chinese_symbols_for_genuine_6414_2_100Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “authentic” as being “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” On, synonyms for “authenticity” include “genuineness,” “truth,” “candor,” “openness,” “integrity” and “sincerity.” In other words, to be authentic is to be true to ourselves, to stand in integrity of who we really are with honesty, openness and sincerity. Yet, for many of us, being open and honest with ourselves doesn’t come naturally. Rather, it requires a conscious choice—and practice!—to speak up lovingly for ourselves, instead of repeating learned mindless suppression of our true selves so that we can fit in.

Most of my life was spent trying to contort myself to be accepted. Even after realizing that authenticity is a top personal value, truly living in a way that fully honors my authentic self hasn’t been that straightforward. To this day, it still takes conscious effort to speak up for myself. It’s partly because I absolutely hate hurting the feelings of others, especially loved ones. Unfortunately, speaking up for myself—however lovingly—does often come with the territory of having to be ok with others’ hurt feelings.

Speaking Up Authentically

Can you relate? Perhaps, let me give you a couple of concrete examples.

Example #1: A friend of mine had been after me for months to get together. She’s a very sweet and thoughtful person. However, we’re in very different places in our lives and spiritual orientation. I’ve come to a point in my life when I’m extremely protective of my precious personal time. I want to be with those who’re on similar frequencies, such that we can enrich each other’s lives. So, the truth is that I didn’t want to spend time with this friend, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I didn’t know how to tell her the truth without hurting her. So, I chose to hide behind the socially acceptable excuse of being busy.

I finally realized that I owed it to her—and to myself—to be honest. So, I made sure I was grounded in love, and sent this friend a carefully crafted letter to explain the above. I apologized for making her feel rejected, no matter how much I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I also made sure she knew that I’ve always appreciated her sweetness and thoughtfulness, and that she needn’t change a thing about herself just because I have different friendship needs. She confirmed that it was a sad note to read, but she appreciated my honesty.

integrityExample #2: This involved a friend who routinely changes and cancels plans at the last minute. For the most part, this didn’t bother me, until it came to my birthday last week. When I heard about all the other things for which she was making time while needing to bump me, I was hurt and angry. That was even though I was quite sure she wasn’t even aware she was hurting my feelings. I recognized she was simply continuing her pattern of trying to fit people into bits of free time here and there. However, I was no longer ok with remaining silent and enabling the continuation of this dynamic between us. I knew I needed to say something, and promptly bumped up against my discomfort of speaking up for myself.

I slept on it before attempting to communicate with her. When I did, I was clear about how I felt and that I knew she didn’t intend to hurt me. I let her know that I was aware of the different demands on her time, but stated clearly that I needed more mindful consideration if she’d like to have a meaningful friendship with me. She responded with a sincere apology and thanking me for giving her the opportunity to see her behavior, so that she could decide to make changes. I accepted her apology and assured her that I love her and that no permanent damage was done. We agreed to wipe the slate clean.

5 Keys to Being Authentic

In both cases, I’m proud of pushing through my lifelong discomfort of hurting others’ feelings by speaking up to honor myself and my needs. In these acts of authenticity, the following elements were key:

  1. I needed to be honest with myself first, before I could speak openly and genuinely.
  2. I needed to be clear about what I’d like as the desired outcome, so that I could communicate it clearly.
  3. I made sure to be grounded in love, before attempting communication. Especially in the second situation, I made sure I slept on it and was able to speak lovingly from my heart, despite still feeling hurt and angry.
  4. I focused on how I felt, careful not to make any suggestion of inadequacy or accusation of wrong doing.
  5. I focused on the issue that bothered me, rather than the person, i.e., misalignment of friendship needs in the first case and desire to be shown more mindful consideration in the second.

In both cases, it was really important for me to be ok with my friends not liking what I said, but that they—and I—could respect me for speaking up, including how I did it. To me, that’s an intrinsic part of being authentic. I felt good about speaking truthfully and lovingly with integrity.

Now, over to you: How do you define authenticity? What do you do to ensure you are authentic? Please share your insights in the comment box below.


