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A is for Authenticity

“Like a Columbus of the heart, mind and soul I have hurled myself off the shores of my own fears and limiting beliefs to venture far out into the uncharted territories of my inner truth, in search of what it means to be genuine and at peace with who I really am. I have abandoned the masquerade of living up to the expectations of others and explored the new horizons of what it means to be truly and completely me, in all my amazing imperfection and most splendid insecurity.”  Anthon St. Maarten

What is authenticity?

Authenticity is not an innate trait but instead something that is developed with courage through the practice of self awareness and self acceptance.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.” Anais Nin

Self awareness is a necessary key tool when evaluating our strengths and weaknesses; or when reflecting on our behaviour (without blame or denial) so we can learn to act with integrity in ways congruent with our own values and needs, even at the risk of criticism or rejection.

In order to truly know ourselves, it is important to spend time reflecting on our core beliefs; examining them then either reinforcing them or rejecting them; looking at our habits and patterns of behaviour and seeing where we need to make changes.

Throughout our childhood we were shaped by our parents, teachers, religious instructors, peers and society and we adapted our behaviour accordingly to fit in or not get into trouble. As adults however, we can no longer blame our upbringing for our behaviours and we have a responsibility to examine each aspect of our lives and to see whether we can own those values personally for ourselves so we are not simply living someone else’s hand-me-down life.

To be authentic, involves acceptance of ones own strengths and weaknesses; being honest with ourselves and others and accepting all sides of ourselves in order to express our whole self genuinely. We are made up of multiple parts and in order to be 100% aware, it is necessary to acknowledge all facets of our character and make-up not just including the parts of ourselves that we like and understand but also those that we don't. Different situations can bring out different aspects of our character giving us the chance to become more consistent within these frameworks.

It is worth remembering though, that while it’s never a bad thing to seek different ways to improve oneself, we don’t need to “fix” ourselves before we are acceptable to ourselves or anyone else; we are worthy just as we are. The authentic self isn't always perfect, but it is real.

What does it mean to be authentic?

“What it means to be authentic:

- to be more concerned with truth than opinions

- to be sincere and not pretend

- to be free from hypocrisy: "walk your talk"

- to know who you are and to be that person

- to not fear others seeing your vulnerabilities

- being confident to walk away from situations where you can't be yourself

- being awake to your own feelings

- being free from others' opinions of you

- accepting and loving yourself”

Sue Fitzmaurice

To dare to be yourself and live an authentic life aligned with your values takes courage. It takes courage to face up to the fact that you are responsible for your own life and responsible for creating the best version of yourself and living your life to the fullest.

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” Brene Brown

Like everything in life, authenticity isn’t black and white – we are not “authentic” or “inauthentic” there is a whole spectrum of shades in between because it is a constantly evolving process and because there are some genuine situations that might call for discretion or adaptation. (This touches on the whole subject of ethics)

When someone is being 100% authentic it means that they are able to act with integrity; in ways that reflect their true self; their feelings, personality, character, values and spirit, regardless of any external pressure to act otherwise.

At the opposite end of the spectrum we have the ‘false’ self sometimes divided into the ‘healthy’ false self and the ‘unhealthy’ false self.

The healthy false self is ‘adaptive’ and of a temporary nature allowing us to adapt and function appropriately in society while protecting our authentic self until we are in a safe environment. The healthy false self is concerned with an awareness of personal boundaries. The healthy false self comes into play at those times when we feel like we don’t have a choice but to conform or feel that we need to mask aspects of our true self e.g. by wearing certain clothes for work or hiding sexual orientation or religious beliefs. There are times e.g. when it would not be appropriate for us to make ourselves vulnerable or might even be harmful as it might open us up to potential attack from others who might not treat our feelings with acceptance or use the information against us so we construct a persona which we project to protect ourselves through fear (real or imaginary) of judgement from others or what would happen if we acted otherwise

The unhealthy false self by contrast is long-term and has a negative effect on our well being. Psychiatrist D. W. Winnicott defines the unhealthy false self as one that fits into society through forced compliance rather than a desire to adapt. It is based on the “If I…” concept

e.g. If I wear the latest fashion, I will be more likeable. If I work hard/achieve more, I will have more value. If I have one more glass of wine, I’ll start feeling better. If I lose weight then people will like me…..

This false-self is the one behind many dysfunctional behaviours, including narcissism and addiction.

"The strongest force in the universe is a human being living consistently with his identity." Tony Robbins.

Acting in accordance with one's core self and values is considered by some as one of three basic psychological needs, alongside competence and a sense of connection to others. Being authentic has many correlations to different aspects of psychological well-being, physical health, sense of self-esteem and our levels of resilience. When we act outside our core values we set up a dissonance which leads to stress and we become a 'poorer version' of our true selves and have poorer interactions with others.

