Dr. David Koehn is a psychologist practicing in Fort Myers, FL. Dr. Koehn specializes in the treatment of mental health problems and helps people to cope with their mental illnesses. As a psychologist, Dr. Koehn evaluates and treats patients through a variety of methods, most typically being psychotherapy or talk therapy.... more
Dr. David Koehn
Not being able to end a relationship that is not working or feeling awkward about sex with a significant partner or letting a partner run over you with negative criticism could be construed as an approach/avoidance response or attempting to keep things under control without causing conflict. That said, the root problem may lie deeper with your inability to be authentic.
Several sources are available on the internet associated with the topic of authenticity. Here is a synopsis of some of the best thinking on it. Being your authentic self can feel risky now in our screen-obsessed world. We’re just trying to fit in, be liked, and be accepted by other human beings. As a result, the image we present on our social media profiles and IRL (In Real Life) have become mere presentations of who we think we should be and not reflections of who we really are. When considering anything new, it’s important to assess the advantages and the risks. Here are some of the risks that come with leading with your authenticity:
- People won’t like you.
- People won’t accept the real you.
- People will judge you.
- Your feelings might get hurt.
- You lose control. You can’t control how people will respond to your authenticity and honesty.
- Overall, you are more vulnerable to the unknown.
Berne Brown’s treatise in her Call to Courage video on Netflix is an inspiring account of how to be vulnerable and take educated risks. So, how do we take off the mask we've been wearing and start to live a life of authenticity?
Being authentic means, you act in ways that show your true self and how you feel. Authentic self means what your belief system aligns with your actions. Your authentic self goes beyond what you do for a living, what possessions you own, or who you are to someone (mom, brother, girlfriend). It's who you are at your deepest core. It's about being true to yourself through your thoughts, words, and actions, and having these three areas match each other. When we aren’t in touch with our authentic self, it’s easy to go into “people pleasing” mode and do and say things based on what is expected of us, or based on social and peer pressure. Rather than showing people only a particular side of yourself, you express your whole self genuinely. That means to succeed in being authentic, you first have to know who your true self actually is. And this requires self-awareness, mindfulness, and self-acceptance.
You know you are being authentic when:
- Your job gives you a sense of purpose or fulfillment, rather than leaves you feeling drained and lacking energy.
- You believe your relationships are based on honesty and genuine respect for who you truly are.
- When out in social situations, you feel as though you are presenting the real you, rather than someone you’re not.
- You’re unsure of how others will respond to you, but regardless you are proud of who you are and who you are being.
After spending the last year researching and writing his new book, Outsmart Your Smartphone: Conscious Tech Habits for Finding Happiness, Balance, and Connection IRL, Davis now is convinced that it's harder for us to be our true selves now, in the technology age. We are constantly bombarded with media that tells us who to be, what to want, and how we "should" express ourselves. All of these influences slowly chip away at our ability to be our authentic selves.
By being someone, you are not, you are telling yourself that who you really are isn’t okay. So, hiding or suppressing who you really are can end up leaving you feeling lonely, disconnected from others, or even worthless. Some of this self-evaluation can be found in schema analysis using the approach developed by Elliot/Lassen in their treatise called Why I can’t get what I want.
We are constantly balancing inner and outer aspects of ourselves in order to better fit in, to become more successful, or to find love. We are driven to find “our place” in society, and we want to be respected for who we truly are and what we have to contribute. Many of us are propelled even further, desiring to know and live our purpose, to find deeper meaning in our lives, and to feel the fulfillment that comes with becoming a more authentic person. At the same time, we live in a society that values superficiality, strives for perfection, and defines success as by the dollars in our bank account and not by how well we live our values every day. So, how are we to be authentic in spite of the messages that try to convince us to be someone else?
