Sure, we all “fake it” from time to time. Whether we’re trying to impress a hiring manager or withholding our opinion about something controversial out of fear of rocking the boat, being less than genuine is often a matter of social survival, notes clinical psychologist Cortney Warren, PhD., author of Lies We Tell Ourselves: The Psychology of Self-Deception. But fake people? Ugh. Those who are fake across the board — in all situations and contexts — that’s a sign something is off. “When someone seems fake, we often feel uneasy because we don’t know who they are, where we stand with them or what we can expect,” says Warren.
In contrast, research shows people who are consistently authentic tend to have higher self-esteem and better-quality relationships. So it stands to reason that when we’re around fake people, we unconsciously feel like we too can’t be ourselves, which can end up sinking our self-worth. Just knowing why fake folks bother us — and that our feelings are completely justified — is the first step to learning how to deal with them.
Here, how to spot and outsmart various types of fake people and how to use authenticity and vulnerability to boost your self-esteem, confidence and create a ripple effect of living in truth.
1. Open a dialogue with a ‘benign’ faker
Not all misleading or less-then-genuine behavior comes from ill intent, and if someone you care about isn’t acting like themselves, consider talking to them about it, encourages Warren. “You could say something like, ‘I noticed when you were talking to X, you said you love cheese pizza, which really surprised me because I know you don’t like it.’ Or, ‘I noticed you weren’t being the person I know you to be.’”
She explains that using “I statements” is less confrontational than opening with the more accusatory: “You…” “They might say, ‘You’re right, I was trying to impress this guy I like, so I said X or Y,’ or they may not even realize they were doing it.”
After you hear their response, you can share with them how it affects your relationship when you perceive them to be a faker. “For example, you might say, ‘I can’t trust you’re going to be the same version of yourself that I know and love.’” Offering feedback in a respectful way like this — and acknowledging how important they are to you — is often enough to give people the “permission” they need to let down their guard and be themselves.
2. Protect your big heart with boundaries
Just as there are “benign fakers” — people who, because of low self-esteem or past trauma, aren’t comfortable being themselves — there are “malignant fakers,” those who may take advantage of your openness but never reciprocate on a deeper level.
“If you’re in a one-sided relationship or friendship, where you’re always the one giving and sharing and they only stick to surface topics or don’t really listen to you, it may be time to set a few boundaries,” says psychotherapist and life coach Annette Nunez, PhD, LMFT. “When I tell clients this, they’re often reluctant to set such limits because they say it makes them feel ‘mean.’” But she insists boundaries are there to protect you. “Fake people are energy vampires, as it’s so draining to deal with dishonesty.”
(Click through to read about how to break free from energy vampires and other negative people in your life.)
You might just say, “I feel uncomfortable” or “I don’t feel heard when you do or say X.” Or just let them know that you need to take a breather from the relationship to tend to your own needs. “It is okay to distance yourself from fake friends to protect your self-worth,” adds Nunez.
3. Outsmart an online faker
When bombarded with the relentless “highlight reels,” or seemingly perfect photos of people’s social media accounts, it’s easy to roll our eyes with the stupidity of it all. Instead, it’s much more helpful to tap into our empathy and blame our culture rather than the people in those curated posts.
“Our society has so many unrealistic expectations for everything from how we should look to what we should own,” says speaker and psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee, PsyD., author of Deviced!: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World. “If you see someone being fake in an online space, it may just be their response to a world saying we must achieve perfection.”
She says kindness is the antidote to the irritation we feel when we see “plastic perfection” on social media. “Before I go online, I remind myself that I’m going to have compassion for myself and others by putting my hand on my heart and identifying something I’m grateful for.” This small act of grace will help you feel more comfortable in your own skin and less emotionally reactive to online posts.
4. Trigger a ‘ripple effect of real’
One of the best ways to counter the smiles and faux perfection of the fake people you see online is to put out into the world as much of the genuine you as you can. “Ask yourself, ‘What is one thing I can do to start changing the landscape online to make it feel more welcoming?’” suggests Dodgen-Magee. “For example, instead of taking 15 photos and curating the best ones, you might challenge yourself and your friends to snap an unfiltered selfie within 2 minutes of getting that prompt and post it. This says it’s okay to be lying down in your pajamas or not have any makeup on — this says it’s okay to be human.’”
5. Get in touch with your authentic self
Often, identifying fake behavior in others helps us discover how to be more genuine ourselves. “What does living your authentic life mean to you?” asks psychotherapist Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, PhD, bestselling author of several books, including Gaslighting and Healing from Toxic Relationships: 10 Essential Steps to Recover from Gaslighting, Narcissism, and Emotional Abuse. “Get in touch with your values and beliefs by focusing on what brings you joy,” and, conversely, “what causes you to feel fake.”
Maybe certain social situations make you nervous and cause you to act less like your true self. “Ask yourself, ‘Am I surrounding myself with people who support my growth?’” Sarkis suggests. After all, being confident in our genuine selves isn’t solely up to us — it takes a “village” of loving connections.
6. Let vulnerability be your superpower
Whether you’re online or in the real world, letting yourself be a bit vulnerable with those you trust the most may be the ultimate answer to a culture that rewards fakeness. “You may just text a friend, letting them know you feel insecure about something and talk about ways to feel better,” says Dodgen-Magee, adding that we can use technology to share our genuine selves and connect more deeply with people.
“Letting your guard down in your small sphere gives your friends and loved ones permission to do the same, which helps create bigger and bigger circles of acceptance.”
Looking for more secrets to boosting your joy? Keep reading:
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