The most-quoted regrets people express on their deathbeds are: “I wish I’d had the courage to be true to myself”, “I’d wish I’d had the courage to not live the life others expected me to live,” and “I wanted to express my true feelings but was too afraid.”

I was prompted to write this article by the word “authenticity”. I wanted to reach the reader(s) and present a larger perspective in the hope of helping someone who may be struggling with the question “Who am I?” and narrow the scope for them as they began to define their authentic self

We know that authenticity means being true to oneself. After all, if you can’t be you, then who can you be? But this definition is too narrow and lacks clarity. It especially loses its meaning when people apply it to different contexts, such as jewelry from a different region of the world, food, or one’s personality and behavior.

However, researchers suggest using the word “congruence” to establish the essence of authenticity, which means to be in harmony and in agreement with oneself.  Researchers propose a big-picture view of this word.

When we talk about authenticity (as a noun), we’re talking about an abstract concept; it’s the degree to which a person’s actions align with their beliefs and desires.

“Authentic” is also an adjective meaning to that the origin of a thing is undisputed. If I plant apple seeds in the right environment, I expect to grow an apple tree, not a pear tree. So it is with our character, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs systems. They all should be reliable, genuine, and trustworthy. We all possess these characteristics, and I hope the reader exhibits them.  The old saying “actions speak louder than words” comes to mind. Actions are authentic.

By exploring their findings, these researchers produced a conceptual framework based on four different conceptual meanings of authenticity: Continuity, Consistency, Conformity, and Connection.

The old view of this word authenticity reflected the state of being static. However, researchers now believe that authenticity should be viewed as a four-dimensional conceptual framework. Why? People change over time. They mature and adopt certain narratives in their lives that develop into new belief systems, new ideas about life and growth. In essence, people GROW UP.  These new perspectives become a part of their true self. Just think back to your first boyfriend or girlfriend in first grade. I’m pretty sure your thoughts about them have changed since then.

Continuity refers to growth, which is an important part of authenticity. There is a continuous process to growth and maturity, to developing and aligning oneself with the true “you”. To quote John Maxwell, “Growth is the only guarantee that tomorrow will be better.” It suggests that we are always evolving, ever changing, and maturing at different stages of our lives. Our value system changes, as does our behavior towards things we may not have had patience with years ago. Now we’ve learned the value of being patient people at our place of employment or business, etc. We evolve our attitudes, which changes our beliefs about things.  Furthermore, without saying a word, there’s a congruent relationship with others around you and with those social norms that coincide in a harmonious fashion with the evolving you(self).

The second dimension of authenticity is Consistency, which means that the true (internal) you is aligned with your external representation. What people see on the outside is what you are on the inside. This is based on the values you hold near and dear. There’s a congruent or harmonious relationship between both the internal and external representation of you. Paul Evans, in his song “Authentic Me”, sums up the essence of authenticity: “So, this is who I am, behind the wall/don’t be afraid to let it show”.

The third dimension, Connection, means being true to oneself. It suggests that the people you hang around with all have a strong commonality – the same values, characteristics, beliefs. You see them as you see yourself.  You are almost a carbon copy of those you connect with. When people see this representation you present, they believe you are associated with this group. They think: “Birds of a feather flock together.”

The last conceptual meaning of the word authenticity is Conformity.  This suggests that your true self agrees with the social norms that align with your belief system. You abide by, live by, and accept in a harmonious fashion the by-laws, principles, or practices with those you associate with, the peers, or communities that align with your true self.

 The core theme that makes this authenticity a true representation of you is Congruence. Your outside presentation of self is in a harmonious relationship with all four of these conceptual meanings of authenticity.

The benefits of being authentic and congruent are that we know who we really are, and if you don’t like the true you, then you can change who you are. This is the beauty of continuity in this framework. If you don’t like who you are, you can start on the path towards change. In my March blog, I talked about the Law of the Environment. I love this quote by John Maxwell: “For growth to happen, your environment must be conducive to growth.” If this is not your present situation, “Make it Happen!”

What impedes your progress towards authenticity? Research suggests that it’s often inconsistent behaviors that contradict your belief system. I might discuss this topic in another article or blog. When there’s discord or non-congruency in our lives, our environment, or we accept negative societal norms, our progress towards true alignment with ourselves is impeded. Our disposition will demonstrate the conflict of these inconsistent behaviors both internally and externally.  Mentally, they will stand in our way. Everything we are or want to represent will disagree. This inhibits our true self-expression of who we are (the “authentic me” in the lyrics of Paul Evans). 

We all experience confusion, discord, and madness throughout our lives, and in the people and environments we surround ourselves with.  

So take back control of the authentic you. Regain your self-worth. Stop the negative self-talk, live your full potential in this life. “Let it go/let it show” so the world can see the authentic you.

Dr. D