Society is obsessed with the idea of being your authentic self; there’s no doubt about it. Yet, humans, members of said society, have an even stronger, more burning desire – to belong, to be a part of a tribe. It’s at the core of our most basic nature. How can we marry the two then?
I’ve been on the quest of answering this question for a whole year now, so buckle up and grab a drink. Here’s what I gathered so far…
Last year (yes, the infamous 2020) I learned quite a lot about being your authentic self by starting it with a big bang – moving to Valencia, Spain and leaving my everyday life far behind. I threw myself into deep water, an uncharted territory, namely a foreign environment, barely speaking Spanish, not knowing my way around the city and feeling an explosive mixture of simultaneous confusion and excitement.
At first, I struggled with expressing myself since the language barrier held me back, turning my usual bubbly, positive self into a quiet, reserved and timid version which was entirely new. Slowly but surely, the discomfort grew, and I couldn’t avoid it anymore. Soon afterwards, the big, scary questions started appearing in my mind:
Who am I outside of my usual context?
Once I step out of my comfort zone, what makes me ‘me’?
What happens when being your authentic self becomes incredibly challenging?
It occurred to me, then and there, that I had never cared to ponder on this topic before. The culture I grew up in seemed to have the idea of authenticity figured out for me, so I didn’t even bother to think independently. The irony of this whole situation is that this is one of these highly subjective and individual matters. There ain’t a single person who can provide me, you, or anyone else with a magical “one size fits all” solution. Even though it may seem like it at times…
Being Your Authentic Self vs Society
The importance of being authentic and embracing my real self has been instilled in my young mind for years. You know, the whole shtick about living boldly and unapologetically that we see every single day in social media, on the TV, on billboard ads plastered all over city landscapes etc. There are countless movies, songs and pieces of art that focus on this very topic.
It seems like there’s no running away or avoiding this subject matter. The phrase “authenticity” became such a distorted, twisted buzzword that it seems to be completely empty, devoid of any meaning; a mere catchy slogan to use in yet another shampoo commercial or clothing campaign. And yet, there’s a certain societal expectation and idea of what authenticity should look like.
Of course, I’m not the first one to notice this incongruence. Several studies demonstrate how people’s feelings regarding authenticity are not necessarily shaped by their unique core values but rather a peculiar kind of social conformity. According to Scientific American, an ideal example of a person considered to show up authentically is characterised as “extroverted, emotionally stable, conscientious, intellectual and agreeable“. Ain’t that a shocker, huh?
Obviously, the ultimate version of authenticity encompasses all the desired, popular, likeable and easy-going qualities. Humans seem to be attracted to the concept of perfection, constantly in pursuit of unattainable ideals and unrealistic standards.
But what happens when being your true self also means being strongly assertive and facing a highly uncomfortable conflict rather than avoiding it and being a people pleaser?
What if you are an introvert with social anxiety and exercising your authenticity means declining an invitation to a party and, simultaneously, not appeasing the public?
Brene Brown shares her insight in the podcast hosted by Tim Ferris that we’re all ordinary people. Yet, we often belittle, diminish, and shame our ordinary lives, our everyday, simple moments. Generally speaking, we do not want to be ordinary. We do not want to come across as common or typical.
So what follows is our repulsion towards being real, towards showing up authentically, flawed and all. We put on metaphorical armour and equip ourselves with a fake smile rather than displaying our whole, imperfect selves. And, before we know it, we lose touch with who we actually are, what we truly want, dream of and believe in.
Trying to Fit In
Ultimately, we adjust ourselves to fit into the cookie-cutter society, hoping to be accepted and gain a delusive sense of belonging. Unavoidably, frustrations and resentment grow, yet we stubbornly keep on going, now believing that this is the way life is and that it doesn’t really get better than that.
We think that maybe it would be best for everyone if we settled for this half-existence, not realising our full potential, pushing our dreams to the back burner, labelling them as unreasonable and restraining ourselves with all the external expectations.
The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.~ Carl Jung
Now it’s time to take a deep dive and share my research. In psychology, authenticity consists of four components:
On a most fundamental level, an authentic person is aware of their virtues, qualities and drawbacks. They can name their core values, goals for the future, dreams and desires. They are able to list their strengths as well as weaknesses, roadblocks, dysfunctional beliefs and fears.
This layer of authenticity manifests itself in understanding, accepting and wanting to learn more about the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of oneself.
2) Unbiased processing
Unbiased processing, or in other words, objective perception of the self, is the key to adopting an authentic posture in life. It boils down to being open and non-judgmental of both negative and positive feedback about oneself.
