Being Authentic For Real: Part 1

authenticity cant fake
As they say, everyone else is already taken, so why not be yourself? Is it really that easy?  If you are someone who is into personal development, self-help or conscious leadership, you have undoubtedly heard the call to be more authentic.  “Be an authentic you, living an authentic life- your best life.”  Seriously though, what does that really mean? When I say the Mexican food was authentic, you probably know what I mean. But, when it comes to the self, are we all operating with the same definition of the word “authentic,” or has it just become another cliché that has lost it’s meaning? I believe many people define being authentic, as simply being yourself.  If you think about it logically, being yourself should be much easier than being someone else; somebody you are not.  So if you are not being yourself, who are you being? How do you know who this self even is? Being authentic is actually much deeper and more complex than just being yourself, expressing yourself openly, or being uniquely you. Authenticity is a state of being that has been discussed since the time of ancient Greece.  It has been a hot topic for poets, painters, clergy, scholars, philosophers and psychologists. As I began to study what this state of being really is, I came across the work of Michael Kermis and Brain Goldman. Their conceptualization of authenticity is really comprehensive. Their work (PDF here), summarizes the contributions of all the great thinkers who have contributed to our current understanding of what authenticity means.  This was no easy task; the roots of thought run deep.  By no stretch of the imagination did Kernis and Goldman pull this definition out of thin air, or even a dictionary.  This is a complete definition backed by great minds, and solidified by good science, and it answered all my questions about this complex topic. Authenticity defined In 2000, Kernis and Goldman defined authenticity as “the unimpeded operation of one’s true or core self, in one’s daily enterprise, and it can be broken down into 4 separate, but interrelated components:  awareness (seeing), unbiased processing (knowing), behavior (acting) and relational orientation (connecting). That probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to you yet, but you are probably starting to see there is more to being authentic, than freely expressing yourself. Their “definition” is really more of a framework that describes what qualities authentic people operate with, and aim to cultivate more of. What I find fascinating about this framework, is that it pretty much sums up the most psychologically healthy relationship that one can have with the self- and as a natural extension, with others. The greater the level of authenticity you move through the world with, the greater your life will be.    Let’s take a look at each component so you can see how it relates to your own authentic self: Awareness (Seeing the self)             A leader will find it difficult to articulate a coherent vision unless it expresses his core values, his basic identity….one must first embark on the formidable journey of self-discovery in order to create a vision with authentic soul.” –Mihaly Csikszentmihaly Self awareness is one of my favorite topics, and also the cornerstone of authenticity! Of course you can’t be yourself, if you don’t know yourself, but there is a little more to it. Self-awareness is the only way to know the self, so it is integral to authenticity. A person with a higher level of awareness is tuned into their inner world and they have an ongoing motivation to increase that connection.  Self awareness is about being in tune with your emotions, and objectively viewing your motives, thoughts and desires- really seeing the self through a clear lens. Linked with awareness, is self-knowledge- which refers to knowing what your strengths and weakness are, and what your dispositional tendencies and patterns are. A person with a high level of self-knowledge and awareness can look at how powerful emotions can motivate their behaviors. They can see the layers that merge together to create the self that gets presented to the world. With knowing ones self, also comes accepting the parts of the self that may contradict one another, or just not fit into our ideal.  Acceptance of the light and the dark, and integration of all of the different aspects of our inner world is vital to healthy functioning.  If one is not honest with themselves about who they are, authenticity is not possible. For an aware person, being yourself is about understanding, acknowledging, and appreciating all of who you are. Mindfulness is the term used to describe the process of practicing self awareness. Unbiased Processing (Knowing the self) “Dare to declare who you are. It is not far from the shores of silence to the boundaries of speech. The path is not long, but the way is deep. You must not only walk there, you must be prepared to leap.” – Hildegard Von Bingen If you are reading this blog, I am guessing you are someone who is already working towards processing your experiences in unbiased ways, even though you may not use these terms! This is about getting beneath your ingrained thought patterns, unconscious reactivity, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. This aspect of authenticity is closely knit together with awareness. I think you can say that unbiased processing is the outcome of consistent self awareness. People who process their experiences and inner states in unbiased ways have a more accurate sense of self, and clearer view of their inner world which allows them to accurately see themselves. Those who are oriented towards growing, developing, and knowing themselves deeply (you most likely), are more interested in obtaining accurate information about themselves, verses flattering versions of reality. In other words, those who process their experiences in unbiased ways, want to know what is behind their thoughts and actions; they want to deeply know why they react the way they do, even when the reasons are uncomfortable to sit with, or painful to uncover. Are my motivations actually selfish?  Do I get defensive easily because I have fragile self-esteem? Do I hide my feelings because deep down I just want to be accepted by others? Positive self-illusions are less healthy than accurate self-realities, even when they don’t feel great in the short term. Accurate self-realities are the goal of awareness and the cornerstone of authenticity. When we have an experience that we cope with by denying what happened, distorting the truth, exaggerating, or ignoring how we feel, we are distorting our own realities and cutting ourselves off from self-awareness. Authenticity requires one to not only be aware of what they know about themselves, but to also be open to what they don’t know, and that which they may deny or hide from themselves. Behavior (Acting from the self)

