Most everyone can agree that being authentic – at least in my world – is essential to living a happy and fulfilling life. But do we really know what authenticity means, and how it plays out in our lives? Here are my thoughts on true authenticity.
Let’s Get Real
It’s time to be very honest about authenticity (is that redundant?!). We all think of being authentic as being real – sharing what we truly think and feel. It’s about showing our vulnerable, true selves to others, rather than hiding behind a facade.
Amy Morin, in a Forbes article, defines authenticity as “being brave enough to be yourself and genuine enough to live according to your values. To be an authentic person, what you say and what you do must line up with what you believe.”
But being genuine and real can be too simplistic of an explanation. We need to look deeper at what authentic expression is and what it isn’t. It’s not so easy to just “let it all hang out”, as the hippies used to say. Authenticity takes courage but it also requires discernment.
The Courageous Side of Authenticity
It takes guts to be vulnerable, raw, and open. We risk being disliked or judged when we share our honest perspective. People may misunderstand. We take the risk of being authentic so that we can be honored and appreciated for exactly who we are, even though they may not get it.
Even though we have hopes for a warm and welcoming reception, we’re not really practicing authenticity for the sake of others’ reactions, although we really do want to be loved for who we are. We take the risk not for them but for ourselves – that it feels better to be who we are. It takes less psychic energy to share in an authentic flow than to censor and shut down our emotions. We feel more whole, alive, and empowered when we have the strength and courage to simply be who we are.
If you’re the kind of person that tends to hold things in, or if you have a hard time figuring out how you really feel, you may want to err on the side of courage. Allow yourself to speak up. Practice saying it out loud in the mirror, until you have the gumption to verbalize your most intimate feelings and thoughts with someone that you value.
Misunderstanding Authentic Expression
The problem is that when we learn of the power of being authentic, we may overcorrect. It’s easy to think that we need to share what we’re thinking because it’s authentically what we experience. Sometimes this can lead to problems: oversharing and inappropriately sharing.
Oversharing is when someone dumps all their thoughts and feelings on you. Sure, it may be true and authentic for them. But it’s too much. We actually don’t need to know everything that someone thinks or feels. It isn’t always more authentic to blurt everything out, and it can sometimes be manipulative of other’s time and energy, overwhelming, and too much to take in at once.
Too much “authentic” sharing can be a codependent trait that indicates a desperate need for attention and approval rather than a courageous opening of vulnerability. This is especially true if, when meeting someone for the first time, they divulge a whole history of issues and needs to you. At first, it may feel like a real intimate conversation, until the energy starts to take on the flavor of overwhelm or a feeling of needing to help and take on their problems.
However, authenticity isn’t just about sharing your thoughts and feelings. It’s also about standing up for yourself, what you value, and what you need. Setting boundaries are included in this. This is another way we share vulnerability: by drawing the line of what is ok and not ok with us, regardless of what other people may think of us. It may be most authentic for you to set a boundary around your time, energy, and how much others are sharing with you. Authenticity isn’t just about expressing, but also about conscious receiving. You don’t need to be the dumping ground for everyone else’s emotions and opinions if it isn’t feeling authentic for you to receive them.
The Discernment Required
The other side of authenticity besides courage is discernment. This is mindful authentic expression. It’s not just about sharing whatever we think, feel, or need, but about sitting with our inner truth before we act on it.
Mindful authenticity includes discernment of these questions:
- What wants to be expressed? How much of this is most appropriate to share?
- Are these the appropriate people (Who) and is this the appropriate situation (When and Where) in which to express it?
- What do I want as a result of sharing this?
The What and How Much
Before we share authentically, we need to be clear on what we’re sharing. Talking off the top of our head may not be very clear, effective, or convey our deepest desires and truth. Especially if it is a very vulnerable topic, we are wise to sit with the emotions and thoughts for a bit, allowing them to distill into the nuggets of truth. You’re not looking for a “perfect” output, but rather the essence that feels most real, clear, and empowering. Consider how much of your truth is authentic to the moment and is enough, but not too much, to carry your message and true self across.
