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 in novel writing, and this led me to contemplate what it means to be authentic. When writers craft a novel, they need characters and 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 in a novel faces a challenge—shows their true colors, as the saying goes. 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 and believe: 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, rather than what you say or do, or how you look? After all, any of us can at anytime say and do things that don’t feel authentic to us but we believe is what is expected of us, or dress a certain way, whether it feels natural or not. Do you believe that to be truly authentic, you have to spill every bean about yourself to everyone? Can you keep anything private or be discerning about who you share what with and still be authentic?
As I pondered these questions, I thought about the fact that the world is peopled with introverts and extroverts. People have traits of both, but in their individual quantities. Carolyn Gregoire wrote the following 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 means to be a ‘quiet’ type.”
I admit that for a long time I believed that outgoing people (extroverts) 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, at any time. 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 (or commercially viable) behavior, you can relax and be yourself. You can gladly laugh at those online 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 as well as some comments about extroverts. Keep in mind that some people you might call an extrovert may actually have a bit or a good bit of introvert in them, just as introverts have a bit or a good bit of extrovert in them. You may resonate more with some of what’s listed below than with others—we’re all composites when it comes to our personality. Here are the 23 signs (my comments are in parentheses):
Sophia Dembling, author of 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 (see No. 1). Plus, when deep in thought, which is often, they don’t respond well to being disturbed. Extroverts love to engage anytime. It’s stimulation that feeds them.)
We cannot all be the same, or some of us aren’t needed. We need extroverts to enliven life and moments and stimulate the energy so it doesn’t go stale. We need introverts to keep things real, to provide the bigger picture, and to calm things down. Life is like a musical composition: We need the notes (extroverts) and the rests between the notes (introverts). If a composition is all rests, there’s no music. If it’s all notes with no rests, there’s no pause to breathe, and performers and listeners alike will pass out or gasp for air. To those of you who are extroverts, thank you for what you offer to the world and to introverts who benefit from “just enough” excitement from time to time. To those of you who are introverts, did you notice how many of the 23 are about being authentic? So if you were comparing yourself to extroverts, as I was, stop it. Both are authentic. Both are needed.
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; but be sure to share it with yourself. Know thyself. Love thyself. It’s a good practice, one you’ll appreciate.
Practice makes progress.
© Joyce L. Shafer
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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