Here's How To Be Authentic When All You Want To Do Is Fit In

A village raises an authentic individual, says new research.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | August 25, 2022

A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences explains how living authentically is a product of team effort. The research suggests that while you can develop certain aspects of authenticity on your own, external intervention can have immense positive effects on the development of authenticity holistically.

"In a nutshell, authenticity means being true to oneself," states psychologist Petra Kipfelsberger of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.

Kipfelsberger's study defined authenticity along three dimensions:

  1. Self-alienation: This dimension can be illustrated by the subjective experiences of 'being out of touch' with oneself or even 'not knowing oneself'. An individual who has a high level of authenticity typically has a low level of self-alienation.
  2. Authentic living: Authentic living results from behaving in ways which are true to one's core self in most situations. A highly authentic individual would be high on this dimension.
  3. Accepting external influence: This dimension measures the degree to which an individual is driven by and conforms to others' expectations instead of one's own values and beliefs. A highly authentic individual usually ranks low on this dimension.

According to Kipfelsberger and her research, an authentic individual is one who strives for an alignment between the inner self (i.e., cognitions, emotions, values, and beliefs) and its outward expression. This definition implies that individuals may struggle to achieve authentic self-expression in many contexts and roles, such as at work and at home.

The study was conducted with a sample of 170 students that were enrolled in an eight-month career and personal development program to help them develop authenticity during their first year at university.

At the end of the study, the results of the treatment group were compared with those of the control group (who did not go through the program). The study revealed three key findings:

  1. There were differential effects on the three dimensions of authenticity: some authenticity dimensions developed naturally, while others developed through the intervention.
  2. The intervention increased participants' levels of authentic living but did not affect self-alienation.
  3. Acceptance of external influence decreased naturally, but more so with the intervention.

For anyone who might be struggling to live authentically, Kipfelsberger has the following suggestions:

  1. Ask yourself about which factor or behaviors of authenticity you are struggling with. It is important to gain awareness by self-reflection that something in one's life is not as it should or could be.
  2. Differentiate between and 'should' and 'could' thinking. While the 'shoulds' might represent norms and others' expectations, the 'coulds' might symbolize your hidden potential or dreams.

"These questions might allow someone to see the benefits of his or her thoughts and, in the best case, let him or her keep the positive side of self-reflection, doubts, and hesitance while uncovering the hindering factors and potential paralysis included in those thoughts," clarifies Kipfelsberger.

Kipfelsberger's research also has some important takeaways for twenty-somethings:

  1. People who have crossed their twenties might be able to help other young people develop their authenticity by engaging as coaches – that is, asking them good questions, listening to them, and helping them experiment with different options of authentic living.
  2. People in their late twenties and beyond might still struggle to be true to oneself in many situations not because they have had too little (natural or formal) development but rather because authenticity is a lifelong journey.

A full interview with psychologist Petra Kipfelsberger discussing her new research can be found here: Authenticity is made up of these three parts