Authenticity is a unique-yet-subtle truth surfacing from deep within. The path to “being authentic” away from empty platitudes is hard. Authenticity doesn’t conform, it doesn’t play by the rules, and will often cause resistance when it conflicts the self-image you’ve carefully constructed over a lifetime.
Each of us has an ego-identity, a way of seeing ourselves and making sense of who we are and our place in the world. Self-actualization is the process of uncovering the truth of who we are and integrating these truths into our personality, to become whole, to live our fullest potential.
As well as inner-resistance, it’s common to face resistance from people we know and love. In my experience, this is even more difficult to navigate, because the default response is to change our behavior to fit the expectations of others. However, your personal growth will upset people.
If we are unable to accept this, our growth will suffer. In this article, I’ll share a few pointers in how to manage this reality, providing background as to why this happens, and how to respond skilfully.
Resistance to the emerging You
When I talk of upset I don’t mean deliberately causing others pain or being disrespectful. The process mirrors the inner-resistance when deeper truths conflict with the ego-identity. Everyone you know has an image of who you are, their own “reality” of you in their mind. It’s human nature to seek certainty and fixed realities, and the same applies to images of the people we know.
Evidence contradicting the image someone has of you can cause confusion or frustration. It’s not personal. Contradictions cause confusion or frustration not because there’s anything wrong with your behavior, but because your behavior is causing a conflict in this person’s reality — their idea of the way the world is, the way you are.
In my article on skilled niceness, I explored how “niceness” is a barrier to authenticity. One example is the people-pleaser saying no after years of saying yes. If people in your life are used to you always saying yes to requests, they might find it difficult to accept a no. If your version of “be authentic” is to decline an invitation or take time for yourself, this might conflict with someone’s expectation of you.
Being authentic shines a light on the mini-agreements we make in relationships, often without realizing. These are habits that form and usually remain unquestioned. When aligning closer to what feels right, resistance might be disappointment, frustration, even anger. On a lighter level, it could manifest as “joking” about how you’ve changed, challenging your decisions, or making comments that sting — such remarks often veil subtle resistance, albeit subconsciously.
Negating the upset
The question is: How do you deal with this skilfully? Firstly, it’s vital to build conviction in your truth. Without conviction we are corruptible. This doesn’t have to be major: we might be carried away with peer pressure or conformity and neglect what feels right. But once self-actualization is underway and conviction builds, incorruptibility won’t last. Truth prevails, even when it hurts.
It hurts because there isn’t an easy way to navigate upsetting others — it’s why so many don’t choose to follow their heart’s desire! If someone you love resists your growth, you have two choices: you conform and suppress your authenticity or you continue to act aligned to your truth and deal with the upset.
“Dealing” with upset varies by situation, circumstances, and relationship dynamics. On one level it’s acknowledging and accepting the resistance and reminding yourself to stay aligned and not be pulled off track. This topic covers those we care for, though, so the understanding is we still wish to nurture and care for these relationships. That’s where communication comes in.
Communicating needs is scary, especially if you’re not used to doing so. Yet in my experience, the fear is mostly mind-made. When expressing boundaries with compassion, those who love you will accept, even if they don’t understand. If you’re met with a lot of resistance, even after communicating openly, then it’s worth assessing the relationship: is there an unconscious “mini-agreement” that you have to behave a certain way to be loved?
This is where things get tough. The path of authenticity is illuminating, and that includes seeing the true nature of certain relationships. It’s not uncommon for close friends to resist your growth, especially if it causes envy. I’ve been on both sides of this dynamic and it’s never easy.
Resistance of this kind doesn’t mean the end of the relationship as long as there is clear communication and those involved acknowledge and adapt. That’s not always the case, though, and some friendships will naturally drift. It’s sad, but if it’s not meant to be, it will create space for things that are more aligned.
The fine line of justification
I wish to note a word of caution about fine-lines and nuances. The first is balancing self-inquiry without completely neglecting others. A healthy dose of selfishness is necessary to grow, but it’s worth always “checking in” to assess if this has become imbalanced.
Finding the sweet spot isn’t easy and will take time: for example, if you are a people pleaser used to always serving others, you might need to experience the extreme side of the selfish spectrum before finding the middle way.
The next fine-line is between communication and justification. Again, it takes time. What I mean by this is, out of respect, it’s thoughtful to communicate with those close to you.
For example, over recent years I’ve made myself much less available socially and will have extended periods with no mobile phone or social media. I could just disappear. But I always choose to inform my family beforehand so they don’t worry.
For you this might look like an honest conversation with a close friend where you say: I’m starting to work on myself right now to live truthfully, and I might change from the person you’re used to. I’m scared but this is something I need to do, and I value you and wish for you to know I love you.
However, be vigilant of over-communicating. Over-communication is justification, and you are not obligated to justify taking time to work on yourself or to live life on your terms. If you choose to communicate compassionately and openly and your choices are scrutinized or called into question regularly, accept that you’ve done all you can and that it’s your loved one’s responsibility to deal with their own discomfort.
A final word
I always smile when I see the term “be authentic” used as a motto for positive thinking. It’s far from a simple act and in reality, authenticity is painful. One of the biggest sources of pain is feeling misunderstood by those you love. Ultimately, relationships that are true and genuine will stand the test of change, and those who support you will value your growth above their own comfort.
Going through this process will make you a better friend, too, because you’ll know the power of being accepted and supported unconditionally, and wish to offer that to others — even when you feel uncomfortable.
So be bold, have courage, be authentic, and if you upset a few people, know it’ll be okay.
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