The concepts of authenticity or being your authentic self are commonly defined as the quality of being honest and truthful, both to ourselves and others. In the context of self-development, authenticity describes how closely we’re living up to our personal values. But what does it mean to be our authentic selves in this sense?
As an educational researcher specializing in personal & professional growth, I get this question a lot. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, there are some key elements that are common to most definitions of authenticity.
Keep reading if you want to learn about the different ways of being authentic and why authenticity is important for our development.
What Does Authentic Living Look Like?
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are.Brené Brown
To answer the question of what authenticity is, we should, perhaps, consider first what authenticity is not. Being true to ourselves, through our words and actions, does not mean that we should focus our inner attention only on our own well-being. In other words, we shouldn’t ignore what other people think or need from us in different situations. Authenticity does not entail following every emotional impulse, regardless of context or consequence. It’s neither a synonym for some unfiltered representation of ourselves, nor does it ask us to sacrifice all relationships, beliefs, and opportunities that somehow diverge from our subjective truth. That would be living a self-centered, alienated, and rather unfulfilling life.
In fact, it might surprise you to hear that authenticity and social conformity are actually related in certain ways. Although being your authentic self means acting by your own unique set of values, research has shown that people feel more authentic when they also exhibit a certain set of socially acceptable characteristics, such as being outgoing, emotionally balanced, and agreeable, regardless of their dispositions .
So, introverted people might sometimes feel more authentic when they find a middle way between their introversion and a more extroverted expression of themselves. For example, they might decide to be more communicative than usual when they navigate the social conventions of a party. This is called the “authenticity paradox“. To some extent, we have to compromise our actual nature to gain the many rewards of being our authentic selves.
To understand this, we need to realize something important. The goal of being true to ourselves is to completely accept not only our basic principles and characteristics but also the reality in which we live. Acting only on the basis of personal circumstances is not enough. In other words, living truthfully has two aspects. First, we need to reconcile our ideas, attitudes, and actions with who we are at the core. And second, we need to align ourselves within the reality of our social surroundings.
7 Qualities Of Authentic People
#1 – Being True To Yourself
Being true to yourself means being an honest, responsible, trustworthy individual. Someone who speaks and acts on the basis of a personal set of morals and beliefs. It means to be loyal to yourself and others and to be wise enough to know when (and when not) to prioritize your own needs over those of others.
#2 – Voicing Your Own Needs
The ability to voice your own needs and concerns is at the heart of being true to yourself. This is not an easy thing to do, and often people fear rejection or the disapproval of others. But making your own needs a priority and revealing them to others is an important step in (re-)discovering your authentic self. Just remember that voicing your needs is not the same as expecting those needs to be met.
#3 – Listening With Empathy
Listening empathetically means to listen deeply to what others share with us, without judgment or interference. It means to try to see the world as they do so that we may understand their struggles and conflicts. To listen with empathy is to be truly present, not distracted by your own feelings or thoughts. This is not only to give others space to share their authentic selves with us in a particular moment. We may also discover our true selves, through them, in the act of listening.
#4 – Being Kind To Yourself And Others
Being kind in any relationship – whether it’s with ourselves or another person – means to be compassionate, respectful, forgiving, and generous. It means to be discerning, to give others the benefit of the doubt, and to understand that people make mistakes and have their own set of challenges. Kindness is an important aspect of authenticity. It helps us to accept ourselves and others as we/they really are, with all our/their strengths and weaknesses.
#5 – Being Open To New Ideas
Being open to new ideas and opportunities can be a source of great inspiration on our way to becoming our authentic selves. It allows us to be curious about the world around us, to be willing to explore new experiences, to be life-long learners. Open-mindedness can also provide a counter-balance to anxiety, stress, and tension in our lives. If we are open to what the world offers to us, every single day, we are less likely to feel frustrated or trapped by life’s circumstances.
#6 – Being Your Own Role Model
Can’t find anyone to look up to in your life – someone to model authenticity for you? Why not DIY? Being your own role model means believing in your abilities, trusting in your intuition, and having faith in the potential of yourself and the world around you. It may be hard, but there is nothing more authentic than choosing your own goals and working hard to achieve them when there is no one there to support you on your way. Sometimes, you need to trust yourself to be your own role model until you find the right people to surround yourself and share your true self with.
#7 – Being Humble And Grateful
Yes, being humble and grateful are also elements of authenticity. Trying to be our authentic selves without these qualities involves the risk of becoming self-absorbed and selfish. Being humble means being realistic about our abilities and limitations. It helps us to know who we are, without overestimating our capacities, and to be grateful for the gifts we have received in life.
If you are interested in starting a gratitude practice to embrace joy, abundance, happiness, and appreciation of the good things in life, even when you face challenges and hardships, check out this 52-week gratitude journal with prompts for One Year of Grounding Gratitude.
Benefits Of Being Your Authentic Self
Many people aspire to be genuine. Instead of being blind followers of societal standards, they want to be true to themselves. They want to “live their best lives,” pursuing their passions rather than doing what everyone else believes is necessary for happiness. According to research, feelings of authenticity have even been linked to several psychological and social advantages. These benefits include higher self-esteem, well-being, improved love relationships, and improved professional performance .
Link Between Authenticity And Self-Care
There is an intimate link between self-care and being your authentic self. When you spend time nurturing yourself in a way that is consistent with your values, you are being true to yourself. Self-care can also be a foundation for becoming more truthful in your interactions with others. The fact that you know how to look after yourself communicates to others that you are a valuable person who deserves loving attention. Also, and perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates that you are the best person to take on that job – the job of caring for yourself!
Finally, authenticity is a matter of self-care because taking care of your own needs helps you to feel more whole and complete, to have a sense of self-worth, and to feel more connected to the world around you.
The Bottom Line
Being your authentic self is not about being selfish or about ignoring other people’s expectations and needs. It means to have the courage to show the world who you really are; to live and act in accordance with your personal values; and to do so, respectfully, within the reality of your social context(s).
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