behaviours result from their unprocessed traumas, which are projected onto the child who has no idea how to manage their emotional state and is looking to the primary caregivers to learn how to do so.

The problem is that a child cannot out-regulate an adult. The child does not have that part of the brain that is developed. In essence, the child can only learn to self-regulate like the parents.

Children grow up and take their early childhood schemas with them into adulthood, where they will continue to view themselves and their schemas of how others perceive them. This is based on their early childhood experiences but not on the present moment.


Authentic living is about rediscovering our true selves and learning to live genuinely and authentically.

It's about deciding to live according to our values and beliefs, regardless of what we perceive others to think.

I invite you to reflect on your relationship with your authentic self. What results are you getting in your life, and how do your childhood schemas shape them? What is your relationship with others in your life, and how do those schemas shape it?

Once we can become aware of our internal schemas and how they shape our lives, through the kind of reflection I’m inviting you to do right now … then we can start to see the world through a more authentic lens.

Living your authentic life is a journey that we must take at our own pace, and it will allow us to lead a more fulfilled and happy life.

P.S. I have a brand new workbook to help you shed the self-limiting beliefs and survival patterns that keep you from reconnecting with your authentic self. Available in Hardcover, Paperback, or Digital/Printable format, Unbecoming: A Workbook is now available for purchase!

Stephanie Underwood, T.S.P., R.S.W.

Registered Social Worker & Trauma Specialist


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