Authenticity – What Is It And Do I Want It?

help with identity crisis brightonAuthenticity is a term that is often bandied around by counsellors and psychotherapists as something worth having. But just what does it mean in the context of counselling and psychotherapy and what are the implications of trying to get it?
For me, authenticity involves being true to one’s own beliefs, values and feelings. It is about acting as one’s own person rather than following conventions and cultural norms that may on the one hand feel comfortable and safe but on the other may ultimately hold us back in life. Another interpretation which appeals to me is authenticity as the ability to respond to a situation or to feelings in ways that are relevant to what is happening right now – rather than from a position which is clouded by previous negative experiences or difficult feelings that have not been successfully processed (‘unfinished business’). Examples of unfinished business include a failure to adequately grieve for someone close to us or the suppression of anger when it is perceived to be forbidden within the family, society or culture. Such unresolved feelings may then leak out into areas of our lives where they don’t belong – e.g. an inability to have fun, our physical health, or anger that is directed at the wrong person.
I believe that most of us are inauthentic at least some of the time. We tell people what we think they want to hear in order to fit in; we toe the line even if this means going against our principles; we avoid exploring our own behaviour and its impact on others. Sometimes this might be appropriate; if we all went around being authentic all of the time I could imagine situations where it becomes impossible to work together or co-operate for the greater good. Having said that, examining the assumptions we might have made about how to live our lives might well throw up incidences where responding in an inauthentic way is holding us back – making us miserable and spoiling relationships with others.
Counselling or psychotherapy can help us move towards living a more authentic life. We can explore what is going on, process any unfinished business and experiment safely with new responses to feelings and situations. Being more authentic does not mean that we will never feel sad or angry. What it will hopefully mean is that we will be able to express our emotions at the appropriate time, to the appropriate person and at the appropriate intensity – i.e. the display of feelings will fit the current situation. This is also much easier for other people to deal with since expressions of emotion that are out of proportion to the current situation can be confusing or upsetting for the person on the receiving end. As such, working towards the authentic expression of feelings is particularly helpful for people struggling with relationship difficulties.
Personally, I think it takes a lot of effort and courage to work towards living a more authentic life but that the rewards – in terms of increased confidence and stability for oneself and for those around us – can be very great indeed.
Copyright: Caroline Clarke, Registered psychotherapist and counsellor in Brighton and Hove.
Image courtesy of Idea go at

Comments are closed