What does it mean to be authentic? Answers vary based on individual values and needs. Our desire for authenticity reflects our desire to create something more in our lives.
For example, if someone values relationships but they can’t tell that friend they have a crush on, how they really feel, then they’ll see their “real” selves as someone who can be open. They’ll define authenticity as openness and honesty. If someone values freedom, but feels stuck in their job or their life, then they’ll see their authentic self as someone who follows their dreams. This person will define authenticity as being true to themselves.
Definitions of authenticity have different inherent assumption. Some of these assumptions in real life make achieving authenticity almost impossible.
Definitions of Authenticity
Definition 1: Authenticity as being yourself
Assumption: That it’s possible not to be yourself
You’re a bit shy. You want to be more confident so you can talk to that cute girl or boy that you’ve been crushing on for months. You like the person you are. You consider yourself nice and considerate, but in some areas you wish you could be more the type of person who can go after what the want.
So what is the authentic you in this example? Is the real you the shy person or is it the more confident person you want to be?
If authenticity is defined as being who you are now, wouldn’t that mean just accepting yourself as the shy quiet person that wants to be notice even if this makes you unhappy? If authenticity is being the more confident person, then does that mean you’re not being yourself currently.
Being yourself is not an either or choice between who you are now and who you want to be. You are always you. Authenticity in this context is about acceptance. It’s accepting who you are and your wants.
The problem I find with this definition is that there’s no impetus for change. Accepting yourself and your wants doesn’t necessarily translate into achieving your wants. So if you’re unhappy with your situation now, being authentic in this context doesn’t require taking action.
Definition 2: Authenticity as being true to yourself
Assumption: A person doesn’t have conflicting values.
Say for example, honesty is one of your highest values. And another one of your highest values is harmony.
Someone close to you introduces you to their new significant other. You find this person completely obnoxious. You see that person treats your close friend terribly but your friend doesn’t see that or your friend dismisses it as minor.
If authenticity is being true to yourself, would that mean you are honest and tell you friend that this person they’re seeing is bad for them or do you keep quiet and maintain harmony and be there for you friend when the relationship goes badly?
What if your highest values are friendship and treating yourself kindly? This new significant other not only treats your friend horribly but they’re pretty obnoxious to you. Your friend and their significant other are always together these days. Is authenticity spending time with your friend (friendship) or avoiding her to keep away from the obnoxious significant other (treating yourself kindly)?
We run into situations daily where we have to choose between our highest values like staying at our job or school (security) or running off the another city or country (freedom). Whenever we have to make these choices between values we don’t feel more authentic, we just feel we made the best choice we could at the time.
The problem that I’ve notice with authenticity defined as being true to yourself is that it doesn’t always make you a better person. Relationships tend to suffer when being true to yourself means choosing your wants first. At a certain point being true to yourself becomes selfish and you have to want to make selflessness a part of who you are.
Definition 3: Being your best self.
Assumption: Your best self is a fixed state and doesn’t change.
When I was eight years old, I wanted to be an knight fighting dragons. That’s who I saw my best self to be. Since I’m not a knight currently, does that mean I’m not being authentic?
Often times, being authentic means looking into yourself to find your purpose and letting it lead you. This assumes that you know your purpose and that it’s fixed. There’s a reason why so many college students change majors. They thought their purpose was one thing when the declared their major and realized that the profession they chose didn’t fit. So if you change your major were you not being authentic because you weren’t following your true purpose?
What if authenticity is being your best self at the time with what you currently know. So if you wanted to be a doctor and were studying it then you’re being authentic. If you changed your mind and took action and changed your major, you’re being authentic by changing your major.
In this context, authenticity is all about action. If something bugs you and you speak up, you’re being authentic. If you hate your job, being authentic means quitting. If you don’t care for societal conventions, you ignore them and live the way you want to live.
However, authenticity as action is limited by the practicality of taking that action. Not everyone can quit their job on a dime, so does that mean that putting up with work to pay your bills means you’re not being authentic? Authenticity precedes change. You have to be authentic first in order to make changes instead of making changes so you can be authentic. In order to have more you first have to be more. It’s almost impossible to do it the other way around.
