The Power of Authenticity

By Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW

Angelo McClain

Authenticity is fundamental to communication, relationships, and real human connections. Now more than ever, individuals, groups and organizations must leverage the power of authenticity to build trust, resolve conflicts, and create unity. Authenticity is the degree to which one’s actions are congruent with their beliefs and desires, despite external pressures. Authenticity begins with self-awareness: knowing your values, emotions and competencies.

To be authentic is to feel true to our sense of values. It is a kind of confidence that comes from knowing deeply we are enough and that we add value to the greater whole of life.

Social work researcher and author Brené Brown defines authenticity as “a collection of choices that we have to make every day.” She imparts five lessons about authenticity:

Let Go of Shame.

We cannot share ourselves with others when we see ourselves as flawed and unworthy. It’s impossible to be ‘real’ when we are ashamed of who we are or what we believe. In her book “I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t),” Brown uses the term “shame resilience” to explain how we should constructively handle feelings of shame that challenge authenticity.

Being Authentic Does Not Mean Baring All.

Healthy vulnerability recognizes when to share and when to remain silent. This helps strike the balance between guarding who you are and expressing it.

Boundaries Support Authenticity.

Setting healthy boundaries involves letting others know what’s OK and what’s not. If you’re uncomfortable with something, tell the person so you can jointly work toward a solution. We must set boundaries to maintain our integrity while also being as compassionate as possible.

We’re All "Should-ing" Ourselves.

Authenticity is threatened by perfectionism and comparison. Society’s contradictory ideas of who we should be make it difficult to be authentic. Brown explains that failing to meet the standard of perfection contributes to feeling shame. In the full title of “The Gifts of Imperfection,” Brown sums up the solution: “Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.”

Authenticity Is Key to Compassion.

Being real with people is not only essential to connection but also to compassion. You have to be kind to yourself first, and then to others.

Authenticity is what gives us freedom to be ourselves and feel comfortable with who we are, and it is also what gives us access to connect with other people in a real and genuine way.

Contact Angelo McClain at

Social Work Advocates

Social Work Advocates
December 2019 / January 2020 Issue