Authenticity is highly valued: On the whole, we don’t like or trust people who come across as phony and false. Not surprisingly, we avoid such people. We seek friends and colleagues who are authentic.
Authenticity is important, but what exactly do we mean by the term?
Often we judge a person’s authenticity by the passion and commitment they have for what they say and do. For sure, part of being authentic is standing up for what you believe in and speaking the truth as it seems to you, even if it is not what others want to hear.
However, the question is, authentic to what?
People can be committed to and passionate about lots of things, but this by itself is not enough. Authenticity is more than when someone believes in what they say or acts in a way that is consistent with their beliefs.
An inauthentic person is equally able to stand up and say what they truly believe. We ought not to judge authenticity purely by the passion a person has for what they say. The more important part of the authenticity question is to look at the character of the person. What’s behind what they say?
Humanistic psychologists would say that by definition, authentic people possess a number of common characteristics that show they are psychologically mature and fully functioning as human beings. They…
- Have realistic perceptions of reality.
- Are accepting of themselves and of other people.
- Are thoughtful.
- Have a non-hostile sense of humor.
- Are able to express their emotions freely and clearly.
- Are open to learning from their mistakes.
- Understand their motivations.
This is what is means to be true to oneself. And conversely, inauthentic people…
- Are self-deceptive and unrealistic in their perceptions of reality.
- Look to others for approval and to feel valued.
- Are judgemental of other people.
- Do not think things through clearly.
- Have a hostile sense of humor.
- Are unable to express their emotions freely and clearly.
- Are not open to learning from their mistakes.
- Do not understand their motivations.
If behind what a person says and does is a defensive and self-deceptive approach to life, then no matter how passionate and committed they are to a cause, ultimately they are not being true to themselves.
Authenticity is ultimately about those qualities that show healthy non-defensive functioning and psychological maturity. Those are the qualities we need to look for.