Being Authentic For Real: Part 1, we dug into the definition of authenticity. Now that we know what the term really means, I want to share how living authentically increases life satisfaction, well-being, and inner peace, and how it can have lasting impacts not only personally, but also in our relationships.
Authenticity and well-being
Psychologists who research authenticity have found that being authentic, as defined above, can provide a host of benefits, including a strong sense of self-worth and self-confidence, a greater ability to follow through on goals, and more effective coping skills. Authenticity is positively correlated with many factors that contribute to happy, fulfilling lives and healthy relationships. In humanistic psychology, authenticity is seen as crucial for well-being, and a lack of authenticity can result in psychopathology. Higher measures of authenticity relate to feelings of self-worth and security, autonomy and purpose. Authentic individuals are motivated towards growth, and feel more empowered by a sense of personal choice and responsibility. As far as I can tell, authenticity only contributes to the human experience in only positive ways. That is not to say that it is an easy choice; being honest or going against the grain can definitely be uncomfortable- but the long-term benefits vastly out weight the short-term ease of placating, pleasing, or hiding. Although it is difficult to study authenticity, because it is something that must be self-reported, there has been a lot of research in recent years studying the outcomes those who report living authentically. Perceived authenticity is positively linked to measures of subjective happiness (Sariçam, 2015), self-esteem (Heppner et al., 2008), and life satisfaction (Goldman & Kernis, 2002), and is correlated with fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Lack of authenticity
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”― Carl Gustav Jung There does not seem to large body of research on the negative effects of inauthenticity, although this would likely be even harder to measure because one may not be aware they are being inauthentic. I do think it is safe to say that we can flip the existing research though, and assume that if authenticity creates well-being, that lack of it creates ill-being. My belief is living an inauthentic life is actually a major contributor to all forms of mental illness. One of the central ideas of the influential psychologist Carl Jung, was what he called ‘individuation.’ Put simply, individuation is the process by which individuals become more fully themselves. Individuation involves differentiating oneself from the values of the larger society, which does not necessarily mean rejecting those values. Rather, it means the ability to choose the values by which one will live instead of merely living out social norms in an unreflective and unconscious way. In other words, the individuation process is a deepening and maturing of one’s individuality and sense of authenticity. For those who hold values that are similar to their cultures values, the destructive effects of living inauthenticity may not be so obvious. But, think for a moment about those who conceal their true selves for fear of rejection, prejudice, or violence. The pain of hiding fundamental aspects of your self, to be accepted or even to survive, must be unbearable. It is the most extreme example of living inauthentically, but I believe hiding even tiny parts of yourself, over time, adds up to measurable pain that sometimes does not have a recognizable cause.
Detecting you own authenticity
“Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, “This is the real me,” and when you have found that attitude, follow it.” – William James So how to do you know how authentic you are? If you are privileged to be someone who has always had the choice to be themselves without terrible consequences, you might feel that you are already pretty authentic. But, have you really examined this? Unless you are extremely self-aware, inauthenticity may be cropping up in your life in ways that go unnoticed. Once you start looking for it, its manifestations may surprise you. Psychologists have developed various scales to measure both personal and relational authenticity. You can get ahold of a scale to measure your own level of authenticity here(on the last pages). Or you can take the AIRS here, which can give you an idea of how authentic you are in your relationships. There are scales for measuring authentic leadership, and you can even find advice on how to “scale” authenticity in your business (although I think authenticity for the sake of authenticity might be an contradiction in terms!). These types of measurements are important for researchers, and those developing frameworks for understanding psychology, but for individuals, I prefer a much simpler approach that relies on feeling (and baseline self-awareness). Does it feel authentic? Psychology professor Jordan Peterson, who lectures on authenticity, suggests a method of detecting your own inauthenticity. He believes you can use the information from your body to tell when you are being inauthentic or incongruent. His suggestion is to detach from your thoughts and your words, (which are mostly not you, but the opinions of others, things you’ve learned, etc.) and ask which of your thoughts are you? Which actually represent you as an integrated being. You can tell by sensing what thoughts make you feel weak, and what makes you feel strong. His explanation for this is that when we say things to hide parts of us, or we try to fit in with our group, not ruffle feathers, etc., we can feel a sense of falsehood, and weakness in our body. If you say something and you feel weak, it might feel as if you stepped off solid ground into something that doesn’t support you well. Try to say words that don’t produce that sensation as a comparison. Listen to yourself like you would to someone else, and ask yourself if you actually believe what you are saying. He says that we have been taught a lot of things that we don’t actually know. I was really surprised to hear this suggestion to feel into your body, coming from the very rational Peterson, but I think it is great advice and I am linking the video here so you can hear it in his own words.
Authenticity in Relationships
“It is through the strength of what is genuine that meaningful connections build into relationships.”― Michelle Tillis Lederman, 11 Laws of LikabilityRelational 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. Authentic relationships focus on valuing, striving, and achieving openness and honesty. When authenticity is high, meaningful, and honest self-disclosure emerges. Research shows that self-disclosure tendencies relate positively to relationship satisfaction, i.e. the more vulnerable and honest about yourself you are, the happier you will be in your relationships. Research also shows that partners that score higher in authenticity, exhibit less defensive ego-involved reactions to their partners and use more constructive tactics for solving conflicts. This makes sense right? The less of your self you are hiding, or are ashamed of, the less need you would have to be defensive of. I think this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert sums up my feelings on authentic relationships perfectly: “To be fully seen by somebody, and then loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.”
Know who are you, and let who you are be reflected in how you move through the world. If you believe that we humans have a soul or spirit, or that we are connected to something greater, then it might feel right to say that authenticity is the soul shining through. Regardless of where you believe that true self comes from, I hope I’ve done a good job of convincing you that the benefits of living an authentic life are well worth it’s challenges. When I began researching this topic I did not anticipate finding such deep and all encompassing meaning in this word, nor did I realize that this state of being would so accurately summarize so many of the things I am already personally striving for. I can now confidently agree with this quote: “The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” – Soren Kierkegaard Thanks for reading ❤ With Gratitude, Aimee O’Neil LLMSW
Hi there! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the excellent work!
I am so glad you are enjoying it! Thanks for making my day!
Very good write-up. I absolutely love this site. Continue the good work!
I’m so glad! Thank you for the kind words!
Wonderful article! We are linking to this great article on our site. Keep up the good writing.
I like reading through a post that will make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing for me to comment!