So ask yourself: what do I feel? What do I think? What do I need or desire? What is the most important, distilled truth of all of this that I want to express? You can journal if you have time, or you can simply reflect on these questions in the moment before you choose to share.
Appropriateness – the Who, Where, and When
Not every person, circumstance, or time is appropriate to share your most vulnerable, authentic self. This is the second aspect of discernment. Being authentic is about recognizing when something is truly needed or if its unnecessary. It is considering whether our authentic sharing will add something meaningful and helpful to the conversation or if it may be a distraction in the moment. Is someone else needing the floor right now, and your expression can wait? Is now the most powerful time, or when might it be better shared? Do you truly feel safe enough with where you are and who is present to unearth your most treasured viewpoints or raw feelings? Will this person really be able to receive what you have to say and honor it?
Sometimes it’s appropriate to share, even if the situation isn’t best. It’s a matter of discerning if you are able to hold your truth, essence, and self-love, even if it isn’t received as you had hoped for. If it would feel better to share your thoughts now as a doorway to open a deeper, more authentic conversation, expressing yourself may be appropriate, even if the risk is high. Discern within yourself what is most aligned with your inner truth.
The Desired Result
Pause before you express yourself and consider what expectations you have of this. What is your desired result? This is the third aspect of true authenticity.
If you’re a very evolved spiritual person, maybe you can let go of your expectations and desires, and express yourself freely. But most of us aren’t there yet. We have hopes for what we share – maybe even unsaid demands – and if we aren’t honest with ourselves about that before we open up, we may feel disappointed.
What is your ideal outcome of what you’re about to share? And if it doesn’t turn out like that, what can you live with? If you’re looking for support and encouragement, a very authentic way to express that is to ask for what you want before you share the vulnerable, ground-breaking feelings and thoughts. You’re more likely to receive what you need.
If you really want or need a certain response, consider if this is the best time, circumstance, and person to be making that request of. Authentic expression is being real with yourself about whether you’re expecting too much from a person or situation.
Your desired result might simply be to be able to speak openly and honestly, just for you, no matter what results. The important thing is to be clear with yourself about what you want from your authentic expression – or, see if you can cultivate a frame of mind that is OK, no matter what results.
Authenticity Includes Joy
Maybe your authenticity isn’t about saying a truth that has been held back or talking about something painful. It might be about expressing your joy. You may have good news to share and a heart that is full to overflowing.
Give yourself permission to share that unabashedly! Your joy can light up others. At the same time, use your discernment. Many of us have experienced others “raining on our parade” who weren’t ready to share in your jubilance. Again, ask yourself if this is an appropriate place, time, and audience to share with. If it isn’t, don’t squash your happiness; let it simmer within you and bubble up through your body and heart until you’re in a circumstance where it can blossom fully.
Silence is Also An Option
When you’re pondering whether it’s authentic to share something or not, consider that silence could also be in alignment with your authenticity. Silence can convey more than words. You don’t have to speak up in order to be authentic.
We all need silence, especially when we’re trying to sort out who we truly are. So in your quest for true authenticity, it’s OK to be quiet sometimes. Give yourself time to distill your truth; this offers others space to discern theirs as well. There’s no rush to true authenticity. Then, when you express yourself, you’ll feel more grounded and prepared to share whatever wants to be revealed.
The Bottom Line to True Authenticity
Remember that the most important thing about being truly authentic is about being fully yourself just for you – no matter the outcome. You know who you are, what you think, what you feel, and what you stand for. That’s more important than whether you choose to share it with others. But when you do express it outwardly, celebrate and appreciate yourself for your efforts at being authentic. In the words of my friend Syl Sabastian, “when Authentic, we are Real, and nothing can be more Appropriate than Being Real.” That’s the bottom line.
When embarking upon the journey to true authenticity, remember to bring along both your courage and discernment. Be mindful, and know that authenticity can include setting boundaries. When expressing yourself, ask yourself the questions of what and how much, when and who with, and what your desired result is. It’s OK to share unabashedly, and it’s also OK to allow silence as an option. With these tools, you’ll discover your true authenticity within, no matter the circumstance.