We often come across the term “core self” in magazines or online. Maybe we hear it in conversation. Maybe we hear statements like it’s important to connect to your core self. It’s important to develop a deep understanding of it. Doing so is vital for building a fulfilling, meaningful life.

But what is a “core self”? What does it really mean?

According to psychotherapist Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, “core self is your true self, or most authentic self.” It is our “inner wisdom, inner nurturer, wise self, feeling self, inner voice…” It is our values and personality, she said.

It is not our thoughts. That is, when you’re stuck in a web of negative thoughts, your core self is the part of you that notices these thoughts, said Eddins, who specializes in self-esteem, stress management and helping clients find fulfillment in Houston, Texas. Your core self is your “essence, your intuition.”

We tend to protect our core self, and basically silence or stifle it. We protect it with distraction, avoidance and surface communication.

“Have you ever had a friend who had a ‘new strategy for being happy’ or something similar that on the outside appeared as if it was about letting go and connecting with core self?” Eddins said.

“In reality it was about staying on the surface to be positive and happy all the time.” In reality it was about avoiding vulnerability, she said. And your core self is vulnerability.

Connecting to our core selves doesn’t have to be complicated. It is an ever-evolving process, and we can practice certain steps to keep connecting. Eddins shared these five suggestions.

Write about yourself.

Eddins suggested writing for 3 minutes without lifting your pen. You might write about your feelings or answer specific prompts. These include:

  • I am …
  • Words that describe me …
  • I am most afraid of …
  • I value …
  • My strengths are …

(You can find other journal prompts here and here.)

Explore your primary emotions.

Accessing your primary emotions helps you access your core self. Specifically, it helps you identify your needs, and then take action to meet those needs, Eddins said. (It also helps your relationships. More on that below.)

“Next time you feel anxious or angry, sink below the feeling to identify what your vulnerable self is feeling.” Maybe you’re really sad or hurt or scared.

To notice your true feelings, stop and breathe. Do a body scan, since “emotions live in the body.” For instance, “What is happening in your gut? In your chest, arms, back, in your jaw, behind your eyes?” If thoughts are vying for your attention, try to let them “pass by like clouds in the sky and come back into your body.”

If you realize that beneath your anger is hurt, instead of lashing out and yelling at your partner, you can calmly and clearly communicate your feelings. According to Eddins, you might say: “I’m sad. It hurts me when ________ and it makes me feel alone. I care about you and want to connect with you. I miss the connection we had.” This kind of communication actually helps you work on your relationship, instead of putting the other person on the defensive and sparking a fight.

Let yourself dream.

Explore what you imagine for yourself—without letting fear or anxiety dictate your response. According to Eddins, “Imagine you are at your retirement party. What are people saying about you? Who is present? How do you want to be remembered?”

Listen to your inner voice.

We actually typically hear our inner voice, our inner truth. It speaks first, Eddins said. But we tend to dismiss it. The key is to listen without rejecting it or talking ourselves out of it.

For instance, Eddins was working with a client who said she’d love to be a coach. Then she followed up with: “Oh, who am I kidding? I could never make it work! I’m inadequate…I’m ….” Her fear started creeping up.

When Eddins asked the client to tell her more about her interest, she said: “Well, I like to help people. I’m great at helping them through life problems. In fact, I do this all the time at work. I love reading about how to improve, and I’m an excellent presenter. I’d love to do workshops…” The client also had a thoughtful plan and knew who she’d like to work with and how.

Another client was angry with her brother who recently joined a man’s emotion club. He talked about how cool it was to connect to his feelings—except he never actually connected to them. Because anger was a scary emotion for her, the client pushed down her inner voice. Instead she started feeling angry with herself. She’d bash herself for not doing anything fun or interesting, for being alone, for having zero passion. Then she’d feel utterly hopeless. She and Eddins worked on connecting to her true emotions—her core self— “which was both uncomfortable and empowering for her.” Her anxiety and depression went away—and she stopped berating herself.

“The answers are there. But we often shut them down, not giving ourselves permission—and therefore not really hearing what the inside is trying to say,” Eddins said.

Notice when you shut yourself down.

Eddins stressed the importance of identifying when and where you shut yourself down. Notice when you deny your voice. “Which desires, needs, feelings are you not allowing?” Why? What would happen if you actually gave yourself permission?

Connecting to your core self opens up a world of possibilities: It means you connect to your primary emotions, your dreams and your needs. It means you have access to what truly fulfills you—which is the first step in actually pursuing it.