An Introduction to Authentic Living

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This is the first in a series of posts about authentic living. The following posts will cover different aspects of our lives, including our emotional world, relationships, work, and lifestyle. I want to begin by talking about what authenticity is, and why it's  so important.

Authenticity in a nutshell

If you look up "authentic" in a dictionary, you'll find several definitions, including "real", "genuine", "not false or copied" and "free from pretense".Another meaning of authenticity is around credibility  - when something is authentic, it's the real deal and therefore more credible. We'll come back to this in a later post.The philosophical definition of authenticity is: "the degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures."There are four important parts to that sentence:

1. Being true to our own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures.

Being true to ourselves means respecting and accepting our feelings, thoughts, reactions, spirit and character. Without self-acceptance and respect, we cannot be authentic with ourselves, let alone with others.You know when someone puts you down, ridicules something you say, or dismisses your feelings? The more that person responds to you in that way, the less likely you are to be yourself around them. In those situations, we become guarded, evaluate everything we want to say before saying it judge its acceptability, and present a watered-down version of our real selves.The same thing happens when we're not tolerant, accepting or respectful of our own personality, spirit, or character. Thoughts and feelings that we don't think are 'acceptable' are quashed, dismissed, and repressed. We start criticising ourselves for thinking or acting a certain way, and because we're criticising ourselves, we think other people are going to criticise us too. So once again, we end up presenting a watered-down version of ourselves to the world. We only show the parts of us we think will be received by others.When we can experience our thoughts and feelings (comfortable and uncomfortable) with acceptance and respect, when we know what our values are, when we know what kind of standards we want to live up to, we are more likely to be ourselves with others.Authentic living means developing our awareness of our real-time thoughts, feelings and judgements, noticing where they come from, and respecting our experience.

2. Being true to our own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures.

This means living our life, not someone else's. We hear a lot about what we should be doing, and this can shift the focus from what we want to be doing for our own happiness and comfort, to what other people want us to do for theirs.Authentic living means being aware of the difference between these two sources, examining our decisions and assumptions in life, and exploring how we want to make the most of our time.

3. Being true to our own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures.

No one has a cut and dry, black and white personality. We are all multi-faceted shades of grey. One of the challenges of authentic living is recognising that we are constantly in process, constantly developing, growing, shifting and changing. We are not set in stone, and sometimes we might surprise ourselves.Often, our beliefs about ourselves distort who we think we are, when the reality is quite different. These beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies, and the parts of our personality affected by these beliefs become even more rejected and distorted.Living authentically means uncovering these beliefs, examining their validity, and releasing those parts of ourselves that we have locked away.

4. Being true to our own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures.

Depending on where you grew up and currently live, you probably have a very specific idea of what 'living' should look like. As we talked about in number 2, we're constantly under a barrage of overt and subliminal "should"s from society and the people around us.Separating out our own values from those we've internalised from other people is the first step. Afterwards, we might find that we come under external pressure to discard our own values, and keep living by other people's.Living authentically means having the courage to stand up for your values, and the integrity to create the life you want, even in the face of criticism, hostility or non-acceptance from others. This isn't easy, but would you rather live under shadows, or in freedom?Over the next few posts, we'll talk about how authentic living affects different areas of our lives. I'm looking forward to it!What does authentic living mean to you? 

Photo Credit: ilkerender via Compfight cc