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Authenticity

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Individuals considered authentic are those who strive to align their actions with their core values and beliefs with the hope of discovering, and then acting in sync with, their true selves. When people act in ways that violate their self-concept, they may experience negative feelings, ranging from mild discomfort to heavy guilt.

What Is Authenticity?

There is debate over whether people actually possess an innate self and need to uncover it, or whether the true self is flexible and determined by the choices people make throughout their lives. Defining and measuring the characteristic has proven challenging, but ongoing research aims to pin down the components of authenticity and discover its connections to self-esteem, goal-achievement, coping skills, and an array of other psychological benefits.

How do researchers define authenticity?

The concept is still debated today, but psychologists Michael Kernis and Brian Goldman developed an Authenticity Inventory in 2000 comprised of four key factors:

1. Self-awareness: Knowledge of and trust in one's own motives, emotions, preferences, and abilities.

2. Unbiased processing: Clarity in evaluating your strengths and your weaknesses without denial or blame.

3. Behavior: Acting in ways congruent with your own values and needs, even at the risk of criticism or rejection.

4. Relational orientation: Close relationships, which inherently require openness and honesty.

How does authenticity change over the lifespan?

The journey toward authenticity is a lifelong process, but certain time periods may elicit more exploration than others. Adolescents and young adults experiment with friends, partners, hobbies, and jobs to identify what feels right for their present and their future. People in middle age may reflect on their identity, evaluating whether the choices they’ve made thus far, such as in their career and relationships, have provided fulfillment.

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How to Be Authentic

Being authentic involves the ability to be introspective and understand what motivates oneself. Such accurate self-knowledge can be a double-edged sword, though, if it reveals uncomfortable truths or weaknesses that one would rather not admit. However, advocates of authenticity argue that in the long run, it’s better to be accurate than biased.

Being authentic can also put a person at odds with their larger peer group if their emerging perspective is an unpopular one. However, authentic people wouldn’t look to others for approval or surrender to the social pressures of what they should or shouldn't do. The validation they derive from following an internal compass is sufficient for their mental well-being.

How do I become a more authentic person?

Developing authenticity is an ongoing process. To begin, reflect on your values. What changes can you make to live in accordance with those values? You can observe yourself objectively (pretend that you’re a fly on the wall or assessing someone else) and observe which actions and choices feel authentic and which do not. Examine belief systems that you developed in childhood or ingrained patterns that no longer serve you—understanding the roots of current beliefs can help you move forward.

What are characteristics of authentic people?

Genuine people share a few key traits. They tend to take time to develop an opinion and speak their mind, respond to internal expectations rather than external ones, and forge a unique path to fulfill their passion and purpose. They aren’t threatened by failure and can admit their faults. They are often less judgmental of others and have strong self-esteem.

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