What Does Being Authentic Really Mean?

Joyce Shafer

Joyce L. Shafer

Do you ever judge yourself as not being as authentic as you believe you should be? Do you know why you feel this way? Here’s something to think about.

I was reading about character vs. characterization, and this led me to contemplate what it means to be authentic. When writers craft a novel, they need characters and they need to develop the characters in a way that makes them feel real to readers. This means the writers have to know as much about the characters as possible, from eye color to habits to prime motivation in life. This is called characterization. Character is what is demonstrated when a character faces a challenge. It’s the stuff they’re made of, when push comes to shove. It’s the same for us.

It’s fairly easy to create a characterization, a presentation, of ourselves for others to see. We can let them see whatever we prefer they see. With others, we can pay attention to what they say and do, and even what we intuit about them when we’re with them, which gives us more information beyond what we see. But all of this leads to the question: what is authenticity really about?

What if it’s really about how you feel about yourself? Do you believe that to be truly authentic, you have to spill every bean about yourself to everyone? Do you get to keep anything private and still be authentic? As I pondered these questions, I thought about the fact that the world is peopled with introverts and extroverts. Most people have traits of both, but in their individual quantities. Carolyn Gregoire wrote this in an article for The Huffington Post: “As recently as 2010, the American Psychiatric Association even considered classifying “introverted personality” as a disorder by listing it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), a manual used to diagnose mental illness. But more and more introverts are speaking out about what it really means to be a ‘quiet’ type.”

I have to admit that for a long time I believed that outgoing people were demonstrating the one and only way to be authentic; so because I’m a more quiet type (80% introvert, according to an online test I took), I judged myself as not being as authentic as someone who says, or seems to say, whatever they feel like saying about anything and to anyone. To all you introverts out there, if you’ve been feeling less authentic because you’re a more quiet type or because you feel a certain way and it clashes with what some believe is more “normal” or authentic behavior, you can relax and be yourself. You can gladly laugh at those Facebook poster images that say things like, “Introverts unite—in your separate homes.” You get the joke better than anyone.

Gregoire included a list of 23 signs of an introvert in her article, which I’m going to share here. However, keep in mind that some you might call an extrovert may actually be an introvert or have a good bit of introvert in them, just as introverts have a bit of extrovert in them. You may resonate more with some of what’s listed below than with others—we’re all composites. Here are the 23 signs (my comments are in parentheses):

  1. You find small talk incredibly cumbersome. (It can even make introverts tired and annoyed.)
  2. You go to parties -– but not tomeet people. (Introverts, when they do go to parties, go to see people they know.)
  3. You often feel alone in a crowd. (Introverts don’t like crowds, or like them in small doses.)
  4. Networking makes you feel like a phony. (Introverts prefer deeper conversations that lead to real connection.)
  5. You’ve been called “too intense.” (Introverts prefer deeper thoughts and conversations. They’ll engage in lighter conversations, but only for so long.)
  6. You’re easily distracted. (This refers to an introvert being in an overly-stimulating environment.)
  7. Downtime doesn’t feel unproductive to you. (This is a necessity for introverts. They need it to recharge their batteries. A whole day alone with a good book or some other down-time experience is like heaven to an introvert.)
  8. Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards.
  9. When you get on the subway, you sit at the end of the bench -– not in the middle. (Or prefer end seats wherever you go, for fast getaways, if needed.)
  10. You start to shut down after you’ve been active for too long. (Introverts are often more sprinter types than marathoners, activity-wise.)
  11. You’re in a relationship with an extrovert. (Introverts like to sometimes ride the “waves” with an extrovert. Notice I said “sometimes.” That need for quiet, alone time is always there.)
  12. You’d rather be an expert at one thing than try to do everything. (Introverts like to and need to focus.)
  13. You actively avoid any shows that might involve audience participation. (However if picked, an introvert might get into it, if the participation is brief enough.)
  14. You screen all your calls — even from friends. (Sophia Dembling, author of“The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World,” said, “To me, a ringing phone is like having somebody jump out of a closet and go ‘BOO!'” Introverts prefer to be mentally and energetically ready for phone calls.)
  15. You notice details that others don’t. (Unless an introvert is distracted by an overly-stimulating environment.)
  16. You have a constantly running inner monologue. (Introverts tend to prefer to think before they speak.)
  17. You have low blood pressure. (A scientific study said introverts tend to have lower BP than extroverts do.)
  18. You’ve been called an “old soul” -– since your 20s. (Introverts tend to prefer to think before they speak.)
  19. You don’t feel “high” from your surroundings (like, say, at big parties).

20.You look at the big picture. (Introverts tend to be okay with details and facts, but can also engage abstract concepts, as well.)

21.You’ve been told to “come out of your shell.” (Introverts come out of their shells when they feel like it, thank you. But they keep their shells close by.)

22.You’re a writer. (Some introverts find it easier to communicate through writing; plus, all that time alone to think charges up their creativity.)

23.You alternate between phases of work and solitude, and periods of social activity. (Too much activity can stress and tire an introvert. They know how much socializing, work, and downtime works for them.) 

We cannot all be the same, or some of us aren’t needed. For you extroverts, thank you for what you offer to the world and to introverts who benefit from “just enough” excitement from time to time. For you introverts, did you notice how many of the 23 are about being authentic? So if you were judging yourself, as I was, stop it.

I think it’s more important that you feel authentic than “appear” authentic to others so that you then perceive yourself as authentic. Authenticity comes from within, never from outside of you. Who are you comfortable being in your everyday life? Who are you—what is your true character or nature—when you face challenges? It’s okay to be who you are and it’s okay to discover who that is as life presents changes to and for you. It’s okay to share as much of your authentic self with others as you feel comfortable with. Know thyself. Love thyself. It’s a good practice, one you’ll appreciate.

Practice makes progress.

© Joyce L. Shafer

You are welcome to use this article in your newsletter or on your blog/website as long as you use my complete bio with it.

Joyce L. Shafer is a Life Empowerment Coach dedicated to helping people feel, be, and live their true inner power. She’s author of “I Don’t Want to be Your Guru, But I Have Something to Say” and other books/e-books, and publishes a free weekly online newsletter that offers empowering articles. See all that’s offered by Joyce and on her site at http://stateofappreciation.weebly.com



Joyce L. Shafer is a Life Empowerment Coach dedicated to helping people feel, be, and live their true inner power. She’s author of “I Don’t Want to be Your Guru, But I Have Something to Say” and other books/e-books, and publishes a free weekly online newsletter that offers empowering articles. See all that’s offered by Joyce and on her site at http://stateofappreciation.weebly.com


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