The Purpose of Authenticity
The problem I find with authenticity is that there are so many concepts but very few methodologies defined to apply those concept. If you want to be that awesome, brilliant, better you, well how do you go about that and does that mean you’re living in-authentically until you are that better you? That seems disempowering to me.
It feels like we’re living in an age of authenticity where everyone wants to be more authentic as if authenticity is that missing key to everything that’s holding us back from greatness. Like so many things, we have concrete problems that we’re trying to resolve with this vague concept of authenticity.
Tony Robbins said that we only want to change two things: what we do and how we feel. If we’re not living to our full potential, we hope that authenticity will motivate us to live life to its fullest. If we feel shy, we hope that authenticity will lead to confidence. In other words, the action of wanting authenticity is supposed to lead to action. However I find that wanting something doesn’t necessarily lead to doing.
To me, authenticity is a state of connection to ourselves without the filters and projections that we use to protect ourselves. Authenticity shouldn’t be a goal but guide to reaching those things we desire.
Authenticity as Positive Emotion
I’ve started defining authenticity as existing in my positive emotional states. Curiosity, love, connection, boldness, empathy, etc. are a small sampling of some of those emotional states. When I feel those things, I feel as if I’m being my real self.
This doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to feel sad or lonely or afraid or bored, but feeling those emotions and constantly existing in those conditions are completely different. Constantly feeling bored doesn’t make me feel authentic. If we’ve lived a long time in our disempowering emotional states, we begin to feel more and more disconnected to who we are. It’s only by reconnecting to our positive emotional states do we get back our power.
Here’s the methodology that works for me:
- Write down all the positive emotional states that I want to feel each day.
- Take an action that will make me feel that emotion.
- Bask in that emotion for as long as it lasts whether it’s a minute or an hour.
- Let go of trying to use that positive emotion to achieve something.
One of my positive emotions is boldness. Yesterday, my day job catered lunch from Noodles and we had 5 trays of left overs that end up sitting in our fridge a few days and then thrown away. This has happened for years,. People have a little more the next day but we waste so much food. So instead of worrying about what people would think, I packed enough for myself and my family so we wouldn’t have to cook dinner that night.
As I was packing the leftovers into the Tupperware, I felt bold for not wondering if co-workers thought I was greedy or not a team player. I don’t have to zipline or rock climb to be bold, both of which I’ve done in the last month. It’s the small things like asking a stranger to dance. Even if they politely decline, for those 10 seconds I felt bold.
It’s not about trying to feel good all the time because if someone rejects us, however politely, we’ll still feel bad. It’s not about avoiding feeling bad because sadness during a grieving process is natural and positive. Sometimes connection with my wife means talking about hard issues that make us feel hurt or angry. The objective is to feel all our positive emotions each day. The purpose is to build up our emotional repertoire, to expand our choices in what makes us feel good and to be able to achieve those states easily because we’ve been practicing every day.
Eventually, as we take small action to feel positive emotions for brief periods, this leads to taking bigger actions to be in those positive emotions for longer periods. Most of the time, my actions to feel a certain emotion is spur of the moment without some goal attached to it. However, those actions tend to take me in the right direction and leads me a little closer to who I want to be.
Sep 21, 2011
Hi Corin, I enjoyed this post, thank you.
Also, not sure if this is the right place for a question, but I am struggling with something like writers block. I need an outlet for creative expression, and I used to be able to write more freely. But it seems that I require some sort of prompt or assignment to actually force myself to write. I sometimes write about how I’m feeling in a journal, but can never allow myself to write creative non-fiction. It’s the dreaded self-critic, the voice that says “it’s terrible” before I even open the word document. You mentioned writers block in your profile, so I wonder- what has helped you? If you wouldn’t mind sharing. Thanks!
