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Have you ever gotten the feeling that a person you were friends with or even dating had a hidden agenda, or simply couldn't care less about your thoughts and opinions? Sometimes, discerning between someone who is genuinely nice and someone who is faking it can be as confounding as trying to tell the difference between a work of art and a well-made replica. But thanks to some intel from relationship experts, the former doesn’t have to be.
Heed the following advice about why authenticity is important, common traits of authentic people, how to be more authentic, and 3 signs of fake people to determine which of your relationships is worth investing in, or whether you should start investing in yourself.
Benefits of Being Authentic
"When people talk about fake people, they're usually picking up on a
mismatch between actions and words," says Katy Dimple Manning, LCSW, a Houston-based licensed social worker and therapist. "Being fake is a harsh label to live with, yet we are all fake from time to time and no one is authentic all of the time." That all said, working towards a more authentic self builds trust in oneself, and helps others trust you.
"We are much more likely to trust a genuine person than a fake one because we believe those who are true to themselves are also likely to be truer and more honest with us," writes licensed psychologist Guy Winch, Ph.D., for Psychology Today. And with the prevalence of social media, texting, and the sheer vastness of the internet, personal and professional authenticity has become increasingly important, yet more difficult to judge.
In today's society, Manning suggests that "it is not enough to simply state your opinion, rather to actually honor your own authenticity by supporting your values through tangible action," and adds that how you show up at work matters, too. "I believe authenticity will grow to be more and more valued in the workplace as well. Employers who can't handle employee authenticity will struggle to connect with a population of people who are often asked to say what they think and actually mean it," says Manning.
How to Spot a Fake Person
If you notice any of these signs below, you may be dealing with someone who isn't whom they make themselves out to be at first blush.
- They Seek Attention and Are Quick to Show Off: Being proud of your hard-earned accomplishments is one thing, but showing off all of the time may be a sign of a fake person who places more value on external validation than self-validation. "The most common reason that people pretend to be someone they're not is to get something from people. This is usually admiration or connection or power or control or inclusion or something in that world," says Leigh Louey-Gung, fulfillment coach and founder of LifeOS.
- They’re Only Nice if There’s Something in It for Them: Another sign of a fake person is one who only shows kindness when it benefits them, for similar reasons Louey-Gung mentions in the first point.
- Their Words and Actions Don't Match: A genuine person will do their best to live up to promises and commitments. Conversely, a fake person may talk the talk without walking the walk—they're inconsistent. "With fake people, it’s like you need to carry a clipboard around with you and keep track of what they say so that you can make sense of the constant contradictions," writes Dr. Seth Meyers, licensed clinical psychologist, for an eHarmony blog post.
Psychology of a Fake Person
Experts agree the main reason people present themselves, or act in a way that is incongruent with, their true selves is because they likely didn't feel safe to do so in the past. For example, if someone learned that being emotionally expressive was unacceptable in their household, and was punished in some way for it, this person may armor themselves with stoicism or avoid articulating their true feelings in order to protect themselves. "If the world [or people] can't be trusted then you believe that you have to design your interactions in a manner that keeps you safe," explains Shannon Battle, LCMHS, LCAS, a licensed mental health counselor.
They also agree that people tend to act in a way that conforms to society and other external expectations (rather than our internal compass) to meet the most basic human needs: the need to be accepted, loved, and wanted—which become even more fulfilling when we align thoughts and actions.
Authentic People Have These Traits In Common
On the other hand, authentic people know who they are and what they believe in, and more often than not, answer to themselves rather than to pressures and expectations around them. These people:
- Share Their Truth: Genuine people have a point of view, and aren't afraid to share it. "Genuine people are comfortable presenting their ideas without expecting or needing to convince others they are right," writes Winch.
- View Failure as a Tool: Furthermore, writes Winch, "They view failure as an integral part of their journey, a source of learning, and an enriching experience from which they can grow." In other words, they are willing to be vulnerable. "To be authentic, we must cultivate the courage to be imperfect—and vulnerable. We have to believe that we are fundamentally worthy of love and acceptance, just as we are," writes Brené Brown, a vulnerability and shame researcher, in an article for O, The Oprah Magazine.
- Set Boundaries for Themselves and Others: Authentic people aren't people-pleasers for the sake of wanting (or needing) to be liked. "Being authentic means saying no when you really don't want to do something. But it also means saying yes and trying new things that appeal to you, even when your never-ending to-do list is calling or you're worried about failure," writes Brown.
A good initial step to becoming more authentic is to define your values—what's important to you, what are your core beliefs, and what do they look like in practice?
How to Practice Authenticity
The following, expert recommendations can help you put thought to action immediately. Practice being authentic by:
- Developing and Reevaluating Your Values: Adina Mahalli, MCT, a certified mental health consultant and relationship expert for Maple Holistics, says, "The first step in becoming more authentic to who you really are, starts by defining your values as a person. What do you find important? Can you live your life without these things? What do you need to do to cultivate these qualities or exude these beliefs? Some people will be surprised to discover that their values might not fit neatly into the box that society set up for them."
- Think Before You Speak and Act: "Slow down and consider your actions. If you factor anyone else into your decision making, it is likely that you are not acting authentic but trying to gain acceptance, admiration, or the feeling of importance," says Dr. Courtney Conley, LCPC. "I am talking about posting the Facebook pic of your kids at the playground because you want everyone to think you are the greatest Mom. Or posting that pic when you look great just to collect the compliments of others." Similarly, relationship and trauma expert Orit Krug, M.S., BC-DMT recommends, "The next time you're hanging out with a family member, friend or a partner, take a moment to pause and breathe before responding or sharing something about yourself. In that moment, ask yourself if what you're about to say is really true for you. If not, focus on listening until you can offer something authentic."