‚Just be yourself and the rest will fall in place!‘ But what does it mean to ‚just be yourself‘? What is your authentic Self and how can you access and live it?
Why does it seem to be easier for some people to be authentic, while others try everything to just fit in?
You might not yet realize it, but there’s a deeper mechanism behind the ability to be comfortably authentic. Understanding this will give you a completely new perspective on authenticity. You’ll be able to set in motion the processes needed to unleash your authenticity onto the world.
By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll have learned exactly why you are trying to fit in even when you want to be authentic. You will also understand what is needed for your authentic self to emerge fully and how you can live freely expressing yourself!
What does being authentic mean?
Being authentic means, that I’m at peace with myself. In being authentic, there’s no need to hide or cover up my feelings, thoughts, and reactions. I am fine with the way I am navigating the situations I find myself in.
Authenticity means to express a personal view or impulse, no matter what consequences this may have for me. I’m following the way my system functions, directly expressing what is happening within me, in full trust that this is ok.
With Authenticity comes a certain Confidence! It’s not the confidence that comes with great skill or achievement, as it is not connected to something we do. It’s not Coolness either, behind which I can hide and appear confident to others.
This authentic confidence is the knowledge and fundamental experience that ‚I’m ok the way I am!‘
This confidence brings relaxation and serenity into the system of a person. Other people will pick up on this relaxation and be able to relax themselves.
With somebody authentic, you always know what one is at! What I hear from an authentic person overlaps and matches with how I feel the person. This way, authenticity also opens up the possibility for a deeper trust!
Does someone come to your mind, when you read this? Do you know people who are living that way? Are you living your authenticity?
The truth is: Almost nobody is constantly living from their authentic self.
Most people are too preoccupied with fulfilling expectations and social roles, and have no idea of their authentic expression!
We’re all fulfilling expectations from the outside and moving within given social roles. If these roles make me feel bad, restricted, or insecure, I’m not acting from authenticity.
So why do we do this? What’s going on behind the scenes, that makes most people try to fit in? What keeps them from living authentically, even though it has so obviously positive effects?
Fitting in vs. Following your own Calling
We humans are social animals. Because of this fact, we are constantly navigating the tight-rope between our authentic expression (Self) and the secure connection to other human beings (Connection).
When we look at the development of children, we can see that the secure attachment to their parents is essentially necessary for survival! If a child loses this attachment and is left by the parents, it will die. Needing to uphold the secure attachment to the parents is an instinctive knowledge, that all social animals possess.
So for children, anything that threatens this secure attachment is perceived as an existential threat. Even if it is their very own authentic expression that threatens this attachment, children will move away from their authenticity in order to feel safe. They can adapt to the circumstances of the environment and learn that hiding authentic impulses (e.g. crying, getting angry, etc.), creates safety.
We navigate these two poles – Authenticity and Secure Connection – not only as children, but also later in life. It’s no longer experienced at the existential level of survival. But belonging to the group and having secure connections to others still plays an important role in how we live our lives.
The relationship between authenticity and secure connection can be seen as in the following chart:
Different Stages of the Authentic Self
Pre-Personal Stage of Development - Childhood
The development of a child is happening on the pre-rational level of development. There’s no conscious control over what’s happening there. A more instinctive intelligence is in control of the experience of the child.
The authentic expression in this stage is the demanding of the fulfillment of the biological core needs of the child. These needs are security, contact, trust, attention, and attunement, as well as others.
The child shows exactly what it wants. If something it wants is not provided it will start to scream or cry. Young children are very authentic in this sense. Their expression of their needs is completely unfiltered.
On the other side of the Child’s authentic needs is the connection need for secure attachment to the parents.
From the perspective of the child, if anything threatens this secure attachment, it’ll need to go. So even if an authentic impulse is threatening the safety of the connection to the parents, this impulse will be suppressed.
An example: As a child, my biological need for contact is not being fulfilled and I begin to cry. Crying is my way of showing that there’s something off for me: I miss something. My need and the crying are both authentic expressions of my development.
If my parents get angry or even ignore me as a reaction to my crying, I learn that my need and the crying for it is threatening the attachment with my parents. Over time, to make sure that the attachment feels safe, I learn to hide my need and move away from my authentic expression of what I need.
This stage of development is also the phase in life, where developmental trauma can happen. If you’d like to understand more about developmental trauma, you can read this article:
What is Developmental Trauma?