“Authenticity is more than speaking; Authenticity is also about doing. Every decision we make says something about who we are.” – Simon Sinek

This aspect of authenticity is what many of us think of when we say “just be yourself.” When we say this, what we are doing is encouraging others to act in ways that align with their preferences, needs, and values. Our thoughts and feelings direct our behaviors.  So if you are self aware enough to be in touch with your inner state, you can choose to act in ways that are congruent with your inner self, or you can choose otherwise. Most of us choose otherwise at times; sometimes for good reason. The roots of this choosing otherwise, are found in childhood, when we are rewarded or punished for certain behaviors. This leads us to act in ways that earn us parental approval, which feels like love.  We learn that sometimes when we express our true feelings, we get in trouble or at least get a less than favorable reaction.  Many of us learn that it is better to hide our feelings or preferences, and over time we get cut off from our own authenticity. This can lead to giving into peer pressure, or becoming a person who “follows” others because the positive reinforcement we get from pleasing others. Being accepted gives us a temporary sense of security.  As adults, we may compare ourselves to others as a way to measure our own self worth, or we can become overly focused on our public appearance. Acting with the motivation to please others, or obtain rewards or praise is the antithesis of authenticity and the cause of a lot of pain. In our culture, where conformity is pushed upon us, many of us spend our adult lives trying to peel away these layers and uncover what we really want, what we really like; who the hell we really are. Behaving authentically also means acting in ways that are aligned with your values. Those that score high in authenticity, make choices that they are in alignment with their values, even when that choice creates short-term difficulties or disapproval. Positive-self view becomes a higher value than the positive view of others.  Being aware of ones values, and acting accordingly even when that is difficult, is living with integrity and conviction. These are the folks that transform society for the better. Relational Orientation (connecting our “selves” together) We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection. –Brene Brown This aspect of authenticity is all about how we connect with others. How genuine we are, and how much of ourselves we let be seen, reflects the depth of our relationships.  This aspect of authenticity involves valuing and striving for openness, sincerity and truthfulness in our relationships. It means acting in ways that allow others to see the real you, and relating to them in ways that encourage them to show themselves in return. This is the dance of an intimate relationship. We could see ourselves, know ourselves, and act as ourselves without connecting ourselves to others, but I don’t think we can connect ourselves to others deeply, without the first 3 aspects.  Relational authenticity is where the fruits of all the work of uncovering the true self comes into full expression.  It is also the place where we get to continually work on becoming more and more authentic as our relationships challenge us to dig deeper and peel back more layers of the onion. Relational authenticity is about letting close others see the real you, those deep, dark, or potentially shadowy self‐ aspects that you may not be proud of, and want to hide. A relationship where both people value authenticity is a beautiful thing because it allows you both to get to know yourselves on deeper and deeper levels. Authenticity begets authenticity, and to have others who encourage you to be your most authentic self is a tremendous gift. I also hypothesize that it is the only way to have a truly healthy relationship. Removing what is not authentic After all this learning about authenticity, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is easiest to discover what the true self is by removing what it is not. Authenticity is about uncovering that which we have lost touch with or learned to hide. 60 years ago, the psychologist Eric Fromm described authenticity in his writing on modern man: “He conforms to anonymous authorities and adopts a self which is not his.  The more he does this, the more powerless he feels, the more his is forced to conform.  If life loses its meaning because it is not lived, man become desperate.  We believe that man can be free and yet not alone, critical, and yet not filled with doubts, independent and yet an integral part of mankind.  This freedom man can attain by the realization of his self, by being himself.” My interpretation of this quote is that man has an essence, a of way of being, and when he denies that essence by conforming to societal pressures and norms, he becomes disconnected from himself. It is as if he gets swallowed up by the world. If man can remain connected to his true self, he can live in the world without losing himself to it.  Isn’t this a simple, yet profound way to summarize authenticity? Come back from more I hope exploring the definition of authenticity has helped connect together different aspects of inner growth that you may already be working on cultivating. It can be really inspiring to see how interconnected seemingly different aspects of our inner world really are, and how making self-awareness a priority can lead to authenticity; which exponentially leads to more growth and well-being.  If you could only chose one inner growth area to work on, and still experience massively positive change in your life, this is the one! Check out part 2 of this topic, where I will explore why authenticity is the cornerstone of well-being.  I will also share how to asses your own authenticity, and how to create a more authentic life. Thanks for Reading. ❤
With Gratitude,
Aimee O’Neil LLMSW
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Aimee O'Neil LLMSW

Aimee O'Neil LLMSW

Founder of Wisdom Cultivators

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