Why is it so difficult to be authentic? We were molded as children by our parents, teachers, religions, peers, and society to "fit in." As a result, we developed beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that keep us acting in the ways we were taught to act and not in the ways that make us feel like our authentic selves. This version of ourselves can be thought of as the "Adaptive Self.” The self that prioritizes fitting in, getting along, and generally doing what we're told. This self is not without value and purpose. It helps us be functioning members of society. If you're feeling inauthentic, the Adaptive Self is running your life.
To reclaim your authenticity, you need to discover your “Authentic Self”—the self that prioritizes living according to your values, pursuing your purpose, and fighting for the causes you care about. For most of us, our Authentic Self is buried deep in our unconscious, where it remains hard to identify and let out. We can develop our authenticity by following some tips to help you find and express your authentic self. They are:
1. Observe yourself objectively to develop authenticity. Learn to observe yourself like a fly on the wall. Watch yourself as you live in the present moment, observing how your “Adaptive Self” behaves, what it believes, how it reacts under pressure, and how it responds to challenges. Practice noticing which of these responses feel authentic, and which ones feel inauthentic. By identifying which responses are adaptive vs authentic, you can begin to notice the falseness and begin to see the glimmers of truth.
2. Examine family belief systems to develop authenticity. Most people were raised in some sort of "family-style" environment during their earliest, most vulnerable years. Think back to episodes in your childhood, episodes that led you to stop being your authentic self and instead adopt some other way of existing in this world. By examining where our behaviors come from, we can learn a lot about our authentic selves.
3. Open a dialogue between the Adaptive Self and the Authentic Self. Invite the two aspects of yourself—the Adaptive Self and the Authentic Self—to have a discussion as part of a meditation or thought exercise. Respectfully introduce both: Thank the Adaptive Self for helping you function through some difficult and confusing times, and thank the Authentic Self for helping you feel whole, real, and self-confident.
- Now invite each part of yourself to share. Ask a question, mentally, while urging each side to express itself fully, and then listen patiently to the responses. Encourage dialogue so that you may comprehend both points of view.
- Try to be open to what both sides have to say, as they may reveal things you're not expecting. For example, the Authentic Self may be afraid of rejection and therefore afraid to come forward. Or your Adaptive Self may be caretaking, trying to protect you from feeling hurt in the ways you've been hurt in the past. These parts of ourselves are running our lives this way for a reason. In this exercise, try to figure out what those reasons are. This may help you understand why you act the way you do, so you can decide if you truly want to act differently.
4. Identify discrepancies to develop authenticity. Try to become aware of discrepancies between your actions and your beliefs. If you catch yourself making a racist, sexist, or otherwise hurtful remark, ask yourself whether you really believe the words you speak. Are you just saying these things because someone else taught you to?
- Remember, the Adaptive Self just wants to fit in. It can often act in ways that are inconsistent with our authentic selves. This is normal. If we want to be more authentic, we have to address the discrepancies between our beliefs and our actions.
- If you acknowledge what is true for you now, then you can better live your life according to the needs of your Authentic Self. That kind of authenticity requires self-awareness and self-honesty.
5. Examine your doubts to develop authenticity. When exploring your Authentic Self, you may feel unsure of how to go about it. You may question whether it's even possible to change what feels so deeply ingrained within you or is invisible to you. Keep an eye out for feelings of doubt.
- Doubts can be like breadcrumbs that lead you to your Authentic Self. If you doubt something, a thought, behavior, emotion, experience, reflect for a moment to find whatever is underneath. Is your Authentic Self trying to tell it to "stop it?"
6. Develop the courage to face your fears. Humans tend to be most comfortable with what is familiar. The unfamiliar is often challenging, at least at first. Examining your inner core beliefs can be like exploring an unfamiliar foreign landscape. When you touch upon a disconnect between your Adaptive and Authentic Selves, your heart may race or your hands could get clammy. You may also naturally feel afraid to look too deeply into yourself for fear of what you might find.
