Authenticity in relationships

Relationships are based on agreements, either explicit or implicit. Within each social context you have a certain amount of freedom to determine how you're going to show up. Choosing to relate to others with emotional authenticity to the extent that you can within a social environment lets you connect with others in a more profoundly human way.

Example: locker room talk

An example of a social context is the typical men's gym locker room. Setting aside vulgarity, you could say that the social agreements could be something like this:

  1. You and I are both studs, and
  2. No vulnerability is allowed

Pretty simple, which is part of its appeal: it's easy and comfortable for you and me to talk about sports, our workouts and other impersonal topics. But we're limited in connecting on a deeper level, so if I were experiencing emotional difficulty I wouldn't turn to this social context for support.

A similar set of agreements govern many other environments - and that's not entirely bad: Imagine how disrupted and uncomfortable a work environment could become if I openly discussed my sadness about the death of a loved one, for example.

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graphic of two faces close to each other with compassion themed words in each

The BFF relationship has expanded agreements

With your close friends you have different agreements, which may include:

  1. We're allowed to talk about our fear and sadness, and
  2. We'll try to support each other around fear and sadness

My close friends would certainly be open to me sharing my sadness, for example. But even here there may be limits: with some friends I might not want to talk about feeling inadequate or sharing childhood wounds.

But if I related to my close friends according to the rules of "locker room talk", I'd come across as inauthentic - and my friendships would suffer. 

Your freedom to choose authenticity

Authenticity comes from being the complete person who are you are, not limiting what you show others to the kind of "press release" view of your life in which you're always happy and celebrating good things. To be authentic is to share your vulnerability - to be honest about your fears and sadness.

Within any social context you have some freedom to choose how much vulnerability you want to share. As long as it's reasonable within the social context, sharing your vulnerability makes you more authentic and increases others' trust in you.

What's at risk?

The risk of being vulnerable with others is that you'll be rejected - and rejection hurts, triggering a universal childhood wound. All of us as children had the experience of wanting acceptance and approval from someone, only to feel rejected. So vulnerability is risky, and it's understandable that people limit their vulnerability.

Vulnerability leads to trust

Human nature does a couple of things with trust that deepen human connection. If you're vulnerable with me I perceive you as strong and brave - but more significantly, I come to think of you as someone with whom I can trust my own fears and sadness: I have an increased trust in you. And when people can trust you, your relationships become stronger and your life is full of deeper human connection.

Managing the risk of being authentic

The benefits of stronger, deeper relationships in your life are worth your investment in learning how to be more authentic. It's likely that you'll need to learn how to manage the risk of being authentic, which could include:

  • Practicing awareness of social context rules
  • Developing and practicing self-acceptance
  • Committing to living with increased emotional vulnerability

If you'd like to learn how to be more authentic with others, schedule an introductory call with Jordan Graham today.