Staying Authentic When Those Around You Are Not

Do you consider yourself a genuine person, not wearing a mask or a fake persona? Most people would rate authenticity as an important requirement for a relationship, even if it is in business, but especially in friendships or romance. Yet, we all know or have met someone we consider to be “fake” or perhaps a “poser”. We can all agree that we don’t like it when we feel people are being inauthentic or pretending to be someone they are not. Usually we feel we can tell if someone is putting on a front, but, to be honest, it isn’t always that obvious and we can sometimes miss the signs or dismiss our intuition. Social media has also increasingly become a way for people to craft their wished-for selves, rather than living their true selves. These days with everyone wearing actual masks due to the pandemic, it can be harder to tell a person’s true self even in person. And with so much interaction moving online – zooming has taken on an entirely new meaning! – it can even tempt the best of us to put on a bit of a persona. But why is it so important to stay true to oneself, and how can we ensure that we are when it feels like so many around us are not? Therapist Teyhou Smyth has some wisdom for us on this today. And if you feel that you are struggling to connect with yourself or display who you really are to those around you, remember that we are here to listen and help you.

It can be challenging to hold onto your authenticity when you are around people who seem fake. Whether it is in a work setting, community interactions or any other social encounter, it can be awkward to know how to respond without compromising your own internal guide. A fake laugh, unreasonably bubbly personality or tone of voice that is incongruous with what is going on can be more than just off-putting, it can influence interactions and really throw us off at times.

Why Does Lack of Authenticity Impact Us

On the surface, it seems as though others lack authenticity or even outright “fake” behaviour shouldn’t impact us much. After all, we’re a pleasantly open “you do you” culture right now, so what does it really matter? However, dealing with inauthentic people very much impacts our own thoughts, feelings and behaviours. We learn a lot about people with the subtle, unspoken cues we receive during conversation. We are hard-wired to pick up on these nuances, which we translate into information that guides our own responses and behaviours. When we are faced with fake behaviour, we don’t necessarily know what to do with it. Without even realising it, our internal interpreters are asking questions like:

  • Are they hiding something?
  • Can I trust them?
  • Do I need to watch my back or be careful what I say?

We are less likely to feel safe enough to be vulnerable with people who are inauthentic, and when we perceive someone isn’t being real with us, we naturally feel guarded around them. All of this is exhausting and far too much work, which is why it is a good idea to have some general guidelines when engaging with someone who seems to be inauthentic.

How to Stay Authentic, Regardless of Others

Even if you are surrounded by people who struggle with it, you can stay true to your genuine-self and stand firm in your authenticity.

Don’t take their difficulty personally;
Dealing with people who seem inauthentic can feel insulting. It can feel as though a fake person is “lying” with their behaviours, which feels uncomfortable.

When people struggle with being authentic, it is usually a reflection of their own relationship with themselves; in short, it has nothing to do with you. There may be some underlying social anxiety, fear of judgment or other reasons for the struggle, none of which is connected to interacting with you specifically.

Think about authenticity as a skill; (Because it really is)
It is easier to put on whatever mask seems fitting for the situation and show the world what you think they want to see. Showing up as yourself, without social masking, is brave, and this is not something that comes easily to some people.
If you have a skill that others struggle with, that has nothing to do with you and it should not minimise your own access to that part of yourself. In fact, someone who struggles with authenticity is likely observing your ability and wishing they could access that level of comfort with themselves and others.

Stay grounded and centred;
If you find yourself veering off course when you are around fake people, set aside some time alone to reconnect with yourself and try some mindfulness exercises. Close your eyes and centre yourself with deep breathing; notice the physical sensations of your body.

Engage with your senses and listen to the sounds of your environment, the colours, smells and how you feel in your mind and body. Allow your face, neck, and shoulders to relax; shake off the pretension that can hang heavy when dealing with fakeness.

Show compassion;
If you are feeling brave, ask the person who is struggling with authenticity a few compassionate questions or comments. This works best if it is a one on one situation, to avoid putting them on the spot or potentially embarrassing them.

When an authentic person invites someone to share vulnerability, it is a powerful invitation and can be emotionally moving at times.

Even asking simple questions such as “how are you, really?” (and taking time to listen!) or offering observations about the person’s strengths can make room for authenticity. This invitation can feel refreshing for people who are not generally able to share true feelings with others. It may be your invitation to share that helps them feel more comfortable being genuine and authentic in that moment and beyond.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website ~ some content may have been modified for the UK/Irish context.]

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