Authenticity. It’s not a word that’s new to you—you’ve heard it plenty of times, right? In, fact, it’s becoming a bit of a buzzword in our society with everyone telling you that you need to be authentic. But if you were living authentically, what would that really look like? 

(And, is it really as good of a thing as people make it out to be?)

What Does It Mean to Be Authentic?

Put simply, being authentic means being true to you. It involves knowing who you are—the things you love, the things you hate, what you’re good at, and what makes you tick—and then acting accordingly.[1]

But that’s a pretty broad definition. How would you know if you were living authentically just based on that? Let’s dig a little deeper by looking at how researchers define authenticity. 

According to two leading researchers in the authenticity field [5], authenticity can be broken down into 4 interrelated parts: 

What is Authenticity?

#1: Awareness means having an idea of who you are and what makes you you. This might include basic things like what you like to do in your spare time or what you want for dinner on your birthday, but it also includes an awareness of what sorts of things trigger stress for you or things that make you feel loved. It might mean knowing enough about your background to understand why you feel certain things. And it’s getting curious about yourself in a nonjudgmental way. 

#2: Unbiased processing, means that you are able to take an objective look at yourself. You can see that you have strengths and you’re not afraid to acknowledge them and you can see that you have weaknesses and you’re not afraid to admit it and to challenge yourself to work on those things. 

#3: Behavior is probably the part that most people think of with authenticity. An important part of authenticity is feeling like you can behave in a way that is reflective of who you really are,[2] like you aren’t hiding part of yourself. This means that not only do you know who you are and what you’re qualities are (aspects 1 and 2), but you’re able to live in accordance with that knowledge. Meaning you act like yourself. 

#4: Relational Orientation means that those who are authentic are able to really connect with others in a deep and genuine way. This is is because they are comfortable with who they are and are willing to see themselves clearly. They don’t insist on being seen as good or needing others to validate their sense of worth, and that makes it easier to allow others in. 

What Authenticity Is Not

In order to better understand what it means to be authentic, it can also be helpful to consider what authenticity is not.

This is where pop psychology might be leading us a bit astray, or maybe it’s just our interpretations of pop psychology. Somehow some have it in their minds that to be authentic means to insist that everyone accept you as you are and that you don’t need to change a thing about yourself. Or doing things that harm others in the name of “authenticity.”

Yes. You are worthy and valuable as you are. That is true. 

But there are things that you need to work on, that’s true for all of us, and if you’re truly authentic, you know that, you’re ok with it, and you’re ready to work on it. 

And you still let people get close to you without pushing them away. 

That’s authenticity. Can you see how this is different than insisting that you’re great as you are and that everyone just needs to accept you and then blazing your way through life no matter who is in your way? 

What Does Being Authentic Mean in Daily Living?

Living authentically can be hard. There is so much pressure these days to measure up to others’ expectations that sometimes we don’t want people to see where we fall short. It’s easier to just show people the things we want them to see.

But genuine connection with others comes when we are willing to share our vulnerabilities.[3] 

How to define authenticitySharing our vulnerabilities or hardships has a strong ability to connect us with other humans.[4] There’s something powerful about sharing the human experience together, something that draws us together when we really allow others to authentically see us. That’s when deep and lasting relationships grow.

So, if authenticity means being the real you, how do you find that real you? Do you ever feel like you’ve lost a piece of yourself or that you’re not sure who the real you is anymore because there are so many pressures from outside sources to live a certain way?

Taking some time to identify the sources that are eating away at your authenticity can be valuable. It happens to all of us, but you can challenge those barriers to authenticity and begin to feel more confident and comfortable with who you are.

If you want to develop more authenticity in your life, be sure to take a look at what it means to live authentically and take inventory of how you’re doing


What is Authenticity


[1] Harter, S. (2002). Authenticity. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 382–394). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

[2] Sheldon, K. M., Ryan, R. M., Rawsthorne, L. J., & Ilardi, B. (1997). Trait self and true self: Cross-role variation in the big-five personality traits and its relations with psychological authenticity and subjective well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1380-1393.

[3] Butler, E. A., Egloff, B., Wilhelm, F. H., Smith, N. C., Erickson, E. A., & Gross, J. J. (2003). The social consequences of expressive suppression. Emotion, 3, 48-67.

[4] Jordan, J. V. (2008). Valuing vulnerability: New definitions of courage. Women & Therapy31(2-4), 209-233.

[5] Kernis, M. H., & Goldman, B. M. (2006). A multicomponent conceptualization of authenticity: Theory and research. Advances in experimental social psychology38, 283-357.

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