“Congruent is one of my favorite words. The word congruent describes someone who is the same on the outside as they are on the inside,” writes psychotherapist Angela Caughlin in her book, Journaling Through: Unleashing the Power of the Authentic Self: Seven Benefits of Unlocking the Wisdom Within.
But, as so many of us know, being congruent is far from easy. It means not caring what others think about you. If you’re a chronic people-pleaser (Hi, my name is Margarita), this might as well be like walking a tightrope. (Yes, it’s that dramatic.)
It also means knowing who you are. Sometimes, the simple question of “what do I like” is hard to answer, especially if we’ve spent years deferring to someone else and looking for validation from others.
Maybe you knew who you were for a while. But after a certain event or experience or a long period of time, you lost a few of those pieces.
For me, that was trying to manipulate my body to become someone I clearly wasn’t. In our society, we think that thinness is magical. I thought being thin would make my anxiety and insecurities vanish. I thought I’d be more adventurous. Fearless, in fact. I’d be confident and finally proud of who I was.
I assumed that by losing weight, I was peeling away the layers to discover and reveal the real me. (Not surprisingly, I wasn’t. I was just stalling self-discovery with diets and a superficial focus on the outside.)
Caughlin lost herself after her husband’s passing:
After the death of my husband Tom, I went through a period of not knowing who I was at all. The person I thought I was supposed to be simply didn’t exist anymore. It took a few years of searching before I really understood who this new person was that was emerging from that old skin.
But just as we lose ourselves, we can find ourselves. Authenticity is a process.
Like alchemy, we are redefined by the layers that are peeled off to find the gold, or the authentic self, inside of us. Are we ever finished? No; each experience gives us an opportunity to be present and continue to peel, and find more gold.
We are ever evolving. As Susan Piver writes in her book, The Hard Questions for an Auethentic Life: 100 Essential Questions for Designing Your Life from the Inside Out, she discovered that an authentic life is:
…manifested through an ongoing dialogue based on inquiry and a commitment to listen to the answers that arose. I’ve come to the realization that it’s actually impossible to plan an authentic life—it’s only possible to be authentic and watch as your authentic life manifests around you.
The work of finding yourself begins with that dialogue, of asking yourself the questions.
Journaling is a powerful path to finding your authentic self. When you ask yourself questions, you start to pick up on patterns and, like Caughlin says, you begin peeling back the layers and discovering what’s underneath each one.
At the end of every chapter in her book, Caughlin features questions or prompts for readers to journal about.
Below are several of the questions that stood out to me (I’ve paraphrased them), that I hope also inspire you to find yourself every day — one word at a time.
- How do you think you “should” be?
- When can you let that person go and when can’t you?
- For one day, try to be present in every situation. How does it feel to be present?
- When you are yourself, what clutter do you have to let go of? What clutter gets in your way? Caughlin defines clutter as a title, things, obstacles or a certain way of life.
- As you work to change your life, what are the things that reflect who you’re becoming?
- In the past, how has your ego affected you? The ego is a necessary part of our identity, but if we allow it to control us, it can confine us.
- When does your ego affect you the most? Who is that person?
- What has helped you discover the real you? When do you lose yourself? What helped you find your way again?