NCSPP

Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology

From the Editor

 
You're standing in line at the grocery store. Your eyes scan the magazine rack. Alongside breaking news about which celebrities have gained or lost weight are promises of both exterior and interior self-improvement, most likely enumerated and described as easy: 5 Quick Ways to Get Your Beach Bum Ready for Summer, 12 Effortless Ways to Show Her That You Care, 6 Simple Ways to Find the Love of Your Life. These titles frequently include "authentic" and use the same formula: X (Number) of Ways to Y (Get in Touch With, Find, Re-Discover, etc.) Your Authentic Self.

Questions about what constitutes authenticity, an authentic life, and authentic ways of being are critical to the broader quest in our field to understand and treat psychological disturbance, and to help patients learn about and create ways of living they find meaningful. Numerous sources directly address subjects such as "authentic experience" and "authentic relatedness." Many of them, however, take for granted a shared understanding of the concept. These discussions appear to be predicated on an assumption of a unitary, core self that is "truer" than other aspects of the self. But how do we conceptualize authentic self- and other-relating when the notion of a true self is challenged? In contemporary relational psychoanalytic thought, the emphasis is on multiple selves, which complicates the idea of an authentic, true self. The question, then, is how can the notion of authenticity be resituated within the conceptual framework of multiple selves?

Clinicians who believe in a true self are likely to guide a treatment that is consciously or unconsciously predicated on this assumption. Patients may be pressured, in both explicit and subtle ways, to reflect on their experiences in accordance with dichotomous terms of truth and falsity. A view of authenticity that privileges and reifies one aspect of self as "the true one" may lead patients on a solipsistic quest for a hypothetical core self eternally beyond reach and against which all self experience is measured. Paradoxically, self-exploration based on the assumption of a true self can lead to inauthentic experience. Perhaps a view of authenticity predicated on access to multiple self-states and toleration of uncertainty may offer a more realistic and helpful way of experiencing oneself and others. The problem, though, would be describing this in seductive, pithy titles with easily digestible numbered steps. In the grand scheme of things, it's not a bad problem to have.