Have you ever had the feeling that a friend (or partner) has a hidden agenda, or doesn't care about your feelings? Recognizing a genuine friend versus someone who's faking it can be as difficult as seeing the difference between an original work of art and a well-made replica. Sometimes, even without words, it feels like our friends don't actually like us.
On top of breaking trust, fake friends can make us question ourselves and our abilities to choose the right people. With the prevalence of social media, texting, and dating apps in today's world, personal authenticity has become increasingly important—but more difficult to judge. If you know something's wrong but can't put your finger on it, you're not alone. Thanks to tips from relationship experts, we can all learn how to tell which friends are worth investing in.
Below, read on to learn three traits of fake people to watch out for in your relationships.
Being Nice for Personal Gain
Fake people are more likely to motivate their actions by what will benefit them—not by what they believe is right. While genuine people tend to follow their own internal compass, others are more concerned about what they have to gain. "These people often wonder what the best way is to accomplish their goals without caring so much about the other person. They’ll turn on the charm towards others, but ultimately, it’s only because they hope to achieve some kind of personal gain," says mental health author Jennifer Lea Reynolds. These tendencies are commonly linked with narcissistic people, and are usually a means for them to establish control.
These people often wonder what the best way is to accomplish their goals without caring so much about the other person.
People who lack authenticity might seek attention or are quick to show off. This may be a means to protect themselves: If they learned in childhood that their emotions would be discounted, they could seek the approval of others in unhealthy ways to replace it. Being proud of your hard-earned accomplishments is one thing, but showing off regularly may be a sign of a fake person who places more value on external validation than self-validation. "Other examples include excessive kindness to gain support, such as someone who flatters their boss with the hope of having their project recognized or getting a promotion," says Reynolds. She notes that this type of flattery or over-the-top kindness can also be seen in the dating world when trying to impress a potential partner.
Words and Actions Don't Match
Fake people tend to act in ways that conform to society and other external expectations. Fulfilling basic human needs—to be accepted, loved, and wanted—is harder when thoughts and actions aren't aligned. An ingenuine person may talk the talk without walking the walk, and be inconsistent between their expressions and their actions. Whether in commitments or details about their lives, the things they say don't add up to reality. "To keep up a facade, a pretender must make up things as [they] go. While plenty of people use white lies to get along socially—which I do not recommend—a pretender uses inconsistencies or blatant lies to get an advantage," says expert Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D. "Pretenders do not only tell lies, but they also embody them. They might say they are rational, but act erratically and instinctively. They do not display competence, but talk about it all the time."
Traits of Authentic People
On the other hand, authentic people know who they are and what they believe in; more often than not, they answer to themselves rather than to pressures or expectations around them. Being genuine in your relationships has more to do with how you feel about yourself—and less with your thoughts about others. Below, find a few traits that authentic people share in common.
Using Morals as a Guide
Authentic people are more in tune with their own intuition. Rather than judging the right move in a situation by what others expect from them, they're more likely to follow their own values. "The more authentic you are, the more likely you [are] to be following your own path in life," says expert Stephen Joseph, Ph.D. Free to understand their own goals and motivations, Joseph says that genuine people are less likely to bother with those who don't have their best interest in mind. "You want to be appreciated and valued for who you are, not for who someone else wants you to be. And, in turn, you want to be able to offer the same genuine relationship to others."
A good 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?
Admitting Their Faults
Authentic people are also skilled at developing deeper and more meaningful relationships by being honest about their experiences. Backed by a strong sense of self-esteem, licensed psychologist Guy Winch, Ph.D., says, they're able to admit their faults and are less judgmental of others. "Genuine people are likely to recognize their faults and shortcomings, to accept them, and to take responsibility for their actions as a result. Indeed, their general ability to own their faults, mistakes, and failures extends beyond how they see themselves," Winch says. Failure is seen as a tool to grow, and a source of learning to enrich their futures.
Sharing Their Truth
Authentic people aren't people-pleasers for the sake of wanting (or needing) to be liked. "Genuine people take time to figure out their own opinions and perspectives about things, and they are not shy about sharing their thought-out opinions with others," says Winch. He notes another important part of the equation: They're able to share opinions without needing to convince others that they're right. "Genuine people spend time [exploring] their own beliefs, ideals, standards, and expectations because they rely on the answers to these questions to give them direction and purpose in life…Being guided by an internal compass means not having to follow the conventional or typical routes others take to achieve their goals," Winch says.
To practice authenticity in your life, be mindful of the words you say and how they'll be received by other people. Think before you speak: If you find yourself sharing things that aren't true for you, try taking a step back to listen to others first. It's also important to develop (or reevaluate) your own values. Finding your sense of self is a key component of being genuine, and by knowing who you are, you'll be able to reflect that toward others.
For those that aren't sure where to start, Joseph has a piece of advice to remember along the way: "It can be a long journey, but like the old Chinese proverb says, 'The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.'"