Are we more authentic as we get older?

Who I am
Robert Maurer

Author and references

Do you think you know yourself better today than in the past? Do you think you are more authentic as the years go by? Do you believe that in the future you will be more authentic than you are today?

These were some of the questions some University of Texas psychologists asked a group of people to find out if there is a pattern in the way we think about our "selves."

The abolition of the old "I"

Initially, the researchers recruited 250 college students and asked them to indicate how closely their institute-era "I" coincided with their current one. They also asked them to estimate how much their current "I" resembled that of when they finished their studies.

Everyone thought that the level of authenticity increased over the years.

The researchers wondered if this phenomenon also occurred in other eras, so they recruited another 134 people between the ages of 19 and 67. They asked them to divide their lives into three phases: past, present and future, and to write a description for each, assessing their level of self-knowledge and authenticity.

Again, people reported getting to know each other better and being more authentic as the years went by. Psychologists also found that the higher the self-esteem, the greater the expectation of being more authentic as we age.

This phenomenon is known as a "departure from the old self". In practice, when we look at a past that we consider distant, we tend to derogate from the old "I" in favor of the current identity. In fact, in most cases, when we look back and dust off the old "I", we are able to analyze it with a certain psychological distance, adopting the perspective of a third person, almost alien to that identity.

This distance occurs because, although we are aware that we are ourselves, we do not feel fully identified because we encounter too many discrepancies with the way of thinking and being current.

But is it an illusion or are we really more authentic?

The permission of the insolence granted by the years

A friend, who already has several decades behind her, used to say that "the years give permission to insolence". It refers to the fact that with psychological maturity we have the courage to be more authentic, to express what we really feel and think "outspoken". We know each other best, we know what we want and don't want, and this gives us tremendous confidence and self-confidence to show us who we really are.

During adolescence and youth, we are completely occupied with the search for our identity. These tend to be confusing phases in which we explore different identities. We also need to be accepted by the group, which is why we often let ourselves be influenced by others, subordinating ourselves to their interests and goals.

To the extent that we mature - which does not always coincide with the passing of the years, given that we mature through experiences and not because the calendar flows - we are consolidating our identity. This identity is not static, it changes continuously over the course of life, we begin to understand better who we are, our goals are defined, we prioritize our needs and strengthen our value system ... In short, we put everything in its place in our life.

As we mature, we make our own Oscar Wilde's phrase: “be yourself. Everything else has already been taken ”. We learn to accept ourselves, with our virtues and our flaws, because we understand that we are wonderfully and imperfectly unique.

The gift of experience is to allow us to be, without conflict, with absolute and simple naturalness. It allows you to be what you want to be. Then you realize that to please everyone means to end up disappointing yourself, and ultimately you give yourself permission to be authentic.

However, we must not take this authenticity for granted, we must work to get rid of the social ties that limit it. American writer Patrick Rothfuss shows us a very interesting way to develop this authentic "me": "be smart enough to know yourself, brave enough to be yourself and foolish enough to change and, at the same time, continue to remain authentic".

If you follow this path, you will come to the point where you won't have to prove anything to anyone but yourself. And this incredible freedom is more than enough reward.


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