“We are not here to fit in…We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our little clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being… to become more and more ourselves” James Hollis

Barriers to authenticity

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else", Judy Garland

Be yourself!”, “Change who you are to fit in!”... In today’s world we are bombarded 24/7 by mixed messages from the media telling us who to be, what to wear, how to behave, what we should want etc It takes courage and determination to confidently follow your own path, paved with your own thought- out values and not allow yourself to be pressured or your authentic self to be eroded one advert at a time.

Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde

Authenticity reduces fear

“I dare you to take off the mask of perfection and show up as you are. Feel the freedom, the release, the lightness. Because when we are real that is when we actually heal. And those around us just might heal too” Ashley Hetherington

By being authentic we are not restricted by fear and don’t experience the stress associated with trying to determine which face to put forward in any given situation. We don’t have need to put on a mask as we can relax in the confidence that we know and accept ourselves and have no need to portray ourselves as someone else or as feeling something or being someone that we aren’t. Having no need to justify ourselves or be validated by others also gives us a quiet confidence from our own internal strength.

Authenticity and relationships

“Do they love you or the mask you put on every day?” Shimika Bowers

Questions of authenticity also determine our opinions of and interactions with others. Honesty, self awareness, openness, integrity and self-confidence or courage are necessary to develop close relationships.

“We all have a social mask, right? We put it on, we go out, put our best foot-forward, our best image. But behind that social mask is a personal truth, what we really, really believe about who we are and what we are capable of” Phil McGraw

When we always invest in being our authentic selves, it encourages others to have the freedom to do likewise. We cannot have authentic connections if we seek to hide aspects of ourselves in order to create an illusion of perfection.

“This is our big chance to see what people think of us. The real us. We have to show them there's nothing to be afraid of. If we don't get over our fears, they never will.” Lisi Harrison

So how do we become more authentic?

Authenticity takes time

“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'

'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.

'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'

'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'

'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”

Margery Williams Bianco (The Velveteen Rabbit)

Authenticity is based on integrity and values

The people that have the potential to be really happy are those who live authentic lives regardless of other people’s opinions. They don’t wear masks (apart from when it is obligatory ;-)) or pretend to be someone else and don’t let other’s views, wants or ways of doing things restrain them or dictate their actions, but instead allow their core values to dictate their actions.

“Wearing a mask wears you out. ‘Faking it’ is fatiguing. The most exhausting activity is pretending to be what you know you aren’t.” Rick Warren

We weren’t born with masks; we put them on, so we can take them off. We can experience true freedom only when we learn to change the habits and actions caused by the baggage we carry around with us. This is done by reflecting on our core beliefs and values; examining each one and asking ourselves whether they are actually true or not, by asking ourselves questions like:

Where did I learn this? What is the actual reality? Why am I carrying this belief?

If I change this belief and act differently, what would happen?

What am I now going to chose to believe?

Usually by letting go of our fears and stepping into a new reality, the main risk we face is other people’s reaction because by opening ourselves up and embracing authenticity, it can be threatening for others; your change can cause others to re-evaluate their own lives, perhaps making them realize that they too have the ability to change, but they haven’t as yet done so.

Authenticity is about balance

"We need to find the courage to say no to the things and people that are not serving us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity."

Barbara De Angelis.

When being there for others, authentic people realise the importance of prioritising/balancing their own needs and thereby remaining free to be the best version of themselves for themselves and for others and in so doing retain their own integrity. They can give their best to the world by living an authentic life; loving and accepting themselves and others for who they are “warts and all”.

Authenticity is about having the courage of your own convictions

“Don't let the expectations and opinions of other people affect your decisions. It's your life, not theirs. Do what matters most to you; do what makes you feel alive and happy. Don't let the expectations and ideas of others limit who you are. If you let others tell you who you are, you are living their reality — not yours. There is more to life than pleasing people. There is much more to life than following others' prescribed path. There is so much more to life than what you experience right now. You need to decide who you are for yourself. Become a whole being. Adventure.”

Roy T. Bennett

Authenticity requires us to continually make active, conscious, informed choices based on accurate self-knowledge. We need to be willing to constantly evaluate nearly everything that we do. The effort required is worth it though because by striving to be authentic and accepting all aspects of our lives we can flourish and become the best version of ourselves and have the best relationships and sense of connectivity with others.

"We are constantly invited to be who we are." Henry David Thoreau.

A question to think about/or discuss below:

“How would your life be different if…You approached all relationships with authenticity and honesty? Let today be the day…You dedicate yourself to building relationships on the solid foundation of truth and authenticity.” Steve Maraboli,

If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are a few links to get you started:

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Reflective Resources
Reflective Resources
May 26, 2022

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