- Our Authentic Self often has a lot of fear, sadness, and anger. Our true selves were hurt and that's why the Adaptive Self took over. However, the difficult secrets we hide from ourselves are what make us who we really are. As much as possible, and as slowly as you need to, courageously explore the truth of what makes you who you are. Identifying, experiencing, accepting, and letting go of these buried emotions is exactly what fuels your Authentic Self.
7. Explore your values. Integrity, ethics, and living our values is an effective way to live more authentically. The trouble comes when we are so far from our Authentic Selves that we do not even know what our values are. So explore your values and figure out some ways to start living them.
8. Love yourself and have compassion for others to develop authenticity. Because it takes self-love for our Authentic Selves to emerge, embedding more love and compassion within yourself and your life is helpful. One way to increase your self-love is to set aside some time to take numerous deep breaths each day. You can add this into an existing meditation practice if you like.
- Slowly deepen your breathing and when you are feeling fully relaxed and receptive, call love to yourself from your environment. Imagine each breath infused with loving energy. Whether as balls of energy, or bursts, or rays of light and love, invite love to enter your body via your breath. Draw love into your lungs and disperse it throughout your body, or send it directly to your Authentic Self. Keep breathing consciously until you feel the lightening and lifting energy of these "love breaths."
- Once filled with love, share some of it with friends or loved ones. Sending love to others tends to expand the love within!
9. Recognize that developing authenticity takes time. Examining our true self is a process. Perhaps a life-long process because we are ever-evolving human beings. It takes quite a while to winnow out beliefs and behaviors that no longer serve you and replace them with more authentic actions. With effort, you'll soon find more genuine alignment with your true self.
10. Release patterns and beliefs that no longer serve you. When you do come across a thought, emotion, or action that doesn't represent your Authentic Self, work on letting it go.
- Visualization is a good tool for this. You can place the thought, emotion, or action within a bubble or a balloon and let it rise until it disappears. Or if you are more hands-on, you can write it on a piece of paper, cross it out, and crumple up the paper—a physical action that helps your subconscious understand your intentions.
11. Ask yourself what you truly believe. Another pro-active approach is to simply start with pad and paper (or it can be a mental exercise) and begin listing your beliefs about yourself, beliefs like "I am not good enough" or "Nobody loves me" or "I'm stupid, fat, ugly, etc." Examine each one, expand upon it, and think back to how and when you acquired that belief, who gave it to you, why you continue to hold on to it, and whether it represents "the authentic you.”
- Now create positive alternatives to those negative beliefs, such as "I am good enough," or "I am drawing to myself a partner who loves and respects me," or "I am perfect just as I am," etc. Repeat the beliefs as positive affirmations to get them to stick.
12. Take it slow to develop your authenticity. Sometimes we are shocked by what we discover within our subconscious. Such sudden new raw awareness can disrupt our lives in unexpected ways. Use moderation and proceed cautiously. When you discover a belief or memory that has been thwarting your authenticity, allow a few days for you to adjust to your new realizations and view them with self-compassion.
Now that you've got a better sense of how to be authentic, here's how to stay authentic.
- Make telling the truth a habit. This is such a simple suggestion and yet it makes a huge difference! It's so easy to fall into a pattern of lying for convenience's sake—to further some agenda, to cover up some embarrassment, or to save face. These seem like "little white lies" that do not hurt anything. However, the more little lies we tell, the less we are accepting our Authentic Self, a self that is flawed. By being honest, we tell our subconscious that our imperfections are acceptable, therefore, we are acceptable.
- Make statements and decisions consciously. In this hectic world, we are making decisions all the time. Unfortunately, a lot of these decisions are made hastily in the moment with no forethought. So slow down and make sure each of your decisions supports your Authentic Self. Don't let anyone push you into making a consequential decision before you are ready.
- Speak your truth. When you speak your truth, authentically, you show others that you are responsible, that you can be trusted, and that you trust others enough to show your genuine, vulnerable self. The response from others is often positive, which helps make it easier for you to continue being authentic.
- Develop yourself in authentic ways. Many people have been given advice for how to advance in their career, advice that is not suited to their Authentic Self. Whenever they follow this advice, ignoring their Authentic Self, they get lost.
