I’ve often wondered what it truly means to be authentic. The concept confused me. I came across an interesting article the other day, and a particular paragraph described my confusion well.
“One big problem with authenticity is that there is a lack of consensus among both the general public and among psychologists about what it actually means for someone or something to be authentic. Are you being most authentic when you are being congruent with your physiological states, emotions and beliefs, whatever they may be? Or are you being most authentic when you are congruent with your consciously chosen beliefs, attitudes and values? How about when you are being congruent across the various situations and social roles of your life? Which form of “being true to yourself” is the real authenticity: was it the time you really gave that waiter a piece of your mind or that time you didn’t tell the waiter how you really felt about their dismal performance because you value kindness and were true to your higher values?”
— Source: Authenticity under Fire (Scott Barry Kaufman)
Throughout my life I’ve had to present myself in ways that didn’t feel true to who I felt I was. I would sometimes change my views, opinions, and preferences to fit in with those around me. This would make me even more confused. Which person was I really? As humans we have the tendency to present different parts of ourselves to try to fit in, taking on aspects of the group and people we’re interacting with. It’s normal. But some of us take it to more of an extreme. Does this make us inauthentic during those times? Maybe.
There are certain ways in which I sometimes interact with the world and other people, that aren’t considered “normal” and that have either gotten me into trouble or caused people to view me as “weird”. Which is why I love those friends I’ve had for years that love my “weirdness” and who aren’t bothered or surprised by it. Everyone is different. Everyone has ways of being, of coping. Social anxiety is a big thing for me, and maybe this is one of the reasons I try to blend in so much. To the point where I question who I really am. I was bullied in my primary school years and labeled a “freak”, and was an outcast (along with my merry band of fellow outcasts) in high school. So trying to fit in, trying to just be “normal”, has always been something I felt I had to do in order to stay emotionally safe. And it’s only been the last few years that I’ve realized it doesn’t have to be that way. Not everyone will or should like us. Not everybody will accept or understand us. And that’s really okay.
Society expects us to behave a certain way. Our culture and environment shape us. What’s considered the norm in one culture or place, may be seen as inappropriate in another. There are certain norms that I’ve grown up with that I’m not comfortable with. Things that make me anxious. But I’m expected to fit in anyway. So I did.
I’m finding though that being inauthentic towards myself isn’t worth the price of fitting in. I no longer have the desire to do so. Sure, I still care what others think, and a part of me probably always will, but not to the extent to which I’ve always done.
I’ve come to believe that there is no single, congruent, true self that exists in all situations and environments. We are a complex mix of values, beliefs, biases, desires, etc. Both conscious and unconscious. These can get activated around different people and situations. It doesn’t mean we’re being inauthentic though. All of these are aspects of ourselves. Striving to always be authentic can sometimes backfire. Cause us to constantly question ourselves. So my goal is to not judge myself, and just try to be my best true self in that moment, for that situation. I think that’s good enough.