September 22nd, 2011 at 9:44 am
With anything, I start with concepts or basic truths and then I try to work out methodology. Basic truths don’t change, but the methodology to apply those truths are different for everyone. Some methodologies work better than others depending on personality type.
So here’s the truths that I work from:
1. Writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
2. How you do anything is how you do everything.
3. Disempowering patterns were useful at one time and you have to honor them.
For #1, I find inspiration. It’s usually from reading in a genre that I’m not currently writing in. For example, I’ve gotten most of my personal development inspiration lately from business books which is how I ended up writing about the Hedgehog Concept as applied to personal development instead of running a business.
For #2, I’m creatively blocked in writing, it means I’m creatively blocked elsewhere so I try to be creative somewhere else other than writing first.
For #3, whatever disempowering patterns I have like being too critical of myself was created initially to help me in some way in the past. And even though they’re not useful not, they were then and our brain isn’t going to let us ditch something that was once helped us. So I move that pattern of self-criticism into a different area that’s has less impact like how I exercise techniques. It gives that pattern place to exist and I’m less critical when I write.
September 28th, 2011 at 12:17 pm
Very helpful. Thank you!
Imran Mehmood Choudhry
Sep 21, 2011
Great analysis. Thanks
Sep 21, 2011
“Even if they politely decline, for those 10 seconds I felt bold.”
Thank you for making me realize the significance of those precious 10 seconds. I’ve gone through those ‘times of rejection’ (politely or not) but I’ve always ignored those 10 seconds of boldness & dwell more on the 10 seconds of humiliation instead. Reading this makes me appreciate the positive emotions. Again, thank you.
September 22nd, 2011 at 9:54 am
So often, we unintentionally give our power away by what we focus on. We focus on things outside our locus of control. So when we go say hi to someone, we focus on their response. Will they be nice? Will they be rude? Will they like me? All of this is beyond our control and when we focus on that we get this feeling of disempowerment. Instead, right before I say hi to someone, I focus on staying present no matter what their reaction might be. If someone blows me off and I feel hurt then the objective for me is to stay present to feel hurt and let it pass. Feeling hurt feels more authentic to me than thinking up scenarios in my head of what I could have done or said differently or making excuses why that other person behaved the way they did.
Sep 22, 2011
Lately, I’ve been going back to the roots of the MBTI and reading Isabel Briggs-Myers’ book on its application, “Gifts Differing”. I sort of jumped around in reading it going several days between to fully digest it, and it has really helped me understand it more clearly, especially considering Myers’ writing style as a self-proclaimed INFP herself.
That having been said, your article makes a lot of sense. I think what you’ve basically described is the intricacies of Feeling as the judging function, the introverted form of which is our dominant function as INFPs. Many misunderstand “Feeling” as simply emotions or acting emotionally. However, Myers described it as judging between “valued” and “not valued” or between “more valued” and “less valued”, as opposed to Thinking which judges between true and false.
Thus, we all have a different set of values, and Feeling is used properly to judge which thing is most valuable to us in different situations. This is a complex process and not as simple as performing some scientific test to determine what is true. Therefore, to be authentic in my mind is to act upon what you value most according to what your Feeling has judged and then to be satisfied with having done so rather than second-guessing it. It has much to do with having the confidence with which to do so and having developed our auxiliary extroverted iNtuition enough for it to marshal effectively between the objectives of our inner Feeling and the outer world of extroversion.
As Myers brought out, introverts have a unique duality that extroverts generally do not. Since an extrovert’s dominant function is extroverted–or, shown to the world–what you see is typically what you get. Extroverts may not even realize that they need to develop their auxiliary introverted function. However, an introvert’s dominant function is introverted and normally hidden from the outside world. What they do show is their auxiliary extroverted function, which is typically less developed until the person has grown to a certain point in their type development. Thus, their dealings with the outside world tend to be awkward and ineffective until then. So, unlike extroverts, they are more acutely aware of this need to develop the auxiliary. For INFPs, this means developing iNtuition so that it can supply our Feeling with accurate information with which to base our judgments so that we can have the confidence to act upon them without reserve. Until then, our intensely personal introverted Feeling has trouble interacting effectively with the outside world, and so we have the tendency not to act in harmony with what we value, which we see as not being authentic and finally beat ourselves up for.
