I am a BIG fan of authenticity. What a buzz word it is around this earth lately. We can thank Brene Brown for that. Do you know who she is? She is this lovely sounding Texan woman who does research on vulnerability and shame. She talks about building shame resilience - and doing so through authenticity. I love listening to her on podcasts and interviews. I cannot, for the life of me, read her books. I don’t know what it is. They are boring, or long-winded or use language that doesn’t speak to me. I could feel shame in sharing that piece of information with you - I could feel stupid, judged, or shouldn’t I just totally get it since I am a Therapist? Nope. I can’t stand her writing.
*she steps down from her soapbox*
So what does this word that is so fun to say, “authenticity” or /ˌôTHenˈtisədē/, even mean?
Well, according to the trusty Oxford dictionary, it means genuine, a way that faithfully resembles an original, based on facts, accurate or reliable. Being authentic and being vulnerable go hand in hand. I share my messy humanness with you + whilst being vulnerable = being authentic. So - by sharing above that I like Brene Brown’s message, but her books aren’t my jam - I am trusting you won’t hold that against me. Authenticity is realness. Humanness. Messiness. It is not fake, nor pretence nor obligatory.
You know those “friends” that you have that you may have on social media, and you run into them on the street or at the mall and do the ‘ole “we should get together” song and dance when you really have no desire to do so? This is the opposite of authentic. Why can’t we just acknowledge how nice it was to see them for that moment in time and carry on with our lives? Why do we feel the need to indulge in the obligatory social bullshit of planning high tea? If you wanted to do it - you would have already.
How do we even know what is Authentic to us?
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Think of things you like, are drawn to, connect with. Do you want to do it? Say it? Does it make you happy? Have you had thoughts that maybe others have had? If we don’t do/say/think it - does it make us unhappy, uncomfortable or feel “yucky”? So, for example, I love shiny sparkly things - like, love-love. If I could marry sparkle, I would. I would douse myself in glitter like Liberace and Elton John’s imaginary love child if I could.
I used to feel SHAME for this. Rather, I induced feelings of shame towards myself based on society’s cultural expectations of a grown up, professional woman. Plus snide remarks from others don’t help either, amIright?
Not having sparkly, shiny, glittery things in my life, made me sad. It was dull and boring. I actually
FELT the dissonance (or discrepancy...inconsistency) of who I actually was in my soul. Needless to say, it was super shitty. I got over myself and brought back the sparkle.
Beware: Barricades to your own Authenticity
How did I “get over myself”? I stopped caring what others thought, I embraced my own uniqueness, and started saying THANK YOU - to the comments. Or “isn’t it great?” Previously, in my mind I was comparing myself to an imaginary person drummed up by social norms, my experiences and my own expectations of what a person who “has their shit together” looks like. This is why I can say I induced feelings of shame towards myself. Why I got over myself. I am fantastic - but comparing myself to others - imaginary or real - was where it went downhill. Fast.
The second piece of this that threatens one’s ability to be authentic is perfectionism. Perfectionism is really just a defense mechanism. A defense mechanism to protect ourselves against perceived failure, or judgement. If I think that by sharing information about myself with you, I will be judged, or criticized - it lessens my ability to be vulnerable therefore, authentic. Who wants to share things with people if they think they will be made fun of, misunderstood or devalued? We are paralyzed by the fear of the thoughts of others. This perfectionism, which gives the illusion of serving us, really just ensures we filter ourselves to the expectations - real or imagined - of others.
Comparison + Perfectionism = Blocking your Path to Authenticity.
After being in places and spaces where we’ve created, modified, or filtered ourselves so significantly or even over long periods of time we can come to a place where we don’t know who we are. We don’t know what is real, what is fake, or what we want. That is a yucky and dark place. We’ve lost our sparkle. We need to get back to the root of what makes us, Us.
The Secrets to Authenticity
Becoming authentic isn’t a trick or magic, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It really is about self-awareness and self-acceptance. I know what I like and don’t like. I know my values, tolerances, and boundaries. What do you value? What are your boundaries - hell, do you have boundaries? I didn't for a time.
I have done the hard work through my own therapy and insight to develop this. I certainly have not always been like this, nor had this level of comfort in my own skin.
You are brave and courageous. You can feel good, confident and solid in who you are and what you bring to the table. You can accomplish this through your own authenticity. I would love to help you bring back that sparkle.
Amanda Hammond is a Registered Psychotherapist, Certified Addiction Counsellor and Registered Social Service Worker. She has over 17 years of experience and specializes in supporting women, substance use and couples counselling - not in any particular order. While originally from Napanee, she has lived in Kingston, ON for the last 20 years. She loves shiny, sparkly things, insists on mugs that have graphics on both sides and will be late for her own funeral.