Your goals may also fail to fit the typical "upward trajectory" or "career ladder" often promoted by society. As you pursue your goals, pause to ask yourself are you pursuing the right goal, in the right way, for you? If not, you'll likely have a hard time enjoying either the process or the outcome. Continue to monitor yourself. If we can keep a behind-the-scenes monitor that remains self-aware at all times, we will be in a position to catch those "off moments" when we veer away from our Authentic Selves. Even if we have no time to examine what's going on in the moment, we can note it down for review later, when we have time.
Creating a more authentic life requires constant vigilance to bring out a more complete authentic self. Some ideas to consider are:
- Strive to improve yourself. If you want to progress, you will need to develop a growth mindset and learn from each lesson presented to you before you can move on to higher insight. If you do not do your daily homework of paying attention to what life has to teach you, you will continue to get the same lessons over and over until you learn them. By being open to new knowledge, you can grow more quickly and find the best routes for you to achieve sustained authenticity.
- Listen to your inner guidance or intuition. People call inner guidance many things—the soul, God, intuition, Tao, and so forth. Following this inner guidance is key to discovering the Authentic Self. It's only when our Adaptive Self silences the inner guidance that we lose track of who we really are. So, try to keep an open mind and ear for the guidance that you hold within you.
- Find your life purpose. Authenticity and purpose are closely linked: A deep sense of purpose can help you express your authenticity while developing authenticity will often help you discover your purpose! You may discover the courage of your convictions, and want to burst forward with passion to accomplish some worthy goal that moves you deeply enough to champion some particular sort of positive change. You may have an invention you want to promote, a company you want to develop, or a vision you want to see come true. So, open yourself up to living authentically, and your purpose is likely to become clearer.
Have you ever met someone who becomes a totally different person depending on his or her surroundings? Perhaps they become condescending in a conference room, sarcastic and judgmental with one group of friends, and insecure and approval seeking with their significant other. You’ll be having a normal conversation with them, and then they suddenly shift their body posture, tone of voice, and vocabulary the moment someone else enters the conversation. Now be honest…have you ever been this person?
The truth is that we have all had moments of inauthenticity. It can be difficult to maintain authenticity in uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations. You may worry that your “real” self isn’t good enough or appropriate for the situation at hand, and you fear rejection. So, instead of showing up as yourself, you show up as the person you think everyone else will like.
Keep in mind, your authentic self is completely different from what our society encourages these days, which is leading with your best adaptive self. There is a time and place for presenting our best adaptive self: job interviews, first dates, etc. When we lead with our best adaptive self too often, that can leave us editing and managing very real and unique aspects of who we truly are, leaving behind our authenticity. For example, on websites like Pinterest and Facebook, people share creatives ideas, pictures of their new home, or pictures on vacation, or the latest updates about the cute things their kids are doing. What you will likely not see is pictures of how they burned their cookies on their first attempt at a new recipe, or pictures of how messy that new home gets, or the really annoying things their kids are also doing.
This kind of “life editing” can be a slippery slope to trying to reach perfection, and losing your true sense of self. The idea of revealing intimacy is presenting the full you. Online, or in an interview you are only presenting a “real” you but only the positives. People tend to live their life based on obligations, roles, and expectations, and a lot of “shoulds’.” This can prevent you from living in the moment and focusing on what isn’t in your life, rather than what is, or focusing too much on the next step.
While adapting to your environment is certainly beneficial in some situations, shifting your personality completely is problematic. Simply put, people can tell if you aren’t being authentic, and that’s a turn-off. Cheesy, phony, fake, insincere, pretentious, disingenuous, are just a few words we use to describe inauthentic people. Notice that none of them are a compliment!
