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Living authentically means embodying the truest version of yourself and breaking free from society’s expectations and rules. It’s about honoring your unique values, desires, and identity rather than conforming to what others expect of you. Of course, the concept of authenticity is layered and often conflicts with what we THINK it means.

According to Scientific American, authenticity presents an intriguing paradox. While many of us associate authenticity with living according to our personal values and self-expectations, research reveals that people often feel most authentic when adhering to socially approved and accepted conduct. These accepted behavioral qualities include extroversion, agreeability, social consciousness, and emotional stability.

The Clash Between Your True Self and Society’s Expectations

Consider the scenario where you’re invited to a social gathering.

As an introvert, you might prefer staying in the background rather than mingling with new people. In doing that, you’re being true to yourself, even though expected typical behavior would see engaging actively with others whether you know them or not and whether you are comfortable doing that or not. This example highlights the paradox noted by Scientific American: our sense of authenticity can sometimes be at odds with society’s expectations for our behavior.

Defining Authenticity: A Personal Journey

Authenticity is subjective and will vary significantly from person to person.

Each of us identifies and expresses our authentic qualities differently. To navigate your feelings and potential issues around authenticity, it’s very important to understand how you define authenticity at your core, and how it manifests in your life. Why do our true (authentic) selves often seem at odds with the way society defines authenticity?

Your Best Self vs. Your True/Authentic Self

Society often encourages us to present our “best self.”

This is particularly important when first impressions matter, such as when meeting a partner’s family, attending job interviews or important business meetings, or going on first dates. However, continuously maintaining this “best self” persona—especially if it’s not your authentic self—is neither realistic nor sustainable. Over time, the effort of maintaining this “false face” and ensuring the facade doesn’t slip can wear thin, revealing your true self.

This isn’t always negative. Your true self is wonderful but working to maintain a constant “best self” image, especially when it’s not authentic, is an exhausting endeavor that’s likely to lead to burnout. Authenticity, therefore, doesn’t always align with society’s expectations of agreeability, extroversion, or other socially approved traits.

The Interplay Between Authenticity and Societal Expectations

Sometimes, living authentically aligns with society’s expectations for our behavior and personality, and other times it doesn’t.

Recognizing this interplay is key to understanding why authenticity can feel so complex. Reflecting on whether your current situation aligns with your true self or societal expectations can provide clarity. Where are you behaving in a way that might fit in with society’s expectations of you, but which doesn’t reflect what’s truly in your heart and soul? Have you taken on aspects of a persona that you feel helps you “fit in,” advance, or be celebrated, but which makes you uncomfortable and runs counter to what you really think and what you truly support?

Navigating the Chessboard of Authenticity

Think of the relationship between your true self and what society expects from you as a game board. Sometimes, your true self’s qualities and the ones society THINKS you should express will align perfectly, but often they do not. Understanding this dynamic can help you navigate situations where your authenticity feels challenged.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you in a situation where society’s expectations clash with your true self?
  • Do your true self and society’s expectations align with your current situation and activities?

Recognizing that these alignments and misalignments ebb and flow is essential in engaging with your true self and understanding what authenticity means for you.

The Bottom Line

Authenticity and the true self are multifaceted concepts.

Depending on your life circumstances, authenticity might feel either harmonious or conflicting. Understanding how you define authenticity versus how society defines it can help you navigate these complexities and stay true to yourself.

Recognizing and Expressing Your Dynamic, Intriguing, Vivacious, and Authentic Self

Embrace Your True Self with Confidence

Living authentically is about understanding and embracing the dynamic, intriguing, vivacious, and authentic aspects of your personality. Here are some ways to express these qualities in your life:

  1. Self-Reflection and Journaling: Use journaling to explore and understand your core values and desires. Reflect on moments when you truly felt like your authentic self and identify the personality traits and actions that define your authenticity.
  2. Set Personal Boundaries: Establish boundaries that protect your authentic self from society’s pressures and expectations. Communicate these boundaries clearly to others to maintain your integrity.
  3. Celebrate Your Uniqueness: Embrace and celebrate what makes you unique. Whether it’s a particular talent, perspective, or passion, allow yourself to shine without fear of judgment.
  4. Authentic Interactions: Engage in relationships and social interactions that honor your true self. Surround yourself with people who appreciate and support your authenticity.
  5. Mindful Practice: Practice mindfulness to stay grounded in your true self. Mindfulness helps you remain present and connected to your authentic values and feelings, even in challenging situations.

By recognizing and expressing your dynamic, intriguing, vivacious, and authentic self, you can navigate the complexities of authenticity with confidence and joy.

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About the Author Dianne M Daniels

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and currently residing in Norwich, Connecticut, Dianne M. Daniels' mission is to empower women 50+ to Amplify their Self-Confidence, Deepen their Self-Knowledge, Inspire Creativity, and Glide into the next phase of their lives with the Power of Journaling, Affirmations, and Assessments.

You can learn how to use these time-tested, proven practices to create and manifest the life you want (and deserve) to live.

Dianne is an ordained Unitarian Universalist Minister with a Master of Divinity degree from Starr King School for the Ministry. She's an avid reader, a lover of old houses (she renovated an 1850s vintage Greek Revival home with her family) and has been journaling since the age of 9.

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