Personal Stage of Development - Adolescence
Later in life, we do not need this secure attachment anymore. We can look after ourselves now, and are able to survive without our parents.
Here, a different kind of safety through connection becomes important. Belonging to a group and social ranking is what becomes most influential at this stage.
To which group do I belong? What status do I have in the social order?
At this stage, our individual experience is shaped a great deal by questions like these!
The other side of the coin is Autonomy as the authentic expression. This authentic expression is mainly concerned with our personal identity: How do I act? How do I want to appear to others? What is my style? With whom do I associate? What do I think about myself and the world?
The tight-rope of belonging and autonomous expression is constantly navigated here. If my belonging to a group (for example the cool kids in school) is threatened through my authentic personal expression, I’m very likely to adapt my expression to secure the belonging.
If there’s no belonging in the first place, I might be way more authentic than the rest of my peers. But I might also learn, that being authentic makes me really lonely.
So our experience with authenticity is shaped again by the degree of safe connection we experience.
Trans-Personal Stage of Development - Adult Potential
On the level of the adult human being, safety through connection finds its expression in intimacy.
Intimacy, as I use it here, means the ability to see others as complex beings with behavioral patterns, inner conflicts, and positive intentions, instead of reducing them onto how they are acting in a single given moment.
At this stage, we are dependent on this intimacy, because we need others to be able to see us in this light as well. If what is happening within us and what moves us is not included in how others see us, there’s no possibility for the authentic expression of this stage to emerge: Self-Actualization!
Self-Actualization means being able to observe my own behavior, feelings, and thoughts and discover the deeper patterns creating these experiences. To honestly share what you are able to observe within you and allow these patterns to be transformed. To witness yourself not as the thoughts, feelings, and reactions, but as the space in which they happen.
This gives you the possibility to relate differently to your whole experience and actualize how you function in the world.
At this stage, another meaning is added to authenticity! I’m able to observe and reflect on my own behavior. This makes it possible to distinguish what behaviors come from adaptive strategies of the past, and which behaviors are coming from the adult you in the here and now.
In a sense, you become able to observe and actualize the inauthenticities of the past!
This very complex topic of trans-personal development cannot be fully covered in a short article like this one. There are gonna be more articles in the future to deepen this fascinating topic!
What does Development have to do with Authenticity?
From the understanding of these deeper, mostly unconscious processes described above, we can draw some interesting conclusions:
Being authentic or trying to fit in is mostly decided unconsciously by how safe you experience your connection to others!
As adults, we can observe and reflect on our behavior. We can recognize the adaptive strategies that have served us in the past and actualize them, so they fit our current situation.
How to become more authentic
Being authentic can be re-learned and trained!
What is needed most for this to become possible, is to train the ability to observe your behavior. We learn to adapt and to forego our authenticity so early in our lives. Because of this, it’s possible that you do not even notice when you are hiding your authenticity in your daily life.
With Circling we can create the ideal environment to consciously explore your own behavior. And the practice makes it possible to directly experience what impact you have on other people when you show up authentically!
More about Circling: What is Circling? Finding your Authentic Self
Your authentic reaction and being are always there! Under the adaptive strategies you learned in order to secure the attachment or belonging, there’s always the original authentic impulse!
Therefore it’s always possible to get back to your authentic impulse and place it back in the center of your experience.
At the same time, we want to include all the learned patterns of adaptation. We want to recognize, appreciate and integrate them! These strategies have been incredibly intelligent adaptations to the circumstances you had to deal with.
This is what makes more authenticity possible:
1. The ability to observe your own experience - reactions, feelings, thoughts, attitudes
Training your mindfulness and observing your own experience, will allow you to distinguish your authentic being from adaptive strategies. You get more space around your reactions so that you can hold both your authentic reaction and the adaptive patterns at the same time.
When you openly share your experience with other people, you can explore how your internal happenings are impacting them.
The connection with others can become a mirror for your inner processes.
Honestly sharing the experience you have with others. Hearing others share the experience they have with you. Without trying to change, hide, or enhance anything. Just stating what really is.
This opens up the possibility of intimacy. Intimacy makes possible a safe connection on the trans-personal level. You become able to see through the layers of adaptations and for the first time consciously decide how you want to act in the given situation.
In Circling, we have the principles ‚Staying at the level of sensations‘, ‚Commitment to Connection‘ and ‚Owning your experience‘ to capture the understanding for this step towards authenticity.
