I first came across this notion in the work of Carl Rogers when I was doing my training in person centred counselling. Authenticity, or ‘congruence’ or ‘genuineness’ is according to Rogers, and he spoke and wrote from years of experience as a psychological researcher and therapist in the 1960s and 70s, one of the core conditions for growth and change. It must be present in the counsellor and in turn the counsellor communicates that to the client who then grows into their own authenticity. This also reaches into our everyday relationships. If we can be authentic in our day to day relationships, this facilitates authenticity and growth in others too. I have certainly found this in my work with young people. Being ‘real’ is another way of saying it. But what does it actually mean? And how easy or difficult is it to express?
Here is my understanding and experience of it. It’s a knowing, acceptance and even a loving of ourselves so that we feel confident to express all of who we truly are in each moment.
Here’s how it’s challenging. In no particular order…first comes social and familial conditioning, including culture and ancestral patterns. Arguably this is the biggest challenge of all because so many people take what family members, teachers, bosses, colleagues, even so-called friends say and behave towards them for granted as being real and true. The messages we get as children, when we are fist starting out in this life are crucial to this. For example, we are told by a caregiver that anger is not allowed, and we believe this to be true and stop expressing it. Crucially though, we still continue to feel it, because it is part of being human and it is really a signal to us that something is wrong. These messages are incredibly powerful patterns and are passed down the generations through centuries of felt experience. There is a lot of talk just now about limiting beliefs because in order to bring the new world or new story into being we need to move past entities which are untrue. But in order to do that we need to reach the realisation that most if not all of our beliefs are just constructs. The message ‘you will never be good enough’ is just as true as ‘you are a balloon’. This conditioning makes it hard for us to know, accept or love ourselves, so getting to be authentic stays out of reach, along with the joy and freedom that a truly authentic relationship with self and others can bring.
As long as we are caught up in the conditioning, we will struggle to know ourselves. And this is another challenge. How do we know who we ‘truly’ are? Surely I am that which does this and that, thinks this and that, does this or that, believes this or that. No, you are not any of that. It begins with a wake-up call. And each and every one is completely unique. So without listing the infinite number of experiences that we can have which make us wake up to what is really going on…what they all have in common seems to be an irresistable feeling of ‘life has to change. I cannot go on like this.’ And then we might seek help, or we might even realise what we need to do. And what we need to do sounds simple – to get back to who we have always been – but is quite tricky indeed!
Who we always were? We come into this world trusting, with the seeds of our unique potential, and ready to give our unconditional love to all we meet and many of us find the right conditions in which to grow – a family or social environment where love is given unconditionally. Even if we don’t, there is still hope. Many of us later meet helpers or teachers as I see them (and that includes friends, lovers, colleagues, therapists and others) who do give us that. And so we grow like a tree grows, with some branches confidently expressing all they are and others stunted and delayed.
So the overarching challenge to being real and authentic is fundamentally this – we need to know, love and accept ourselves including (and perhaps especially) our imperfections before being authentic even makes sense. A person who is in the thrall of unconscious false beliefs is always holding something back, so authenticity in its fullest sense – that is, ALL we truly are – is impossible.
There is a lot of work to be done, and there is a call to do it now. Our core current lessons are these:
And then, knowing, accepting and loving each other.
And then some more of all of that!
And then throw in bravery, curiosity and creativity and you have a curriculum fit for the soul.