By Dr. A.J. Drenth
Webster defines the term authentic in the following ways: “Not false or an imitation. Real. Actual. Fully trustworthy in accordance with fact. True to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” In typology circles, the term “authenticity” is commonly associated with INF types. Its connotation is probably closest to the notion of “being oneself,” forgoing facades and pretenses.
It is dubious, however, to restrict the move toward authenticity to INFJs and INFPs. While it may be true that INFs are more conscious of and concerned with authentic self-presentation than other types are, authenticity is more than that. I suggest that all types, whether they consciously realize it or not, are striving for wholeness and authenticity in their own way.
One’s level of personal growth can influence the degree to which he or she is perceived as acting authentically. Individuals in earlier stages, while often presumed to be acting less authentically than those in later stages, could still be viewed as acting authentically for where they are at that point in their development.
If we are not satisfied with this take on authenticity, however, we might suggest that authenticity requires a certain level of conscious wisdom, self-awareness, and personal growth. Since Intuitives are generally more self-aware (especially INs) and concerned with personal growth, it is unsurprising that this view of authenticity is commonly associated with and employed by Intuitives. In this post, I would like to explore and expand upon what I see as the three key elements of this version of authenticity.
1. Know Yourself (& Your Type)
In striving for authenticity, one must first know oneself. This includes a knowledge of one’s strengths, values, desires, and worldview. A thorough knowledge of one’s personality type can also be quite helpful for bringing order to what can otherwise seem a random or messy conglomeration of thoughts, feelings, and values. Typology helps us name, analyze, and increase our awareness of both the conscious (e.g., our dominant function) and less conscious (e.g., our inferior function) parts of ourselves. If we fail to understand the less conscious elements of ourselves, we are prone to live less authentically, that is, to behave in ways that are contrary to our conscious values and objectives. We remain slaves to our own egos, to the insatiable appetites and desires of our inferior function. Only as we become more aware of the source of our vices and weaknesses, that is, of our less conscious personality functions, can we move closer to an authentic and satisfying existence.
2. Become More Conscious in Evaluation & Decision-Making
With adequate self-knowledge in hand, the next step toward authenticity is learning how to wisely evaluate information and make decisions. Here again, an understanding of typology is beneficial. In addition to understanding the workings of each of the four functions that comprise our personality type, it is important to recognize that our personality type is hierarchically structured. The four functions of our type are not intended to have equal say in decision-making; the psyche is not a pure democracy. Since the dominant and, to some extent, the auxiliary function, are the most developed, utilized, and consciously available, they typically function and should function as the primary arbiters and legislators. A Thinking type, for instance, should not make relational decisions based on his Feeling function because a relationship stirs his emotions, nor should a Feeling type rely on Thinking judgments because work seems somehow less emotional than relationships. It’s not that T or F should be barred from having any input, or N and S for that matter, but whichever function is highest in the functional stack should take the lead. Being aware of this functional “pecking order” makes way for decisions that are more conscious, sound and reasonable.
3. Find Courage
As if attaining adequate self-knowledge, self-awareness, and the ability to make decisions consciously was not already difficult enough, acting in full accordance with that knowledge can be even more difficult. This is especially true for certain personality types, such as IN types, whose ideas and convictions are often unconventional and counter-cultural. If one finds herself in an unsatisfying relationship or career and decides she wants out, where does she find the inner resources to act on this conviction. How can she be confident she will be able to overcome potential feelings of guilt, shame, failure, or loneliness.
a. The Importance of Circumstances
Introverts have a strong felt need to make their outer lives congruent with their inner interests and values. This drive to “turn their insides out” compels them to pursue greater authenticity in their work, relationships, and lifestyle. Underlying this drive is the realization that the full benefits of authenticity will remain unavailable so long as one is immersed in circumstances that do not encourage or permit full self-expression. This is why we have such a strong need to find the “right” career and romantic partner. If either our work or relationships asks that we be someone we’re not, frustration and dissatisfaction are all but inevitable. Both Introverted and Perceiving types can be prone to submitting to rather than asserting themselves in unfavorable circumstances. They are prone to compromise, perhaps even acquiesce, for the sake of preserving peace or due to feelings of powerlessness. What they often fail to realize, however, is that doing so may actually be stunting their personal growth and fueling feelings of depression or dissatisfaction. They may not understand that they cannot fool their own subconscious. Attempting to modify their thoughts or perceptions of an unfavorable situation doesn’t make those negative evaluations go away. Instead, such sentiments are merely pushed down into the subconscious mind and will eventually manifest in different ways, such as through nagging feelings of apathy or depression. So instead of constantly compromising or adapting to one’s environment, authenticity demands the courage to say “no,” even when doing so is not easy or popular.
Some types, typically Perceivers, might consider intentional living communities in their quest for greater authenticity. The communal sharing of tasks and goods is not only better for the environment, but can effectively free-up time and resources for the pursuit of one’s innermost passions.
b. Holding Fast to Your Convictions
Another facet of courage involves a willingness to follow one’s own convictions, even if they run contrary to conventions or common sentiments. While many INs are accustomed to manning their own ships, they can sometimes lose confidence in themselves when it comes to life-changing decisions. This may cause them to start seeking answers outside themselves, not realizing that doing so can foster indecision or contribute to inauthentic decisions they will later regret. It is therefore critical for IN types to remember that what is good for everyone else (e.g., ES types) may not be what is best for them. So constantly seeking (or accepting) advice from others (especially from non-INs) is rarely in their best interests.
Holding fast to one’s convictions requires no small amount of willpower. In their article, “Willpower: The Force of Greatness,” Brett and Kate McCay beautifully describe the value and importance of willpower:
Basically, whenever you have a desire to do something that conflicts with your long-term goals and your core values, willpower is the thing that kicks in and tries to keep you on track. The stronger your willpower is, the better chance of making a decision in line with your goals. Willpower is what allows you to choose your path and to persevere in that path despite obstacles, resistance, and weakness.
While it’s true that our unconscious minds lead us to make choices and behave in ways we are not always aware of and that are not always rational, the sway of the unconscious is greater when it comes to our short-term decisions. Willpower acts as an executive force that looks for patterns and sees the connection between our present behavior and our long-term goals, and then makes course corrections to keep us heading in the right direction. Or in other words, willpower is the skipper of our ship; despite wind and waves that push the ship around, the skipper constantly consults his compass and adjusts the rudder so we stay on course.
c. Find Sources of Inspiration
Another great way of kindling courage is reading books about courageous or self-actualizing individuals, especially those of a similar personality type. I have personally found great inspiration in reading books on Darwin, Einstein, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Kant, etc. On my Recommending Reading page, you can find an annotated list of books I have found particularly helpful in my quest for an authentic and well-lived life.