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Mental Health

Experts Share 4 Proven Ways to Embrace Your Authentic Self and Unleash Joy

Outsmart stress with the true you!

When your friend asks your opinion about her tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship that you wish for her sake were permanently off, you bite your tongue because you don’t want to hurt her feelings. When your neighbor recruits you to babysit her kids at the last minute despite your weekend plans, you plaster on a smile and tell her it’s no problem. While suppressing what you really think and feel seems to be the path of least resistance, little by little, censoring your authentic self chips away at your identity and sends your anxiety soaring. But knowing how to accept it can help you feel happier and more stress free. Keep scrolling for expert tips on how to embrace your authentic self.

What is your authentic self?

“Authenticity is the feeling of being your true self, or the experience of showing on the outside what you feel, think and want on the inside,” explains Christopher Hopwood, PhD, Professor of Personality Psychology at the University of Zurich. “Research shows this is associated with better physical and mental health, deeper relationships, positive emotions and lower stress. There are also consistent positive links with higher self-esteem.”

Dropping the façade we all put up to defend ourselves against the fear of being judged or criticized means cultivating a unique type of inner strength, notes psychologist Kennon M. Sheldon, PhD, author of Freely Determined: How the New Psychology of the Self Teaches Us How to Live. “Authenticity involves the desire to learn and be aware of who we really are, which requires considerable ‘existential courage,’” the willingness to look within and ask challenging questions about our deepest values.

Related: Research: Curiosity Is the Secret to All-Day Happiness — Here’s How to Unleash Yours

Indeed, the more reflective we become, the more likely we are to surprise ourselves with our inner depths. “Welcoming all aspects of who we are, even the facets that we’ve blunted or disregarded, helps shape our lives in ways that enlighten us and make us happier,” adds psychologist Lisa Kentgen, PhD, author of An Intentional Life: Five Foundations of Authenticity and Purpose. “The most satisfying thing to do in this world is to bring our authentic self to it.” Read on for four simple ways to help you honor everything that makes you you so that you can grow stronger, happier and more confident every day.

1. Discover your ‘guiding lights’

When your friend is an hour late to your brunch date yet again, you hide your frustration and tell her it’s okay. But it’s not. You feel taken advantage of, and every time you reassure her, you feel like you’re lying not only to her but also to yourself.

Related: 8 Proven Ways to Unleash the Power of Hopefulness and Spark More Joy

“A version of authenticity is realness, which means being authentic when there is some pressure not to be,” reveals Dr. Hopwood. “For instance, we may avoid revealing our true selves if it could hurt others’ feelings — but ‘being real’ is associated with deeper connections, because most people prefer friends who are honest with them to those who always tell them what they want to hear.”

Contemplative woman on couch

Pinpoint core values

To foster the “realness” that will bring you closer to others and honor your authentic self, pinpoint three core values, encourages Dr. Kentgen. “For example, if honesty, creativity and compassion are your ‘guiding lights,’ ask yourself how they manifest in various aspects of your life: at work, at home and in your relationships,” she says. “Being intentional by focusing on concrete ways to live your values helps you show up for what really matters to you.”

Related: 4 Easy Mind Tricks That Can Help You Perk Up and Let Go of Stress Fast

Just make sure at least one of your guiding lights shines toward you: “One of my core values is loyalty, and after a bad relationship didn’t work out, I realized I was being loyal to everyone else but myself,” she admits. “Through that pain, I learned I have to do what’s best for me and include myself in my circle of loyalty, patience and compassion.”

Even if you can’t implement your values every single day, the mere act of asking yourself which ideals make you feel anchored to your best self instantly makes you feel more authentic and confident in who you are.

2. Foster this kind of bravery

Your weekly team meeting at work is once again marred with gossip when a colleague starts maligning someone in a different department. It’s a form of covert bullying that offends your sense of right and wrong, and while you want to politely urge the gossiper to zip it, you aren’t sure what to say or how to even broach the topic.

Contemplative woman sitting at desk with laptop

Practice existential courage

Standing up for our beliefs builds a fundamental part of authenticity: existential courage, the striving toward self-awareness, notes Dr. Sheldon, who explains that nudging ourselves to take a few risks encourages a growth mindset that gives us invaluable insights into what we’re capable of.

“Ask yourself new questions such as, ‘Who am I, really?’ and ‘What do I truly want and believe in?’” he urges. “Engaging in this process helps your conscious and nonconscious selves become integrated.” In the case of standing up to a bully, for example, you might reflect on why their behavior upsets you so much: it’s possible they affronted a value you weren’t fully aware of, such as your sense of justice. Just knowing this will help build your courage, so that you might decide to tell a coworker that it’s unfair to talk about X, and gently steer them back to a more appropriate topic.

Ultimately, existential courage is driven by our “dissatisfaction with the status quo,” adds Dr. Sheldon. And simply pinpointing ways we can grow helps us become braver, more confident and, yes, more authentic.

3. Savor ‘sage stillness’

After a long day of juggling, jostling and jumping through hoops, you collapse in a heap on your sofa and get ready to do it all over again tomorrow. This go-go-go not only dials up your stress levels, it leaves no room for the quiet time that recharges your batteries and makes you feel like, well, you.

Woman peacefully observing nature on deck
Halfpoint Images/Getty

Embrace serenity

A powerful yet deceptively simple way to reap the benefits of authenticity is to savor serenity, promises Dr. Kentgen. “Taking just a few moments away from devices and electronics to practice stillness, especially in nature, helps us think better and know ourselves more intimately,” she says, adding that simply focusing on the sensation of our feet touching the ground for two minutes triggers greater awareness of the signals our body is sending, known as “somatic wisdom.”

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She advises tuning into both the physical sensations that bring us joy, like a soothing openness in our chest as we breathe deeply, and those that make us feel uncomfortable, like a tightness in our stomach. Such bodily awareness strengthens our intuition, an often-overlooked pillar of authenticity.

In fact, our gut instinct may be our truest, most authentic self. Says Dr. Kentgen, “The goal of practicing stillness is to breathe into the places we feel fear or constriction, so that we can become more compassionate to ourselves and more open to life.”

4. Surround yourself with your team

You’re hosting dinner with extended family when your sister-in-law notes that the pasta sauce needs more salt. It’s a small gripe, but such critical comments have a way of adding up and getting to you, so that you instantly feel apologetic — even though it your response feels false. I just can’t be myself around her, you think. When we self-censor or feel like we have to be someone we’re not, the painful “personality contortionism” that results dials up our stress levels and sinks our self-esteem.

Three women outside smiling
Kevin Dodge/Getty

Find your support

Sometimes it takes a village to cultivate the kind of “realness” that helps you grow and realize your true potential. Though at its heart, authenticity is about the relationship you have with yourself, it’s also empowering to “have a few people who really know you, whom you can really trust, and with whom you can completely be yourself,” confirms Dr. Hopwood.

Indeed, once you discover what really lights you up, it’s important to choose people who celebrate that. “This is where community comes in, the act of surrounding yourself with the people who see and recognize all of your being,” adds Dr. Kentgen, explaining that the other side of that coin may mean creating boundaries around those who drain two of your most important, finite resources: your time and energy. “Authenticity means knowing what matters most to you and being willing to take the risks to honor that — it’s far riskier not being yourself.”

Read on for more about mental well-being:

How To Get Out Of Your Own Way: Psychologists Share The Two Words That Transform Self-Sabotage into Success

30 Journal Prompts That Boost Bliss, Slash  Stress and Ease Anxiety — In Minutes!

Experts Share 6 Ways to Outsmart Fake People — and Trigger a ‘Ripple Effect of Real’

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