Sep 23, 2011
Finally you’ve updated your blog. I wonder if the creation of this post is by any chance influenced by my post on Personality Cafe. I had feelings for my best friend, and she rejected me. It really hurt, but I thought long and hard about it. The circumstances were such that it was quite impossible for us to be together, but to keep those feelings to myself, and for years, and constantly denying them, would simply be lying to myself. To be authentic to myself, I felt, was to acknowledge my feelings, and yes I do love her. I was rejected, but at least it’s a sense of catharsis. I can now move on. Anyway, i am looking forward to more posts from you. Cheers! 🙂
September 23rd, 2011 at 11:03 pm
The post came about because from a combination of finally processing the Brene Brown research into vulnerability and it’s necessity for connection along with a stuff I’ve been learning through a personal development program I’m currently taking. It took me 7 months to really understand what connection and authenticity meant to me and how it could be translated into the real world. It just taken that long to make changes and see measurable results in my life and to prove to myself that my concepts are workable before I wrote anything.
Sep 28, 2011
Hey Corin, glad you updated your blog, and what a good post it is. Very applicable to people’s lives at some point or another, I’m sure. Just wondering if these revelations are at all pointing you in a different direction “careerwise.” Do you still see yourself in your same field/job? Just curious as to how it’s affected that aspect of your life. Thanks!
September 28th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
I will change careers when I feel I have sufficient knowledge and grounding to make that change. So in my current job, I’m finding ways to feel those emotions on my list and finding ways to express my creative self-expression with what I’m doing now.
I had a long talk with my wife about my job and we decided that I could quit any time I wanted if I felt it no longer worked in my life. Just knowing that I have the option to quit and we’d figure it out gives me a great sense of freedom. My wife and I decided that our ultimate goal is for me not to have “job” again. We’ve been working at it for years but we’re only 12% there.
This way our work and how we support ourselves won’t be tied together. Our work will be another way we expressive ourselves instead of how we pay the bills.
Nov 5, 2011
I was wondering what happened to you as you hadn’t written anything in a while. Now I understand why you took some time off from the blog. It was worth the wait…
This latest entry has been a blessing to me as it confirmed a lot of my theories on the nature of authenticity and how it can be practically carried out in our everyday lives.
Jan 14, 2012
Hi Corin. I’ve just discovered your blog at a time when I most need it. As many others have said before me, it is an immense relief to hear from other INFPs. Thank you!
What you say about multiple definitions of authenticity makes absolute sense – how you define being ‘true to yourself’ depends on your set of values and what you value most. The importance we attach to our values are likely to change throughout our lives as we grow older. In my 20s I valued freedom more than anything, and now I value relationships more. But what I find challenging is working out what I value more as I go through transitions in my life. Coming into my 30 I’m torn between values – I paradoxically value freedom at the same time as wanting more meaningful relationships and a sense of connection with people/my community. I can’t find a way of meeting both values.
So in light of this paradox, I’m interested in this post on Authenticity and how it ties into your earlier post about 5 stages, the 5th stage being Acceptance. The suggestion is that INFPs learn to accept their situation. However, by accepting are you not compromising your ‘true self’? In accepting the situation around me I feel like I’m relinquishing my true self, and locking away my ideals in a sealed box like a naughty child. Perhaps I’m falling back on that old INFP habit of thinking I’m special and the world doesn’t accept me – everything is beating me down like ‘square peg in round hole’ syndrome.
I realise that the stage of acceptance, is when you’ve worked out what you value you most and use this to propel you out of a bad situation, into a good one that matches your values. But my concern is that by placing so much importance on one value and using that as a guide, is in itself is being idealistic. What I value most right now is ‘meaningful social relationships and a sense of community’. But I no matter how hard I try to foster my friendships and join groups to feel connected to my community, I don’t seem to find the depth of relationship or sense of connectedness that I’m seeking. So despite trying to be true to myself, to my values – I find that I’m at a loss, hopelessly wanting an unattainable ideal/value. My ‘ideal’ is when my values are met.