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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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Hiten Vyas
Hiten Vyas

Hi Alice,

This was a brilliant article! The examples you shared about how you demonstrated authenticity with both of your friends were amazing and thanks for sharing tips on how we can also do this. I have a friend and I'm in the same situation as you were in your second example. We were once very close. However, recently we've drifted apart. He now only seems to rarely make contact when it suits him.  I'm going to use your 5 steps and contact him. I loved how you explained the importance of being grounded in love when we are authentic.

Thank you.

DrAliceChan moderator

@Hiten Vyas Glad you liked the article and the 5 keys, Hiten! Let me know how it goes with your friend. I experienced the drifting apart phenomenon with a really good friend for many years--until we simply grew apart but still tried to hang onto what was in the past but no longer serving either of us. That required honest and authentic recognition last year. We no longer tried to force the relationship to be what it had outgrown. Instead, we remain friendly to each other while seeing substantially less of one another compared to years ago. When we honor our authenticity, the right thing to do will come.

Samantha_S_Hall 1 Like

Great examples Alice! The examples reminded me of something I read in Melody Beattie's 'Codependent No More' book. (Its been awhile so I can't remember verbatim) She said something along the lines of two co-dependent friends will waste years of their lives doing what they don't want to do just to avoid being honest with one another! 

And you are so right. Being open and honest does not come naturally for many of us.  We've been trained NOT to be! Yet when we tune out and deny our own personal navigation system, we find that we are blown completely off course in life.  The only way to get back on course and headed in a direction that more closely resembles the path we are intended to be on is by overcoming many of those old conditioned co-dependent tendencies and learning to speak our truths in love to one another.  By learning to not say yes when we really  mean no.  Or saying no to our yes's. etc.  

Now that's not to say that there are many times in our lives we must do what we would rather not do because it's a responsibility.  i.e. cleaning toilets.  I hate cleaning toilets. I will never LOVE cleaning toilets.  yet it has to be done. I'm not paying for a housekeeper to do it for me right now, so that task is left to me! haha 

So it's not that we never give in or compromise.  Because sometimes that is required as part of relating, loving, teamwork, etc.  Yet, if we find ourselves doing that all of the time.  We are no longer being true to ourselves or making decisions that ultimately serve our highest good. And we don't serve anyone else in our lives either if we are with people we don't really want to be with anymore.  It insults THEM.  And I don't want anyone in my life who doesn't truly want to be in it either.  

Your 5 keys are spot on!  Loved the list.  Very practical suggestions for tackling some of those sticky places in our lives.

DrAliceChan moderator

@Samantha_S_Hall As always, really appreciate your deep comments, Samantha! Yes, there are times and situations in which we'll need to do what we don't want to do. (Yes, few of us have the luxury of passing on dreaded chores to a housekeeper. :-)) However, it's vital that we don't perpetuate codependent relationships that ultimately don't serve either party. It really does insult them, as you put it. Again, thank you for joining the conversation!

JoyChristin 1 Like

Thank you for choosing to share examples in this message.  Thank you for clearly showing how authenticity shows up in your life.  Honest, clear and grounded in love feels like a wonderful space to create everything from--it is the space I center into, with gratitude, before I begin moving through my day.  This practice invites authenticity into each moment and allows me to feel something that is non-resonant very quickly so that I might gently address it.  Authenticity allows us to feel peace and joy, regardless of external.

A recent example in my life: I have always wanted to attend the local Summer Solstice event, and this year accepted an invitation from friends to join them.  When we arrived, it was very clear we had different intentions--I wanted to watch the parade then enjoy the sunshine and trees and music in the park, they wanted to drown in tequila.  The old me might have tagged along, wishing I was engaging in enriching...this me said we clearly have different intentions, so you enjoy your path, I will enjoy mine and we will meet and return home together.  The added "bonus" is my friend has a convertible and, as I did not drink, I was the one who drove this lovely car down the Pacific Coast Highway on the way home--a rare treat that I very much appreciated.   

DrAliceChan moderator

@JoyChristin Way to honor your authenticity, Joy! Your story reminds me of the vacation I took with my girlfriend the year we both turned 40 as our big celebration. She wanted to check out all the stores, while I wanted to see the scenery. So, we ended up doing our own thing much of the time and just having meals together. It wasn't ideal, but this way we both got to do what we wanted individually. Also love your reminder to ground in authenticity every morning. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom!

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