Whenever we hear the word authentic, we usually associate it with a material object being genuine and of real value, such as an authentic Van Gogh painting or Michelangelo sculpture. The opposite of authentic is inauthentic – not real, fake, phony, insincere.
In relation to the concept of the authentic self, most people place emphasis on being truthful and honest. These are valuable attributes, but truly living an authentic life is a great deal more than simply telling the truth.
What It Means to Be Authentic
Being an authentic person is all about knowing who you are in order to let the world see you as you are. You don’t try to hide behind a mask, or get defensive and try to lie your way out of a situation for fear of the consequences. You say what you mean and mean what you say. If you make a promise, you keep it. If you say no, it is out of respect for yourself rather than rudeness or disrespect for the other person.
You acknowledge all of your feelings, the good and the ‘bad’ without trying to squash them down and suppress them. You do not let your emotions run your life, but have mastered them by understanding them rather than trying to run away from them or numb them through drink, drugs, binge eating and so on.
Because you are so in tune with your feelings, others see you as a person of integrity; that is, complete, whole, and of good character, honest in thought, word and deed. You have a healthy sense of self-esteem without being arrogant or boastful. You know your worth and earn respect, but also make it a point to treat others with respect.
We often behave inauthentically because we are worried about what others will think or say. We fear rejection by peers, friends, even romantic partners, and therefore hide our true selves. In many cases, this is a learned behavior from our family relations and expectations.
It can also be a survival strategy at school or work to try to have an easier life. You might have a hypercritical teacher at school or boss at work who is never satisfied no matter how hard you try. You might also be bullied at school or in the workplace and internalize it to the point where you think it is your fault or that you deserve it in some way.
An authentic person, by contrast, has a clear set of principles, values and boundaries that are mildly flexible but not easily damaged. You know who you are, what you want, and what you don’t want. You are assertive enough to stand up for yourself without treading on any toes. You don’t try to make yourself feel better by bullying or criticizing anyone else or talking behind their back. If you have something to say to anyone, you are willing to say it to their face.
An authentic person is happy and fulfilled because they are always setting and achieving goals in order to be their best self and live their best life possible. They don’t waste their energy wishing things could be different. Instead, they take practical action steps to transform their life for the better. They accept all aspects of themselves but are consistently seeking emotional and spiritual growth.
Being truthful is just one aspect of living an authentic life. Be true to your feelings and inner self and see what a joy it can be to live authentically.