Ultimately, people are attracted to authenticity. It makes us feel comfortable, safe, and respected. We want to be around and associated with authentic people. When we are authentic, we stay true to ourselves, and who we genuinely are. We are present in the here and now. We do what makes us happy, we follow our passions regardless of who we disappoint, or how it may be perceived by others. Living a life of authenticity is a constant effort and requires sacrifice. Not everyone in our lives will respond well to our authentic self, because of how it may impact them. We have the opportunity for others to love us and accept us for who we are. When we are being authentic, we are being vulnerable; we are showing all parts of us, the good with the bad. When we do this, we allow for more intimate and honest relationships, and we allow for true acceptance and unconditional love.
Here are four techniques to help you be your most authentic self, even in uncomfortable situations.
- Be Keenly Self-Aware: As with many paths to self-improvement, you must start with observing yourself. As you meet new people, engage in work meetings, and spend time with different social groups, try to observe how you feel in each situation. When do you feel most comfortable? When do you feel like you are squirming in someone else’s skin? Learning to be more observant and self-aware will allow you to recognize when you are feeling uncomfortable, understand why you are feeling uncomfortable, and signal to yourself to intentionally draw upon your authentic self.
- Find Genuine Connections: We are all humans. We all have something in common. Seek to truly understand the people around you. Ask thoughtful questions, and listen intently. By developing a genuine understanding of and connection to the people you are with, you are more likely to feel genuine and authentic yourself.
- Don’t Be Perfect: What’s wrong with being perfect? It’s impossible. Therefore, if you try to be perfect or act perfectly, you are already being disingenuous. Embrace your imperfection and dare to be a bit vulnerable. You’ll be amazed where vulnerability can take you.
- Be Present: It's easy to be in the middle of a conversation with someone, and while they are talking, your mind wanders to crafting the perfect response, the score of the current game, or all the things on your to-do list. Once the other person finishes their thought, you reengage and share your perfect rebuttal. The other person has no idea what you were actually thinking while they were talking. However, people intuitively can sense another person’s focus and presence. Try to be more present in your conversations and relationships. Be an active listener, and give people your full attention. Mastering the art of presence perhaps is the single most effective way to ensure authenticity in any situation.
Additionally, keeping one in the authentic zone can be facilitated by:
1. Taking a vacation from social media (COMPLETELY!) for two weeks. This will help remove the peer pressure, and will help you in decreasing the habit of “life editing.”
2. Deciphering between shoulds and wants. Monitor your use of these two words. When you catch yourself using the word “should” consider taking that activity off the table for the week. At least use this opportunity to ask yourself why are you really doing/or agreeing to this particular thing? Should implies doing things based on obligation, or based on how others will respond. You can’t control how others will react. Doing things based on others is not a good way to make life choices.
3. Journaling and tracking. Take out a pen and record. What does it feel like when you are more authentic vs when you are “presenting?” Do you notice anything physically or emotionally different? Do feel happy or guilty when you are being authentic, or are you tired? Do your breathing patterns change at all? Do you notice an appetite change or headaches? Are your thought patterns different? Are your thoughts more positive or negative? Are you more or less focused on materialistic things? There are differences, you have to practice your awareness in identifying them. The next time someone casually asks you in passing, “How are you today?” Really think about your answer before you so quickly blurt out, “Great! You?” Ask yourself “Am I really ‘great?’ Maybe I’m just ‘fine’ or ‘hanging in there.’ It’s a simple interaction, but it’s an easy moment to be people-pleasing and give a really empty answer.
4. Volunteering. Before you go and question if this conflicts with the “should theory,” pick an issue you care about, or you were always curious about but never took it a step further. Use this as an opportunity to give back and show gratitude for your life, but do this through an activity or organization that helps you feel passion. Beware, it sounds easier than it really is. You are being asked to take on a cause that speaks to you, not to pick a cause that has the most headlines right now, or how it will look to those on the outside.
In summary, remember, the goal is to work towards being more authentic, not being 100% authentic overnight. Developing and revealing our authenticity is a process and it takes time. When in doubt, ask yourself if your thoughts and feelings match your behaviors, that is where the true authenticity lies.