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Square-rigged sailing vessel

Functional aspects of the authentic self may be compared to the working parts of an old-fashioned sailing ship. (Image freeclipartnow.com)

The authentic self comprises the unique set of our most potent and precious emotionally important ideas. We acquire the basics of these mental constructs as children when, through our behaviour, our genes interact with our physical and social environment. Their uniqueness is what makes us all natural individuals. (Yes, without even trying, if we can stay out of our own way.) Unless we make them conscious – and we can – these assorted emotionally important ideas live in the unconscious where they generate our true will. We are all born with the urge for self-realization and the capacities we want to fulfil are an integral part of the authentic self.

An old-fashioned sailboat or square-rigged ship makes a useful metaphor for illustrating the importance of our emotionally important ideas. (Or as some would say, subjectively formed guiding principles). Once we are aware of them, these ideas or principles give our “ship of self” a number of useful qualities:

A Sturdy Keel for Straight Running

The authentic self is constant. This means we can learn who we are and what we really want. Change in the emotionally important ideas that make up the self is minimal and slow. They grow and develop incrementally rather than alter abruptly. We can count on remaining who we are for the long run. This is cause for despair among self-improvers and reason for celebration among self-accepters. Self-improvers are loyal to their false personas; self-accepters are loyal to their authentic selves.

Ballast for Stability and Uprightness

When we are always being our authentic selves, we show integrity and sincerity. This does not mean we are always pleasant. It does mean our behaviour is natural and we say what we genuinely believe and are truly feeling. We present ourselves as we truly are so that others may interact with us in a real way. Being artificially pleasant and agreeing merely for the sake of getting along belongs to the politically correct with their “good,” but self-alienating and self-defeating, false personas.

A Compass to Steer By

The authentic self knows where it wants to go, and if ego will consult it, will point us in the right direction. For proper consultation to happen, ego must understand that it is not the sole decision maker in the psyche. Larger issues – life issues – are the purview of the self, as are all those decisions where our emotionally important ideas come into play. Ego gets to decide what to have for lunch or how to solve a specific problem. The self gets to decide in which direction we will go in life.

A Rudder to Steer With

Provided ego does not try to interfere, authentic will performs regular course corrections when we are angling away from the proper path of self-realization. If we do not struggle with ourselves (ego trying to get control), our will always steers us back to where we need to be. If we get lost, we have only ourselves to blame. Being lost means we are waging war on our own authentic will.

A Place to Steer Towards

Our emotionally important ideas harbour our fondest dreams and their attached feeling tones or moods. Recapturing a treasured mood can be the most potent motivator in the psyche. The will that originates in these magical ideas and moods provides impetus in life so that “steerage way” (the speed needed for a rudder to function) may be maintained. In other words, will is dynamic and keeps us moving forward. It is never passive and always has a goal in mind.

Louisa May Alcott, author of the classic Little Women, undoubtedly had something like this metaphor in mind when she said, “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

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