Being your authentic self can provide a host of well-being benefits. Practicing self-awareness, being intentional, and vulnerability can help you live an authentic life.
We often hear the term ‘being authentic’ bandied about, especially in terms of social media — where it’s easy to (quite literally) filter out the parts of ourselves and lives that we’re not so keen on.
Others may try to ‘people please’ and inadvertently end up changing elements of themselves in an attempt to make others happy.
But not living authentically can impact your mental and physical well-being in the long term. So what does authenticity involve, and how can we achieve it?
“Living authentically suggests that you’re being your true self in relationships — that you’re acting, behaving, and feeling in ways that reflect your values and internal states,” reveals Sally Theran, PhD, an associate professor in the psychology department at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
Zahara Williams, a licensed clinical social worker and co-founder of Ivory Park counseling therapy services in Texas, agrees that authenticity occurs when you put more focus on being yourself and not a version that others expect.
“The path to living authentically begins when you decide to embrace the journey of self-awareness, intention, and being free from the notion that others have to agree or approve of the choices you make,” she says.
Williams states that authenticity involves:
- being in tune with your values and passions
- being fulfilled
- navigating life with purpose
- prioritizing what brings you peace
- having tenacity and flexibility
But being authentic to yourself doesn’t mean shutting yourself off entirely to others’ opinions or advice.
“It’s a delicate balance between being open to constructive feedback to help achieve growth, but not allowing it to dictate one’s perception of self, their abilities, or the possibilities that may exist beyond what others can see,” Williams notes.
It’s also important to recognize, states Theran, that it may be easier to be more authentic around some people than others.
“Mine and others’ research suggests that you may be more or less authentic in different relationships,” she says.
For example, Theran continues, “you may be your true self and very authentic with your best friend, but may not be as comfortable sharing your true self with people you aren’t as close to.”
Williams says that living more authentically takes effort, and “the process…involves a degree of patience.” But you can implement steps in your everyday life to start working toward this state of being.
1. Embrace silence
There’s so much going on in our lives, and different perspectives come at us from multiple angles. So it can be easy to lose track of what makes you, you, and get swept along with the crowd.
But setting aside quiet time to be with your thoughts can help you get back to your roots and recognize what’s important to you. As Williams explains: “Muting the noise can be a great way to connect with yourself and gain clarity about your path.”
2. Be self-aware
“When you’re talking to someone you care about, check in with yourself,” suggests Theran. “Are you glossing over what’s happening in your life? Or are you really communicating and being true to yourself?”
If you’re putting on a ‘front’ or not saying how you truly feel, consider what you could say instead. Also, take a moment to consider why you aren’t being totally honest.
3. Seek therapy
As Theran explains, “being authentic is a complicated process.” If you’ve been changing your behaviors or feelings to try and align with others, it can be hard to pick out what makes the real you.
“If you’re someone who struggles with being or knowing your true self, therapy could be helpful,” Theran continues.
4. Learn to be vulnerable
Sometimes, we don’t show our authentic selves because we’re afraid to be vulnerable. “For some people, it can be hard or scary to open yourself up,” states Theran. However, she continues, “that vulnerability can be rewarding. It can be a risk that’s worth taking.”
If you feel safer with some people than others, try letting your walls down with them first. Receiving positive reactions could give you the confidence to be your authentic self more often.
5. Be intentional
Really consider “what and who you invest your time in,” suggests Williams.
Do particular individuals or activities “align with your core values,” she asks, or are you making a commitment to them “based on external expectations?”
If you put on a ‘front’ or fake enjoyment when engaging with particular friends or activities, consider why you do so — and if there’s anything you could change to be more yourself.
6. Ask questions
It’s easier to be authentic when you genuinely feel connected with someone. Try to take the time to truly get to know them and help them better understand you.
“In relationships, ask questions,” Theran recommends. “Try to move beyond the surface and make significant connections with people around you.”
5 quotes about authenticity
- “No legacy is so rich as honesty.” — William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well
- “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” — E.E. Cummings
- “Be yourself — not the idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.” — Henry David Thoreau
- “The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don’t let them put you in that position.” — Leo Buscaglia
- “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” — Carl Jung
Research has explored the role of authenticity in many areas of mental well-being and found that the two are closely related. For instance, studies suggest being your authentic self can:
- reduce symptoms of depression
- improve happiness
- aid in relieving stress
- increase self-esteem
- boost job satisfaction
- reduce anxiety about death
- lower risk of social anxiety disorder
- enhance relationships
Williams states that suppressing your true self and “disregarding one’s own needs and desires” can also lead to various physical health impacts. These include:
- sleep disturbances
- chronic pain
- gastrointestinal issues
“When you make the choice to choose a life beyond autopilot, the potential for overall wellness and healthier connections increases substantially,” Williams notes.
Authenticity in adolescents
Being authentic isn’t only for adults: it’s also a vital quality during adolescence.
Before puberty, “most kids can’t really understand or articulate that they have different selves, or might be anyone other than their true self,” shares Theran. But, after this time, “authenticity is critical.”
It may be a while ago for some of us to remember well, but our teenage years were a crucial time of self-discovery. “Teenagers may not be sure who they are, and during this time, it’s really important for them to continue to tap into their true self,” Theran notes.
The process might involve “trying on different identities,” she continues — but the reward is great.
- have more positive views of themselves
- are less lonely at school
- are more satisfied with their friendships
Authenticity in adolescents has also been linked to lower levels of depression, according to Theran’s 2022 research.
Being authentic involves being true to yourself in your relationships and everyday activities and not putting on a ‘front’ to be more socially accepted.
But levels of authenticity can vary between relationships — you might be more willing to show more of your true self with your best friend than with your boss, for example.
Living authentically may provide plenty of mental health benefits, from improved happiness and self-esteem to reduced depression and anxiety.
It’s important to remember that “there’s no quick or immediate fix to being more authentic!” says Theran. With plenty of patience and self-awareness, there’s no reason why you can’t start — and succeed — in your journey.