Is There an Authentic Self?

Despite the implied claims in the article mentioned in yesterday’s post, there is no universal agreement among research psychologists about the science of authenticity.

Theories of authenticity are rooted in the work of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. The positive psychology movement launched in the 1990s helped create the framework for authenticity research to take hold.

For my purposes it’s not essential that the theories of authentic self are ultimately proven to be accurate or inaccurate. I’m approaching this as I’d approach any self-actualization gambit. I’m going to behave for a period of time “as if” it’s true.

I don’t know enough about different styles of therapy to say where this concept of acting ‘as if’ is most used, but a quick Google search leads to this page at Positive Pschology News.

According to [Alfred] Adler, “When people have difficulty […] speaking assertively or responding with some measure of empathy, the clinician might encourage them to act “as if” they were assertive or empathic several times a day until the next session. As people begin to act differently and to feel differently, they become different.”

Seems to be roughly the same logic that underlies “fake it until you make it.”

Another key distinction to keep in mind is the difference between “trait” and “state”.

A trait is a long-term aspect of your personality. Openness to experience is an example of a personality trait. There may be moments when you are more (or less) open to new experiences, but if you are measured at random points throughout your life you’ll generally fall in about the same place on the open-to-new-experiences scale.

A state is a short-term experience, a temporary way of being.

I may be really open to new experiences while on vacation (I’m in an open-to-experience state), but mostly throughout my life I avoid new experiences (I typically default to a closed-to-new-experiences trait).

It’s easier to change your states than your traits, so for this exercise I’m only considering the state, not the trait. (Though quite a bit of the research focuses on the trait of the ‘real self’.)

Reading through this research today I was struck by how closely the descriptions of inauthenticity align with my experience of burnout. I’ll unpack that in tomorrow’s post.

If you’d like a more scholarly take on the concepts above, check out this special issue for current research (which includes a critique from Baumeister and a worthwhile article by William Ryan and Richard Ryan).

One of the most disheartening discoveries (for me) while searching through this literature is the frequent use of authenticity research in business management literature. When I read ‘how to become a more authentic manager’ I interpret that as ‘how to better manipulate the workers.’

Tomorrow: Inauthenticity.

(100 Days of Blogging: Post 060 of 100)

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