What is authenticity and why is it difficult to achieve?
If you are currently undergoing some kind of counselling or therapy, or trying to improve your emotional life, then you may have come across the word ‘Authentic.’ Being authentic means being true to yourself, being true to your values and being honest and genuine. Authenticity matters because it is vitally important to your wellbeing. It is the foundation of happiness, self-esteem and inner confidence. We know that not being authentic leads to resentment and unhappiness and feelings of despair and discontent. Yet many of us continue to live deeply inauthentic lives. Why is this and why do we struggle so much with authenticity?
Because it’s hard. It’s hard to be true to our own values, our own beliefs and our own heart. It’s hard at work because we often have to tow the line, stay quiet and not voice our true thoughts. It’s difficult in relationships because we fear conflict and often find it easier to just stay silent and inwardly seethe. It’s tough within families as they often have expectations of us and we don’t want to disappoint people or risk their disapproval. But even though it’s hard, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continually aim for it. Especially as we know that our inner contentment depends on it.
Authenticity is a practice
Authenticity isn’t a fixed thing. It’s not like blue or brown eyes which we have or don’t have. It is much more complex than that. Being authentic requires us to make continual and ongoing choices to be true to our own selves. In this sense, it is a practice and requires us to continually keep it to the fore and put it into action. With this idea of practice in mind, here are two steps which you can put into practice in your own lives which are markers of authenticity and will help you with the task of being true to yourself and to your own values.
Practice 1 – Making your own choices
It’s surprising how often we don’t make our own choices, especially when we struggle with being true to ourselves. We let others choose. On big things and on small things. Begin to notice if you are making your own choices or if many choices are being made for you. You might even observe that you find it hard to actually make choices. If you do, then it is even more important to actually begin to make choices. Learn about what you like and what you want and then choose this. Whether this is a friendship or the colour of your dining room walls. By contrast, learn what you don’t like and steer clear of it – be true to your own self. Know that sometimes your choices will meet with disapproval and accept that this is part and parcel of being true to yourself. Being authentic means that you won’t always please others. The key to this practice is realising that you are allowed, you have a right, to make your own choices. Also, as you begin to make more of your own choices you will experience more fully what living authentically means.
Practice 2 – Having and voicing your own opinions
Because we often have to exist inauthentically – i.e. not telling the boss that we think he is a deeply flawed person or not disagreeing with our partner so as to avoid an argument – we can find that our own voice is becoming more and more silenced. This can also happen directly when family or partners have so undermined our self-esteem that we feel worthless and that our voice doesn’t count – we have quite literally been silenced. Begin this practice in small ways. Know, at a fundamental level, that your voice does count and that you are fully entitled to have an opinion. Your voice matters. Then slowly and gradually begin to find your own thoughts and opinions and begin to express them. Start expressing yourself to supportive people first, for example, friends who will welcome you having your own opinions. Then gradually begin to expand speaking out to include other situations, situations involving people who are not so interested in being supportive. As you do this you will build in confidence, knowing that you are being more true to yourself and knowing that you are being more honest, genuine and authentic.
These two key practices are crucial to living an authentic life. You won’t always achieve them. But just keep in mind that authenticity is a practice. Some days you will be more authentic than others. I’m sure you’ll observe, though, as you watch more closely, that the days when you can truly be authentic and be yourself are the days when you feel at your most content, confident and happy. So, keep practicing. Keep working on being true to your own beliefs and letting your authentic self shine. It is likely that the more you can do this, the better you will feel.