You can try out these 3 amazing and easy Mindfulness-Exercises! Train your ability to observe your experience! 3 Best Mindfulness Exercises for Groups and Couples
2. Having the courage to show up vulnerably
Your authentic expression can be very exposing or vulnerable. Maybe you have an opinion about a topic, that none of your peers share. Or you feel like crying and are ashamed of this vulnerability. Still showing up with your opinion or your sadness needs courage.
Even in a space like Circling, where the authentic expression is explicitly invited and a safe connection can be experienced, a certain effort is needed to show up exactly as you are.
You step into new, unknown territory. You don’t know yet, how the people around you will react. You cannot yet know what you will do with the situation. There’s a certain amount of trust needed to step into this experience.
It gets easier every time you do it!
3. Staying with your truth, even if it's uncomfortable
At first, sticking with your inner truth may be confusing and uncomfortable. The people around you may be used to you behaving a certain way. You are probably used to acting a certain way.
When you start to observe your behavior and try out new ways of being, there’s often a time of upset in your inner system as well as in the relationships around you.
This is normal since the connections have to recalibrate to your new, more authentic way of being.
But this can also pose a real challenge if you do not understand what is going on.
This recalibration can often seem like people are actively fighting your change and cling to the known and comfortable. If you do not understand this as a normal part of the process of growing more authentic, you might take this as another clue that signals ‘being authentic threatens the connection to others’.
This has to be carefully navigated. And at the same time: Relationships and other people can often deal with way more than we think they can!
So just stick with your integrity and keep your eyes out for new ways of being that become possible in connection with others!
4. Realizing where the Adaptation was life-saving and getting proper support
Sometimes, the adaptive strategies we learned in the past were life-saving. Suppressing our needs and feelings was the only thing we could do to secure the attachment. This experience is often stuck in our system. Our body and mind still think it’s necessary to hide our authenticity, or else we are in mortal danger.
When we have places like this in our system, they mostly cannot be resolved using willpower or cognitive understanding.
Here we need different tools. Circling as a safe space can shine a light on these places in our experience. To work with deep-seated adaptive strategies, a therapy setting is often the most effective.
The Benefits of Authenticity
Through authenticity, you build a deeper connection with yourself. This is an interaction between authenticity and self-connection. Authenticity can be a result of you getting to know and understand yourself better. By building a better relationship with your internal experience you allow for more of your authentic reactions to be seen.
At the same time, practicing expressing yourself authentically in safe environments allows for a deepening connection with yourself. Through the authentic expression, ever more material from your unconscious can come up and be brought into the light.
We cannot say if authenticity or more self-connection is coming first. Both are positively influencing each other.
Authenticity and Self-Confidence is a virtuous circle. If there’s one quality, the other becomes more easily accessible and vice-versa.
Being authentic creates relaxation in your system, which affects the people surrounding you positively. As a result, your peers will react more positively towards you. The positive feedback gives a new reference and allows you to be even more authentic.
Clarity and Orientation in your Life
Being authentic means being connected with your inner values. When you show up authentically, you are making your integrity visible in the world. And in doing so, you are connected to your own personal needs, wishes and goals.
Through the positive self-connection that comes with authenticity, you can go for your needs and goals, without having to hide them or fulfill them indirectly.
In other words: You know exactly what you need and want, and you can name this and stand behind it!
Real Contact and deep Friendship
Because one knows where you stand, it’s very easy to see if a relationship is working or not.
Instead of meeting through social roles and norms and moving only on the surface of the connection, one can directly come into an honest exchange with you. And either this exchange is working for both of you, or it isn’t. Both are ok!
There’s no need to pretend or hide anything. When the connection is working in this honest and direct way, real trust can grow between two people. Deep Friendship and real contact become possible!
The Freedom to be yourself
Authenticity is the freedom to be yourself!
When your body system is learning to allow your authentic expression again and you receive positive feedback for your integrity, honesty, and directness, you are well on the way to the virtuous circle of personal freedom.
In this authentic alignment, reaching your goals and fulfilling your needs becomes easier and easier.
And at the same time, your relationships deepen and nourishing contact with others becomes possible! And this realization starts to sink into your experience: That you are exactly right the way you are! With all your weirdness and quirks! You’re already ok, and always developing and growing at the same time!
I’d love to see you there!
Do you have questions, ideas, opinions? Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think!