The main objective of achieving authenticity here is to eliminate the bias in processing the information we receive about ourselves. That means:
- recognising your flaws, insecurities and accepting them instead of engaging in the process of denying, avoiding, suppressing or rationalising it all
- acknowledging your successes, good qualities and being proud of them rather than belittling their significance
That is the most popular aspect of authenticity, heavily overused by media and mainstream culture. The behavioural aspect of authenticity indicates acting in accordance with one’s values, personal beliefs and priorities. The concept of “living unapologetically” here would typically manifest itself in being internally motivated at all times rather than acting to please other people, fulfilling external expectations or conforming to social norms. However, there’s a specific paradoxical nature of the behavioural component of authenticity. Its execution can often get tricky and confusing. Consider these examples:
Were you acting fake as a kid when telling your parent a white lie to avoid punishment?
When meeting an important for the first time, is it dishonest to show yourself in the best light possible?
Is a gay person growing up in a highly homophobic environment inauthentic by not expressing their sexuality in such hostile surroundings?
The world is not simply black or white. Psychology iresearchnet comments on these complex matters:
“authentic behaviour does not reflect a compulsion to be one’s true self,
but rather the choice to express one’s true feelings, motives and inclinations“.
It’s all about respecting your personal boundaries and choosing to act accordingly.
4) Relational Orientation
Lastly, there is an aspect of opening up to the trusted circle of people, your support group and showing up to them in your true form. Genuine, raw, unfiltered self-expression and engaging in self-disclosures support bonding, further trust and intimacy in these relationships.
As you can probably see now, when considering the nature of authenticity, we need to understand its complexity and different intricacies. Just because someone chooses to keep the aspects of their identity to themselves does not make them fake. Just because you sometimes agree to something that doesn’t feel right also doesn’t automatically mean you’re an insincere person.
Authenticity is not a fixed personality trait. Think of it as an everyday choice, everyday struggles and decisions to take. Fortunately for you, there are many ways of making the whole process of showing your true colours a bit easier, smoother and less scary.
How To Become Your Authentic Self – 3 Simple Practices
1) When you feel like acting fake, do this instead:
Now, I understand that authenticity can be quite a challenge. When we feel anxious, frustrated or sad, it can be pretty easy to let emotions take over our actions. One thing is to spiral down into the unhealthy (and ineffective) pattern of suppressing, denying or numbing these uncomfortable feelings.
A completely different situation presents itself when we choose to do something about it. A solution proposed by Christine L. Carter in PsychologyToday called “deep acting” uses the fact that emotions and behaviours trigger one another. So, instead of binge-eating when feeling stressed, we can decide to engage in self-soothing behaviour that will calm us down.
The process of deep acting looks more or less like this:
- Allow the feelings, however unsettling, to emerge to the surface of your consciousness.
- Instead of judging yourself, think of ways to address this emotion and improve your state.
- Rather than acting on a whim, take a break.
- Consider embracing your vulnerability and calling a friend to vent, going on a walk to calm down, writing it down, taking deep breaths to induce a parasympathetic nervous system, practising gratitude to evoke a deep sense of appreciation for the present moment etc.
- Come back after implementing your solution and check-in with yourself emotionally. Feel any different now?
2) Return to Your Authentic Self:
In demanding times, when it’s common to feel unsure of your choices and second-guess yourself, there’s one thing to do: turn your attention inwards.
Create a mindful space for a grounding ritual of engaging in your inner relationship. Remind yourself of who you truly are. Whether it is meditation, breathing exercises or journaling, make sure to realign yourself with your “why”. It all grows from there, from the authentic place of your purpose, your inner drive.
“Only when we’re grounded,
we can be open, curious and accepting of ourselves and others.”– Diane Mottl
Next time you start to doubt yourself, consider these questions:
Am I following my purpose? Is this making me happy?
Is this decision in line with my goals, dreams and values?
If I had 5 years of life left, what would be my number one priority?
These are just some of the ways to gain clarity. Read more about this vital topic here.
3) Explore uncharted territory:
You can get to know yourself only so much when curled up in the safe nook of your comfort zone. Understanding who you actually happen when you step outside into the uncharted territory, into the wild.
Cultivate curiosity, vulnerability and courage out in the world. Expose yourself to new ideas, test your limits, learn a new language, try a different recipe, challenge your beliefs, experiment with an interesting hobby.
Like any great adventure, the practice of authenticity has some elements of suspense, hardships and roadblocks to overcome. What is at stake, however, is an ultimate gamechanger.
“Authenticity is a daily practice of
letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be
and embracing who we are.”– Brene Brown
Becoming your genuine self, making choices in line with your values and beliefs, pursuing your own goals and chasing your own dreams make all the blood, sweat and tears worth it.
There are no limits to understanding who you are. There is no end place to arrive at in the miraculous and thrilling path of becoming your authentic self. So set out on the journey of self-discovery and never stop, for this quest is everlasting and constantly changing in its beautiful plasticity.