Authenticity is an old word with renewed interest. Its general meaning makes reference to something genuine or real as opposed to fake, counterfeit or unauthorized. Physical products of value are issued a “Certificate of Authenticity” to verify the origin or source. Applying the meaning to human behavior is more difficult. For centuries, philosophers and psychologists considered “Authenticity” a characteristic too intangible to measure.
The Science of Authenticity
In 2002, social psychologists Michael Kernis and Brian Goldman, created an operational/ technical definition of Authenticity based on their predecessor’s writings. At the core of their definition lies the most fundamental component of authenticity–Self-Awareness.
Authenticity is “the unimpeded operation of one’s true or core self in one’s daily enterprise.”
This trait requires an individual to know and trust in their own motives, emotions, preferences and abilities.
Primary Character Traits of Authentic People
The work of contemporary scholar, Brené Brown aligns with the ideas presented by Kernis and Goldman. The bulk of her research focuses on the dynamics of vulnerability and shame. She demonstrates how those attributes shape the perceptions we form of our selves.
In her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection,” she defines authenticity as “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” She frames authenticity as a choice that consciously involves courage, vulnerability, and compassion, as well as the belief we are enough.
Other scientific research shows that people who are truly authentic have high self-esteem, are willing to share their thoughts, beliefs and opinions with the world, openly give and receive compliments, actively listen and prefer deep conversations, and are driven by an inner voice rather than the input from their surroundings.
Consequences of Inauthenticity
Living authentically is congruent with knowing who you are. It means consistently showing up in life as your true self. Most people actually crave authenticity in their lives even if they don’t recognize it for what it is.
When we function inauthentically,
- We deny who we really are.
- We buy into an idea of who we, or others, think we should be.
- We are disingenuous to ourselves and to the world.
The damage from living inauthentically creates an internal conflict between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. In other words, it creates a situation where acts one way but believes another way. The result is an inevitable set-up for feelings of inadequacy and failure.
The Imposter Syndrome
Psychotherapists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term, “Imposter Syndrome,” in reference to people, mostly women, who make notable achievements in their fields but are not able to internalize their successes. The common belief is that they are “fooling” others into believing they fit in among their peers. Many write their successes off to getting “lucky” and fearing be exposed as fakes or frauds.
Our perceptions of who we should be are nothing more than creations of the imagination (illusions). The Imposter Syndrome is the effect of searching for desirable qualities outside of the self that don’t really exist. The internal representation of the self is based on an idealized self rather than the real self. The end result is an underlying belief system that reinforces the illusion and perpetuates a fear of failure.
Fear of Being Real
Fear and an overall lack of faith in our higher selves have fueled the fire away from authenticity in epidemic proportions. Not only are we bombarded by messages from the media that reinforce our illusions of who we should be, but the push toward inauthenticity and disingenuous behavior is fully integrated into therapeutic treatment models and mainstream self-improvement movements as well.
Consider Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step groups where rigorous honesty is a foundational requirement of the program. The AA philosophy outlined in The Big Book and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions makes it clear that the road to sobriety means living a life of truth and honesty no matter how painful. Yet a common slogan that emerged in the early 1980s among its members is “fake it ’til you make it.”
Fake It Until You Make It
In Christopher Cavanaugh’s book titled AA to Z: An Addictionary of the 12-Step Culture, “fake it ’til you make it” is described as a “suggestion often made to newcomers who feel they can’t get the program and will go back to old behavior. The suggestion implies that if the newcomer acts according to the steps and teachings of the program, then the program will begin to work….”
The hope is that the subconscious messaging of “fake it ‘til you make it” will enable a positive conscious outcome resulting in prolonged sobriety. Unfortunately, the vibrational energy of words like “fake it,” does more damage than good to the human psyche. It triggers an uncomfortable feeling psychologists identify as cognitive dissonance–psychological stress that is the result of simultaneously holding two or more contradictory beliefs.
A new initiate in a 12-step program learns the only way to recovery is to practice rigorous honesty in every aspect of life. At the same time, they are being told by their peer group to “fake it” until you are strong enough to step into your true self.
To Be Real, or Not to Be Real
Making the conscious choice to be real in mainstream culture is tough when we are surrounded by propaganda that suggests the road to success is to be unreal. We see this in advertising directed toward children at a very early age, telling them who they need to be and how they need to look in order to be popular. This kind of propaganda reinforces the subconscious beliefs of the collective: We are broken…we are weak… we are inadequate, and we are failures. The only remedy is to pretend to be someone else whose success is based on some idealized illusion that is the sole creation of the ego. It is completely devoid of any notion of a higher power, which sits at the core of any true healing.
Counseling Models Reinforce the “Fake It” Ideology
The mental health community jumped all over the “fake it ‘til you make it” ideology because it is very closely aligned to current applications of the popular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) model. The CBT model is grounded in the principle that our thoughts, behaviors and feelings are interdependently related. This means if you can change one domain, there will automatically be an effect on the other domains.
Let’s say, for example, someone is has a fear of public speaking. An application of the CBT model would go as follows: If the client acts (behavior) as if they are confident and employ positive self-talk (thought) to enforce the behavior, they will eventually get over the fearful feelings associated with speaking in public. The key here is you have to have some idea of how it feels to be confident in order to act as if you are. If you have never felt confident, you might be able to mimic someone who demonstrates confidence, but you will not realize the desired change unless you also know how they think to generate the desired feeling to close the CBT loop.
