The idea of being ‘authentic’ pops up often in popular psychology. It’s now common parlance to say, ‘just be yourself’. But if you are like me, at some point, you might have frustratingly wondered what does that mean? And what does it mean when we are not being authentic?   

Dr. Donald Winnicott’s theory of true and false self is helpful in answering these questions. In his work as a pediatrician and psychoanalyst, he saw infants as essentially a ball of needs and desires that expresses themselves spontaneously through cries, laughs, screams, and bites. Healthy development, in his view, requires a period when the child doesn’t have to be concerned with the worries and expectations of those who are taking care of them. This requires caregivers to adapt and create a holding environment that allows them to express themselves however they wish. This period of authenticity is the foundation for building a self that knows what I like what I don’t like, what my interests and passions are, and a sense that my needs are legitimate, and I can reasonably expect others to respond to them. 

We run into trouble when we are required to comply to the demands of others far too early and not having experienced much of that holding environment that allowed us to be ourselves. Perhaps a parent was depressed and overwhelmed, or a parent was often annoyed or in a rage. In these circumstances the child would have to prematurely comply, to take care of others, and to be another version of themselves—a false self. In adult life, we may become very good at taking care of others’ needs but struggle to feel satisfied in relationships. We might excel at work but find it unfulfilling. We might find ourselves having the right ‘things’ in life but lacking vitality. 

Psychotherapy is almost like a second chance for us to be in a holding environment where we can reconnect with thoughts, feelings, desires, physical felt sense that has been put away and forgotten. To be able to experience joy, anger, aggression; to scream and to laugh without being punished or shamed. From there, a more authentic sense of ourselves filled with vitality can be grown. 

Clinicians at CFIR take an integrative approach that incorporate multiple approaches such as psychodynamic, emotion-focused, and cognitive-behavioural therapies to help you reconnect with your authentic self and foster vitality in your life. 

Shaofan Bu is a Doctoral Candidate at McGill University studying Counselling Psychology. He is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini. 


Attachment – One of our most fundamental basic needs as a human being. Attachment, in its simplest form, is contact, connection, to belong, to love and be loved. 

When a child is born, they have two primary needs. Their first need is attachment and they simply do not survive without it. Attachment remains important throughout our lives and continues to have survival implications as we need it to form societies and communities. The second need is the need for authenticity. At its core, this is the ability to know what we feel, to be in touch with our bodies, to trust our “gut feelings” and instincts. Authenticity is also to be able to identify and express who we are and manifest it in our activities, relationships, and day to day lives. Authenticity is also a survival need as we need to be in touch with our bodies and instincts to navigate potential threats. However, what may often happen, especially during our formative years is that our need for authenticity might conflict with our need for attachment: if I express my true emotions, wants, needs, I may sacrifice or lose out on my attachment need and thus not feel loved, worthy, or connected to those around me. This does not mean that it was done on purpose or that your caregivers did not love you or think you were worthy, but they might have had their own difficulties, stress, hurt, and were also suppressed. This is not about blame or figuring out who is at fault. Their distress and your distress can coexist and there can be space for both! 

As a child, when we experience this conflict, we ultimately learn that we need to suppress our authenticity and thus our emotions for our attachment that our life depends on. As adults, this might look like not knowing what we feel, what we want, or how to express ourselves. These experiences might have taught us that being authentic is too costly and thus we suppress those parts of us and over time lose touch with ourselves. This may then manifest in various forms of mental health and/or relational difficulties. Therapy can help you rediscover, connect and express these suppressed parts of ourselves and help regain your authenticity and identity while maintaining our forever important relationships! 

Kadir Ibrahim, M.Sc., M.A., R.P. (Qualifying) is a clinical psychology resident at CFIR. Kadir provides psychological services to adults experiencing a wide range of psychological difficulties related to mood and anxiety, trauma, grief and loss, and interpersonal relationships. 

Practicing Self-Compassion

Our emotions and thoughts can sometimes take over our minds in ways that are not helpful for us, and that can make us feel uncomfortable or distressed. Responding to situations and ourselves in kind and compassionate ways can allow us to feel safe and create a space to respond to our needs. Self-compassion can enable us to let go of self-criticism, and to respond to our critical thoughts in a supportive and caring manner. 

Next time you notice distressing thoughts and emotions arising in your mind, you may try the following to help yourself through in a self-compassionate way. Think of what you can say to yourself that is kind and soothing. Or, think of what you would say to a good friend when they are in distress and try applying that to yourself. Or, consider what a good friend might say to you during difficult times. For example, try these statements: “It’s okay for me to feel this way,” “I know this is difficult, but it will pass,” ; “I know it is scary, but I am here to keep you safe.” 

Don’t forget that you can comfort yourself physically, too. You might gently rub your chest or hold your hand. You may go for a nice walk, take a long bath, and change into comfortable clothes. It’s essential to stay kind and gentle towards yourself.

Dr. Khuraman Mamedova, C.Psych. is a psychologist in supervised practice at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (Toronto). She works with adults in psychotherapy, to support them to overcome difficulties related to mood and anxiety disorders, psychosis, trauma-related experiences, and relationships. She has completed research on the relationship between clients and therapists in psychotherapy.