It is ironic that in the year of Chat GPT and Deepfake, Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2023 is “Authentic.”Their definition of authentic is “being true to one’s personality, spirit, or character. Being real and actual; not false or imitation.” This implies that being authentic requires acting in a way that brings out your original features.
As desperate as we are to find out what authenticity means, we artificially change the features of our faces and bodies to feel good about ourselves. We give utmost importance to looking great on social media by using filters while talking about being our true selves. We are chasing “being authentic” while copying trends blindly and blowing up “happy” moments for likes. All of this provides a fleeting sense of happiness, not lasting peace or fulfillment.
Barriers to Being Authentic
Desire to Fit In
Never before in the history of mankind, our behavior has been on public display like it is today. It is out there for all to see, like, or dislike. Anyone can comment on your posts and give unsolicited advice. So how do you balance connecting with others by fitting in and being true to who you are?
These are seemingly contradictory desires. A need to belong to a group is innate to us. We are social creatures and thrive in communities. But never before were we so hung up on getting validation every day in the form of likes, shares, and trending on social media.
The main question is are you sacrificing your core values and beliefs just to be popular? Are you following the trend to get attention or do you really believe in it? Are you posting pictures and reels to get the dopamine high and feel good about yourself? Is this behavior becoming addictive?
Various types of fears can keep us away from being authentic: fear of rejection and uncertainty, fear of losing a relationship, and fear of judgment from others. You might hesitate to make the change because of these fears. You might be afraid of showing your true side or voicing your opinions because you don’t want to challenge someone and risk the relationship.
You might be afraid of the unknown outcomes. You might feel safe in the current state because it is familiar even if it is not comfortable.
Resistance to Vulnerability
Vulnerability is essential for authenticity. Yes, there is a risk in being vulnerable:the risk of people not responding to you as you would like, of changing your image, or of being perceived as weak or fake. There is a risk of being alone and defenseless. You are risking your emotional safety when you become vulnerable. We are uncomfortable when we choose to be vulnerable and we prefer to continue to engage in our automatic, safe behaviors.
Distorted Self-image Due to Trauma
Trauma can have a profound and lasting impact on an individual's self-image. When someone experiences a traumatic event, their sense of self can become distorted and negatively influenced. They may internalize feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness, thus leading to diminished self-esteem. Trauma can disrupt one's self-perception, causing them to view themselves as damaged or unworthy of love and happiness. This altered self-image can in turn affect various aspects of their life, including relationships, self-care, and overall well-being. Healing from trauma often involves addressing and reshaping these negative self-beliefs to rebuild a healthier and more positive self-image.
Action Steps Toward Living the Authentic Life
Self-awareness is tied to your self-image. Your self-awareness is closely related to your values, your core beliefs about yourself, and the world around you. Core beliefs are formed by our life experiences. Identify your core beliefs, but don’t believe all of them at face value. We tend to gather evidence that supports our core beliefs. So challenge your core beliefs that don’t work for you anymore. Inspect your values to see if you still believe in them. Were they your values to begin with or have you adopted them from someone else? Addressing and reshaping these negative beliefs is crucial to enhancing your self-awareness.
Embrace all aspects of yourself, including your imperfections and flaws. Self-acceptance means acknowledging and loving yourself for who you are, without judgment or criticism. Be honest with yourself and others. Acceptance does not mean you have to like all that you see. You can change the aspects of yourself that are creating challenges. Be aware of your positive attributes and weaknesses. None of us are perfect so don’t try for perfection.
Balancing Conflicting Desires
Here are some ideas to balance your desire for belonging and still be unique.
Do not follow any trend blindly. It is OK to not participate in group activity if it does not align with your value system. You can agree to disagree without compromising relationships. It is alright to think differently. Listen to your inner voice closely and you will know the right choice for you.
Courage to Be Vulnerable
Authenticity and vulnerability go hand in hand. At its core, vulnerability is based on trust. Trust in ourselves, trust in others, and trust in the human capacity for empathy and understanding. It is only by being vulnerable that we can build true connections based on empathy and understanding. It brings us together as human beings and the walls of fear, resistance, emotional distance, and hate come down.
It takes courage to share your deeper feelings and to extend a hand to reconcile differences. You need to be brave to apologize for your mistakes and accept that people might not be ready to accept your apology. And that’s OK.
Setting Healthy Boundaries
Healthy boundaries are like rules in a game. They bring clarity and fairness to everyone while providing an opportunity for all to be their authentic self. Boundaries are the limits that you draw to protect your values and beliefs. They empower you to advocate for your needs. Boundaries help you maintain your self-respect and protect the respect of people around you. Remember it’s a two-way street. You also need to respect the boundaries of others. Boundaries create a relationship that is fulfilling, respectful, and aligned with both partners' values. For example, telling your friend or partner not to post personal pictures of you on social media, saying no to a request when you are not able to fulfill it, not answering the phone or replying to messages after a specific time of the day or asking for space when you need it are all healthy boundaries. It's important to remember that boundaries can evolve and change over time as the relationship develops and changes.
Being authentic doesn't mean imposing your beliefs or values on others. It is important to recognize that people may have different perspectives and ideas. As you would like others to respect your true expressions, you need to do the same for others. Our strength lies in our uniqueness as individuals. It is OK to hold different beliefs, have different worldviews, and engage in different lifestyles. Different doesn’t mean bad. Agree to disagree. Focus on kindness and respect. Avoid topics that create conflict. Stay away from all-or-nothing thinking. Remember the positive connections you have with the other person rather than focusing on the negative and be thankful for those connections.
In a nutshell, connect with your passions and purpose in life to bring a deeper sense of authenticity and fulfillment. Invest in yourself in a truly meaningful way. Work on emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness to connect with your true self. Be grateful, generous, and kind to yourself and others.