Does anyone else feel like this? Grateful for any insights/advice.
Mar 22, 2012
I’m glad I found this blog. I actually don’t have a comment on this particular post about authenticity – just a few thoughts about the whole INFP thing in general.
I turned 34 a few months ago and am just now beginning to realize how much of my life has been governed by a need to present an identity to the world (particularly one of being significant and unique). No matter where I went or what my circumstances were, it was generally the dominant focus for me which, in retrospect, does seem rather self absorbed if not downright juvenile at times. Even in the workplace, I was more pre-occupied with what people thought about my overall identity than honing my skills and making contributions. Just like that kid from Almost Famous, I wanted to be regarded as dark and mysterious; dangerous and enigmatic. As much as I hate to admit it, that was really important to me and I couldn’t ever truly relinquish that need long enough to fully commit myself to discussions with others or the task at hand. Frankly, it’s a bit embarrassing. Everyone else is thinking about the planning session, and I’m sitting there wondering if I’m being enough of a brooding badass.
Anyway, it’s been something of a relief to finally accept the whole world isn’t my personal mirror in which I can preen my idealized self. It worried me for a bit that I was a full blown narcissist – but I think a true narcissist wouldn’t feel relief to be out from under the spell of their own contrived self.
These days, I really put forth an effort to be honest with people. To just be a normal person who can engage them and speak from multiple dimensions of the human experience – whether that’s about life’s ups and downs, love, the work we do at our company or light humor. People have been very receptive and I’m starting to realize that it’s far more fulfilling to be my actual, genuine self instead of continuing on this exhausting quest to present some grandiose persona of brooding, sexy angst to everyone around me. That’s a cross I’m ready to lay down for sure. Life is too short to live like that and I was wasting valuable time trying to pull it off.
I can’t speak for everyone – but I think for most INFP’s, once we finally accept ourselves and make a deliberate effort to show that to others is when life gets better. We start getting needs met and free up so much mental and emotional energy that had been trapped in self-conciousness and shame.
So this comment did turn out to be about authenticity after all, I suppose. : )
Anyway, Corin, I hope to see more writing from you in the future. This blog has been great to read.
Jul 17, 2012
After reading this article the lyrics of the song ‘Accept yourself’ by The Smiths means even more to me now….. ‘Everyday you must say so how do I feel about my life, anything is hard to find when you will not open your eyes, when will you accept yourself…I am sick and I am dull and I am plain, how dearly I’d love to get carried away, oh but dreams have a knack of not coming true, and time is against me now…Oh who and what to blame, anything is hard to find when you will not open your eyes, when will you accept yourself…’
Jul 17, 2012
So when’s the next article? 😀
Oct 3, 2012
Corin- missed you the past year. Would love to see the blog going again.
Oct 6, 2012
The most challenging thing about claiming your authenticity is when you have to earn it through others, and it gets even more difficult when the “others” are your family.If freedom could be considered the underlying tone to all kinds and definitions of authenticity, then perhaps one could say that duties, and responsibilities, and all those things about our reality that could be looked at as “shackling forces”, just as surely as they are known to be the foundation of a supportive social system, are the things that suppress the rebellion and the drive to attain authenticity for an individual.
Oct 28, 2012
Studying Myers Briggs was the most eye opening freeing experience. I always felt so different growing up and so glad to realize I could finally own that difference and learn from it and live with it wholly and fully instead of feeling sorry for myself.
I am glad to have found this community of INFP’s and you sharing your ongoing studies on this topic. Look forward to more.
Nov 15, 2012
I disagree with being authentic. Each time I showed my true self, I have to forget about the reward I was chasing.
1)I stay the same poetic lover, with the need of being alone with the girl to know her better. Sometimes I stay a night or a week with the girl, but if she chooses myslef, she quickly dump me because she wants a real man.
