May 3rd, 2024

Authenticity, Values & Unconditional Love

More than anything, we all yearn for being loved for who we are. The most important step anyone can take towards being loved unconditionally is to step into one’s own full authenticity. After all, what is the point of being loved for portraying a persona we are not, hiding behind a mask and displaying a performance we struggle to maintain long term.

Authenticity has been linked to foundations for well-being and I see it as the key requirement for unconditional love for who we are. It is a core component of being a personal leader, of empowering yourself to become the true pilot of your life.

So how to become more authentic?
First of all, we need to become aware of the difference between being authentic and inauthentic and most importantly, we need to know ourselves through our most deeply held core values. These values then guide our actions and decisions, our lives really. We all have our own unique core values but few people know their own values and even fewer are able to articulate them well, let alone live them for others to see and be attracted to. Our steps are:

  1. Unconsciously inauthentic =>
  2. Consciously inauthentic =>
  3. Consciously authentic =>
  4. Unconsciously authentic !!! (this is the goal)

One of the biggest step you can take immediately is to make a commitment to clarify your values, so that you can re-organise your life to live in alignment with them. This isn’t just picking some values from a list or copying somebody else’s values. It requires some commitment to really get to know yourself. IVALYOO has been designed as a 7 step process to help you design your own unique value compass, you can read more about the power of values here. Once you live your true core values, watch how you will attract the attention from people who love you for your real you.
It really is as simple as that!

If you want to think about authenticity more deeply. Below are some deep reflections on being authentic I wrote many years ago in context of my Digital Education Masters at the University of Edinburgh. In your mind replace the word ‘student’ with ‘person’ and you will find a lot of useful inspiration!

Reflections on Authenticity Offline versus Online

From the perspective of student’s self-perception, what does it mean to be authentic online? And how does it differ from being authentic offline? Given the benefits of offline authenticity for increased well-being  (Sheldon 2007) it is interesting to know whether the same is true for authenticity online.  More generally phrased:  Are incentives and consequences to be authentic the same offline and online? How do authentic people (students) behave differently online? Do different online spaces make a difference (social networks versus closed virtual communities)?

One could start from a position to ask what would ever keep us from being authentic if it leads to increased well-being? The answer is another source of well-being: approval by others.  Both offline and online I expect a tension between authenticity and approval, especially if one’s true self is still quite far from one’s ideal self. Ultimately, we want to be approved for our true selves, though, which is why, in the end authenticity trumps external approval.

With a working hypothesis of authenticity being the congruence (Rogers, 1961) of one’s appearance and behaviour with one’s core self, made up of one’s core values, I expect students to appear and behave less authenticly online, for at least the following reasons:

a) a larger, less controllable audience / less privacy control,
b) higher stakes for revealing sensitive information due to audience size and persistence of information online,
c) reduced means to express oneself fully and higher chance to be misunderstood or misinterpreted out of context,
d) ease of re-presenting oneself in a more positive light to gain approval.

If my expectations are confirmed and authenticity is lower online, this might have consequences for student’s well-being in digital education settings, possibly even for their achievement and performance. This would require investigation in how future online spaces can be constructed such that student’s well-being, engagement and performance is enabled rather than discouraged.

How will I answer my questions? How will I determine whether authenticity is lower online versus offline?

In an ideal world, I would find an empirical study that measures authenticity of the same students offline and then again online correlating it with measures of well-being, engagement and performance or attainment – minimizing bias. In absence of such a study I will need to find research into incentives and consequences of authenticity offline and then compare that to separate research into the same aspects online. In absence of studies looking at students specifically, I might also have to accept studies looking at other target groups and then decide whether I can draw conclusions that extend equally to students.

Studies that specifically look at authenticity online might already compare their results to offline settings and therefore seem a good research starting point.

One of the first exciting journal articles I found was Reinecke/Trepte (2014).

