3 Ways to Embrace Your Authentic Self
How many times have you been urged recently to keep it real? Seen a hashtag, meme, podcast episode, or video that reinforces the importance of being true to yourself, at least within reason?
With 4.55 billion people actively using social networks, which is more than half of the world’s population, you could be constantly reminded about the benefits of #authenticity, #selflove, #youdoyou and so on — all reinforcing the importance of embracing your authentic self.
Your authentic self is the real you. The person who you truly are when being completely honest with yourself. It is your genuine personality without filters to hide perceived flaws, habits or beliefs that might not jive with a desired social group.
Maybe you are brilliant at multiplayer video games, could happily eat Raman noodles each day, have an irrational hatred of farm animals and haven’t danced in public since that embarrassing incident in middle school. There is nothing wrong or right about these behaviors and thoughts; they simply are parts of the puzzle that come together to make you a unique individual.
So what happens if you don’t do you? Well, it is a one-way ticket to being stuck. When you hide who you really are from yourself and the rest of the world, your fulfillment and happiness decreases. Relationships are not as enriching. Research has shown that inauthenticity can sometimes lead to symptoms of depression. You could grapple with an undercurrent of fear, imposter syndrome and lower self-esteem — all of which becomes a bigger burden when dealing with a society that has faced so many disruptions over the past few years.
One of the main reasons people aren’t authentic is a fear of being rejected. As Kenneth Carter, PhD, ABPP, Professor of Psychology at Oxford College, Emory University explained to me, it is like the concept of a having a beautiful, formal living room to impress guests versus the back room of a home where the family actually congregates.
“A lot of people protect their authentic self because they are afraid that others won’t accept it,” he said. “They create this pretty, perfect, inauthentic front room for others to see because if people saw the rest of the house, they could be rejected. Having someone reject an inauthentic, false version isn’t as damaging potentially as having the authentic you rejected.”
It can be surprisingly easy to be inauthentic, especially if you are driven by a desire to please others. I sure was. Back in my early twenties, I fell in love with a man who was really into the outdoors to the point that he eventually ended up hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. Though I liked nature in contained bursts, that was far from who I was at the time; having easy access to a flush toilet was something of a personal priority.
But I sure went overboard adopting his passions in order to deepen our connection. That meant going on multi-day camping trips or canoeing over intense river rapids despite not loving any of it. Attempting to maintain that inauthentic behavior for several years was stressful and created a lot of resentment, ultimately contributing to our breakup.
However, it is never too late to embrace your authentic self. Carter says people can gain more authenticity by understanding what they need in order to be the best version of your true self.
Here are three ways to gain more authenticity:
Identify what circumstances you need to thrive.
Like having food, shelter, healthy relationships and more as a sustaining baseline. Let’s say that you already suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression most often starts in the fall and continues throughout the winter. Triggered by shorter days and being cooped up inside, symptoms detailed by the Mayo Clinic include low energy, greater moodiness, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling hopeless and more.
Knowing that is a personal challenge in any given year, plan ahead to balance that out by increasing your exposure to daylight or light therapy, check out psychotherapy and/or medications and include daily activities that bring you more joy and peace like meditation or exercise.
Understand your strengths.
Carter recommends a character strengths survey called VIA that can help people identify and cultivate their strengths. For example, one of his top five strengths is an appreciation of beauty. So Carter visits museums, in real life or virtually, takes walks and snaps photos of nature, and looks at beautiful writings and art to stay in touch with his authentic self and gain a greater sense of calmness.
Determine what you like to engage in and make it a regular practice for yourself. Do not feel like it requires a vast amount of time. You can get the same kind of boost from taking a couple of minutes each day to breathe more deeply or watch videos of beautiful places.
Carve your own road.
It can be frustrating when you are just starting out on something, trying a new practice or feeling stuck. You look at Instagram influencers with millions of followers, entrepreneurs with compelling success stories and more, thinking it is their way or the highway. But what worked for someone else is not necessarily going to work for you, especially if it is not authentic to who you are.
Think about stand-out entertainers like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or Billie Eilish who became successful for embracing their true selves instead of copying the trajectory of others. Choosing a path that rings true to yourself creates more fulfillment in the long-run.
“It can be a tougher road to understand and engage your strengths, letting other people into those back rooms of your life,” added Carter. “But what you get from that is going to be more meaningful and lead to your authentic success.”
Famous American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” And that was over 150 years before the Internet ever became a thing. If you want to activate your amazing potential, make sure You Do You is a top priority.