2)I act as a rude guy, negging her, not showing my feelings, mating whith other girls, showing that she is not the one I could pick up if I wanted. She fell in love, and later I loose my mask, showing her the romantic true me. She dumps me.
with people that are not friends of my soul :
I show my love for many subjects of differents spheres. They don’t succeed in putting me in square, to imagine who I am. They go away, scared, or teach that I don’t have to look down on them (I’m not, in fact!), or call me Mr know-it-all, because I can think over any subject, even if I don’t master any.
So, being authentic, for us INFP, doesn’t feel rewarding to me. Only to myself. I feel fullfilled when I am able to act considering my values. The matter is to be unable to have the reward I wanted (the job, the girl, convince others, their understanding of myself).
Louie Louie Reply:
May 31st, 2014 at 5:14 pm
I think you might be chasing the wrong kind of girls. There are plenty of girls who will love you for who you are.
Being authentic might have repelled some girls but it will attract better girls
Jan 3, 2013
Hey, I loved how you analyzed the different definitions of authenticity and came up with your own. That’s a case in point example of authenticity there! Thanks for sharing, learned something new today.
Jul 3, 2013
I need to ask you about this: “Let go of trying to use that positive emotion to achieve something”
I sometimes have an issue where after successfully overcoming some difficulties in the day, I enter into a state where I feel I have lot of positivity inside me that needs to be put to use to achieve something.
This however doesn’t always seem like the best utilization because I only end up increasing entropy if I do anything in this state.
I wonder if it is best to simply bask in this state and let go of other things? Your thoughts?
July 3rd, 2013 at 11:55 am
The problem that I’ve found with using positive as fuel to achievement is that it burns too quickly and hard to sustain. It’s easy to crash when succeed in on thing but something happens and you get a bad outcome in another area.
So instead I use values and reasons as my driver. I write down how my goal is related to my top three values. For example, my top three values are Freedom, Creative Self-Expression and Connection. One of my current goals is to get back into shape after being sick last year. I’ve written down how getting back into shape gives me more of each of those things, ie. getting back into shape will keep me active as I get older so I don’t end up in a wheelchair at age 80. I also write down 100 reason why I want to be fit and healthy. So I go back and read those things whenever I feel unmotivated about that goal.
So what do I do with the energy I feel when I have a success? I share it by spending time with loved ones. I help others with it. The people I surround myself with during those times pick up on my energy and in turn, it makes them feel happy.
I see it like this. We get and use energy all the time. Physical energy, emotional energy. Time is a form of energy. Money is also a form of energy. Sometimes, we get more than we need at that moment. You can try to hoard it, but if you don’t have purpose for energy then entropy takes over and it dissipates. We fill up time with time-wasters if we don’t have a good use for it. We spend money frivolously if we come into money but we don’t have a reason for that money.
So with any type of energy and especially emotional, I can use it all on myself but that never felt right. So I transform it by using it to help others.
Jan 1, 2014
This is my first time writing in. I’m a member of a rather elite poetry group. Most other members write very dense poems–not “stupid” dense, but dense in the sense of having to reread many times trying to figure out what they’re saying. This is a challenge and can be fun at times. But I’m trying to write very authentically, not to please them, but to please me. I woke from a dream one morning and wrote the following:
erase your capitalizations
your quote marks
closet your education
dismiss your skills
set them free
erase all that’s extraneous
till only essence remains
erase that too
then tear up the page
you’re down to the core now
when there’s nothing left but
there it is
c Marilyn King 2013
For me, authenticity is a matter of “chipping away that which is not David” (a quote attributed to Michelangelo regarding his statue of David).
Strangely, the most sophisticated “fancy” poets in our group fell in love with mine. By not playing to their preferences, I produced something that was entirely, authentically me. This was a memorable lesson to me in “authenticity.”
Feb 9, 2014
This post was very insightful and I enjoyed reading. I’ve read your blog before and its always good food for thought. thanks!
Sep 16, 2015
Thanks for sharing