Reinecke & Trepte (2014): Authenticity and well-being on social network sites: A two-wave longitudinal study on the effects of online authenticity and the positivity bias in SNS communication

To my great surprise, one of their findings from their empirical research was that authenticity was generally high online (mean of 4.23 out of 5). This was contrary to my expectations, so I had a very close look at how they measured authenticity. They claimed that they used an adapted version of the Integrated Self-Discrepancy Index (ISDI), developed by Hardin & Lakin (2009) as an attempt to integrate ideographic as well as nomothetic notions of self-discrepancy. I felt compelled to familiarize myself with this index to better evaluate what Reinecke & Trepte had done. Different to my working hypothesis, the ISDI does not measure authenticity as congruence of appearance and behaviour with values but as actual self versus a)  ideal self and b) ought self. Although related, neither of these discrepancies describe authenticity adequately. The correct discrepancy to measure authenticity would have had to be between core self (as defined by core values) and actual self as it shows up. This is also confirmed by Nathan White (2011) in his dissertation.  So, sadly, Reinecke & Trepte did not actually measure the type of authenticity I am looking for. 

Furthermore Reinecke & Trepte had not used the originally validated Integrated Social Discrepancy Indicator (ISDI) but chose their own adapted version comparing “profile self” (the “self” portrayed in their profile) on a social network with actual self. It is not mentioned whether such a new inventory has ever been validated previously. In my mind this direct self-reported comparison between a self-created profile self with an actual/real self bears a high risk of respondents embellishing the congruence between their self-created profile and their actual self, in order not to appear false or unauthentic (social desirability bias). My second concern is that I believe profile self is a relatively static construct (people don’t change their profile that often) as opposed to online contributions and updates which are dynamic constructs. As a result it is not ideal for use in a longitudinal study trying to find the impact mutual impact of authenticity, well-being and positive/negative affect. It therefore seems no wonder that Reinecke & Trepte find authenticity not just to be high but also stable across the two points of time in their longitudinal study. Only for those participants who reported negative affect, did the authenticity score decrease- possibly because their negative emotions made them feel quite alienated from their self-created (positive) profile.

Where does this leave me?

I either must disregard Reinecke & Trepte’s findings entirely, or try to re-interpret their empirical results in light of probably inflated authenticity scores.

Given that Self Discrepancy Theory (Hardin & Lakin) predicts discomfort/dejection when actual and ideal self show a large discrepancy, I see it as highly likely, that students would re-present themselves online with an inflated or embellished online self that is closer to their ideal selves and at the same time further alienated from their actual selves offline. Contrary to the impact of inauthenticity offline (leading to lower well-being), the embellishment online (positive inauthenticity) might actually have a positive impact on students’ well-being as a reinterpretation of Reinecke & Trepte results would suggest.

If the ISDI (adapted or not adapted) is not a good measure for authenticity, I need to find a better measure. I see two possible approaches to measure authenticity (online): a) self-reported authenticity, ie. self-assessment of how well online behaviour is aligned with values or b) a separate value clarification for all study participants and then a behaviour tracker and an external assessment how well behaviour matches values. The latter seems infeasible and leaves too many opportunities for misinterpretations. Also, given the positive well-being effects reported by Sheldon 2007, are related to self-perceived authenticity, it is this self-perception we have to study.

I have meanwhile found another inventory to measure authenticity: the authenticity scale suggest by Wood 2008. Reading Nathan White (2011) it seems Wood’s scale is the superior more valid and reliable measure for authenticity. Self-knowledge about one’s true self seems vital.

“Individuals cannot behave according to their true selves if they are not cognizant of their thougths, values and emotions” (White 2011).

Wood’s definition of authenticity includes a sub-scale that takes into account the necessity for conscious awareness of oneself (this would broadly be aligned with Johari’s public and hidden self).

Adapting the learning ladder steps for authenticity would create a step-by-step approach of authenticity like this:

  1. Unconsciously inauthentic =>
  2. Consciously inauthentic =>
  3. Consciously authentic =>
  4. Unconsciously authentic !!! (this is the goal)

What this ladder highlights, is that empirical studies should possibly measure people’s conscious awareness of their values, so that results can be filtered by conscious and non-conscious respondents. Wood’s authenticity scale might offer a suitable subscale.

I leave you with my favourite quote:

It’s never too late to be who you might have been! George Elliott

Clarify Your Values and Start Living Your Authentic Self!