Limitations of CBT
While CBT is a relatively effective model for generating change under some therapeutic conditions, it still doesn’t address the underlying programming that exists in the mind at the subconscious level. At the conscious level, the positive self-talk is effective for getting through an event or even a short period of time but it doesn’t eliminate the fear-based limiting beliefs and negative perceptions that are often formed in early childhood and are reinforced through various experiences during the average life-span. To effect lasting change, the limiting beliefs and their associated perceptions must be identified and addressed.
Faking It Is Bad Business
It’s not surprising to find the “fake it ’til you make it” approach has also spilled over to the business sector. Career coaches who use modeling techniques often incorporate the ‘fake it ’til you make it” mentality. Research shows that people who demonstrate higher levels of self-confidence tend to get more attention and command more respect from their peers regardless of the accuracy of their work. If you pretend you are confident, even if you aren’t, you have a better chance of moving up the corporate ladder than if you demonstrate a lack of self-confidence.
At the same time, research shows that potential employers are more likely to hire a candidate that demonstrates sincerity and authenticity. Employers believe these traits are virtues that outweigh confidence and even experience.
Success is the inherent outcome of authenticity because it embraces an attitude of genuineness and uniqueness reducing the pressure to fit into a particular mold.
Transforming Inauthenticity into Authenticity
If you recognize traits you hold of inauthenticity, how do you transform your thoughts, beliefs, feelings and actions to a place of authenticity?
The first place to start is with an understanding of the Universal Law of Cause and Effect. Unlike laws we create, universal laws are inescapable and deliver back to you the results of whatever you put out to the universe. Marianne Williamson, in her book, Everyday Grace, describes this universal truth the best: “The Law of Cause and Effect is an immutable law of the universe. What we think is what we get, and God will not intervene between our thoughts and their effects.”
Willingness to Take Responsibility
The first and most important step is to take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and actions. Regardless of the onslaught of misleading and negative messages floating around, you still have the power to choose what you think. This is what Marianne Williamson means by “God will not intervene.” God (higher power) gave us free will, which includes the will to choose how you think, feel and behave. This is also why Brené Brown defines authenticity as a conscious “choice”. If you consistently make the conscious choice to live authentically, there will be no need to fake it.
Authenticity is the EFFECT of a conscious choice (CAUSE) to be real.
Living authentically is a process that requires a lot of tough and possibly painful introspection. It also requires practice and dedication. This process is the only guarantee of a successful outcome. The good news, however, is that it is guaranteed. You don’t have to be disingenuous and fake it. Once you consciously choose authenticity, you can then apply it to every aspect of your life.
Final Thoughts- What is Real?
What is real? I could ask this question to a hundred different people on the street and would probably get a hundred different answers. That is because people base reality on their own perceptions. Since perceptions are formed, in large part, by life experiences, and no two people ever experience life in exactly the same way, it is logical to assume that the resulting perceptions will also present variations.
Perceptions are also formed from the conscious mind, which is where the ego exists. From a spirituality perspective, the ego is considered individuated consciousness. It is the human characteristic that, because of its focus on individuation, keeps us under the illusion that we are separate from God (Spirit, Source, the Universe, etc.). The result, or effect, of the perceived separation is fear, which manifests as various other negative emotions such as anger, guilt, and shame.
Love vs. Fear
If we continue with this line of reasoning, then, the source of all our behaviors comes from one of two places. They either come from the ego (fear) or they come from Spirit (love). The only thing that is real is love.
Every thought we think, every feeling we have, and every act we take comes either from a place of love or a place of fear. Which brings us back to authenticity being a conscious choice to show up to the world as who we are. We are love, but when we forget where we came from, and believe we are separate from our source, we show up as fear in all of its manifestations..
God gave us free will–the freedom to make our own choices and decisions. Within every encounter and at every fork in the road, we have the free will to choose a path of love or to choose a path of fear. If we choose love, we are choosing to be real (authentic). If we choose fear, we are choosing to be unreal (living in the illusion of the ego mind). By choosing the “fake it ’til you make it” path, we are choosing to rely on the ego for salvation, which, by it’s very nature, will never occur. By choosing love, we are relinquishing our egos and placing our faith in God. The 12-steps, then, as they were originally intended are completely aligned with what it means to live an authentic life.
Adaptation of the 12 Steps
- We admitted we were powerless over our addiction (Ego mind) – that our lives had become unmanageable. (The result/ effect of our perceived separation from God.)
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (Faith)
- Made a decision (conscious choice) to turn our will and our lives over the care of God as we understood him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (Courage and a willingness to be vulnerable)
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. (Courage)
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. (Choose love over fear)
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. (Faith)
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. (Willingness to be vulnerable)
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible (be vulnerable), except when to do so would injure them or others. (Compassion)
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. (Conscious choice to return to a place of love when we forget who we really are.)
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. (Relinquishing our ego to faith and the power of God- Spiritual practice of authenticity.)
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. (Choosing to be real and live an authentic life through our connection to God (Higher Power))
Coming Full Circle
Early philosophers and psychologists were probably right all along. Authenticity may be too intangible to measure. To be authentic means being real. The only thing that is real is love. God is love.