The older and more mature I have grown, so too, has my distaste and aversion to phoniness – both within myself and without. I would internally (and at times externally) cringe at anything I would regard as an act of phoniness – someone displaying themselves in a certain manner that was quite obviously fake or put on. This cringe reaction was not exclusively met at the displays of only humans, but even things such as products that were quite obviously marketing themselves as something they very much were not.
Shakespeare's Hamlet contains poignant themes detailing the importance of remaining authentic and true to our self.
As Within, So Without.
Regarding myself, any act of falseness felt (and feels) like a tragic loss of soul or a horrid betrayal of my true character and self. Each time I noticed (whether in the moment or in hindsight) moments where I was in the least bit fake, my nervous system would send a shudder throughout my body that reeked of toxicity, a fitting signal that my act was not right. As harsh as it sounds, I would often feel a sense of cowardice when I opted comfort and conformity over the uncomfortableness that truth and authenticity often brings. Growing up, these faux displays usually manifested in the presentation of myself in some way in which I thought would appease, impress or be met with validation from another. This notably occurred during my adolescent years when the opposite sex was at the forefront of my mind. During these years I would not only assume what it was the other sex was after, but would also foolishly attempt to recreate that desire and present it at the cost of remaining true and authentic to myself. As with many things on this path, there are layers to insight, and this adolescent display acts as somewhat of a shallow example of acting in a way that is out of alignment with our truth. As I grew older, I became aware of the more subtle and finessed ways in which I would be acting out of accordance/alignment to my truth. The tricky thing to note is, that as I grew, so too did the cleverness of my mind - it is extremely persuasive and puts forth terrific arguments why I have to act in certain ways in certain scenarios; regardless of whether or not those acts remained aligned to my truth. Understanding the distaste and disdain felt when I was acting in any way inauthentic, I was reminded of the phrase from the Gospel of Thomas:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
This example became especially evident when I ventured out onto my journey of self-discovery and development. Constantly surrounding myself with an endless stream of wellness based media created a subconscious desire in me that took control of how I presented myself to others. I wanted so bad to be in the position of the authors of the media I was consuming, and as such, I presented myself that way: grounded, centred and profound. I became a false beacon of guidance while internally I was a bit of a wreck.
This feat of our human experience has been well documented throughout the ages. There is in fact a clue in the etymology of the word used to describe the way we present ourselves to others: our persona. The word persona is derived from the Latin word meaning mask, and was actually the name given to the masks worn by ancient Greek actors in theatre and plays. If we take some time to reflect on the original meaning, we can see how the definition of persona really isn’t too different to the one known in the ancient world – our persona really is the mask we wear and present to the world. The idea of the persona brings forth a very interesting distinction: if the persona is only a mask; then a real self must exist – the authentic being that the mask is thrust upon. This true self is an illusory problem that many philosophers and thinkers have attempted to clearly define over millennia. One such description comes from renowned psychoanalysts Donals Winnicott who asserts:
"Only the true self can be creative and only the true self can feel real." For Winnicott, the True Self is a sense of being alive and real in one's mind and body, having feelings that are spontaneous and unforced.”
We often construct a false self over our true self, acting as a type of armour that protects us from the insecurity and vulnerability that is living naked from our true being. This is understandable to the degree that the true self is an ineffable expression of our significant uniqueness, and our biology dictates that it is much safer belonging to the herd and not standing out. Over the years, sticking to the herd may in fact eat away at the fabric of our soul and leave us to question, “was it all really worth it”?
Persona is the mask we where and display to the world.
I will leave this post with a simple, piercing quote by William Shakespeare.
To thine own self be true.
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