During my first blog entry on authenticity, I explained what the word and concept of “authenticity” means to me. I left unanswered the question of why “Authenticity” is important. My aim here is to take a shot at trying to answer that question.
I want to thank a client who offered to allow me to use a diagram he created after we discussed authenticity (you know who you are, and thanks again).
As you can see from the diagram, authenticity encourages or allows you to expand your own sense of being inside yourself. When we are not authentic or “real” with others, we must hide within ourselves to create the space necessary to appear to be what we think others want us to be. We also create “perceived holes” within ourselves, hoping that things outside ourselves will fill these holes (another person’s view of us, work, sex, alcohol, etc.). The more we hide within ourselves, the more likely we are to be disappointed, hurt, lonely, and fearful about the part of ourselves that feels empty–the “holes” or spaces within us left empty by the failure of others to meet needs we can in reality only meet ourselves. If we hide within ourselves, but create an image of ourselves in the likeness of what others want, we also have less reason to expect that others will know what we need. We will in essence be asking them to guess what we need. And when they guess wrong, or even worse, don’t guess at all, we might end up hurt, angry, or resentful.
If you can “expand” your “self” or encourage the authentic part of you to grow closer to the exterior boundaries between yourself and others, allowing them to see you as you really are within yourself, you will be more able to clearly ask for what you want for yourself. And they will be able to see what you really want from them. Put it this way, most of the time we think about what we want other people to think and feel about us, to do for us. That by itself is not a problem. There is nothing wrong with wanting others to like us, to like to be around us, to have a positive image about us. So far, so good. The problem comes in when we pretend that we are what they want us to be so we can get what we want from them. This is what leads us to the situation shown in the diagram above. We continually hide from others and ourselves because we become convinced that what we are isn’t good enough, or is somehow not what we “should” be. This can lead to poor self-worth, self-loathing, denial of ourselves, loneliness, depression and anxiety.
Being authentic helps us get what we really want and avoids the pitfalls of hiding within ourselves and pretending to be other than what we are. So, why aren’t we always authentic–it like a no-brainer. For one thing, to be authentic with others we must allow ourselves to lose control over getting what we want from others. We must allow them to decide whether to give us what we want, or not. Being authentic in our relationships always carries the risk that who and what we really are is not what others want from us and they may then reject us. If I ask someone “will you do this thing for me?” They can say “no.” I then have to deal with the hurt that “no” might cause. In addition to telling me “no,” they might say or imply that I shouldn’t have asked in the first place–that not only are they not going to meet my want or need, but it was inappropriate for me to even ask them because I am not being who they want me to be for them (of course, they aren’t going to say that to you, but that will be the reason they say no). Talk about rejection! If, on the other hand, I am not authentic, and I don’t directly ask for what I want, but I invite them to engage with me in a way that makes it likely that they will want to give me what I want, they will not be able to directly say “no.” And I will not have take any responsibility for asking. There are other risks involved with being authentic; such as offending others, making ourselves more raw and exposed to others and therefore feeling vulnerable, creating expectations that others should also be authentic with you, and coming across as “overbearing,” “arrogant,” “pushy” or “too blunt.”
Don’t let the risks of authentically engaging with others discourage your willingness and desire to be authentic. There is one more reason authenticity, while sometimes tough, is so important: you cannot achieve meaningful personal growth or fulfillment in your life if you are not trying to be authentic. You will remain stuck if you expect others to fill needs within yourself. This is simply not possible, so you will keep trying to fill those places, with no success. Being authentic allows you to know you, be you, understand you, and gain further understanding of yourself and others when they too can see the real you.