Do you ever judge yourself as not being as authentic as you believe you should be? Do you know why you feel this way? Here’s something to think about.

I was reading about character vs. characterization in novel writing, and this led me to contemplate what it means to be authentic. When writers craft a novel, they need characters and need to develop the characters in a way that makes them feel real to readers. This means the writers have to know as much about the characters as possible, from eye color to habits to prime motivation in life. This is called characterization. Character is what is demonstrated when a character in a novel faces a challenge—shows their true colors, as the saying goes. It’s the stuff they’re made of, when push comes to shove. It’s the same for us.

It’s fairly easy to create a characterization, a presentation, of ourselves for others to see and believe: we can let them see whatever we prefer they see. With others, we can pay attention to what they say and do, and even what we intuit about them when we’re with them, which gives us more information beyond what we see. But all of this leads to the question: what is authenticity really about?

What if it’s really about how you feel about yourself, rather than what you say or do, or how you look? After all, any of us can at anytime say and do things that don’t feel authentic to us but we believe is what is expected of us, or dress a certain way, whether it feels natural or not. Do you believe that to be truly authentic, you have to spill every bean about yourself to everyone? Can you keep anything private or be discerning about who you share what with and still be authentic?

As I pondered these questions, I thought about the fact that the world is peopled with introverts and extroverts. People have traits of both, but in their individual quantities. Carolyn Gregoire wrote the following in an article for The Huffington Post: “As recently as 2010, the American Psychiatric Association even considered classifying “introverted personality” as a disorder by listing it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), a manual used to diagnose mental illness. But more and more introverts are speaking out about what it really means to be a ‘quiet’ type.”

I admit that for a long time I believed that outgoing people (extroverts) were demonstrating the one and only way to be authentic; so, because I’m a more quiet type (80% introvert, according to an online test I took), I judged myself as not being as authentic as someone who says, or seems to say, whatever they feel like saying about anything, and to anyone, at any time. To all you introverts out there, if you’ve been feeling less authentic because you’re a more quiet type or because you feel a certain way and it clashes with what some believe is more “normal” or authentic (or commercially viable) behavior, you can relax and be yourself. You can gladly laugh at those online poster images that say things like “Introverts unite—in your separate homes.” You get the joke better than anyone.

Gregoire included a list of 23 signs of an introvert in her article, which I’m going to share here as well as some comments about extroverts. Keep in mind that some people you might call an extrovert may actually have a bit or a good bit of introvert in them, just as introverts have a bit or a good bit of extrovert in them. You may resonate more with some of what’s listed below than with others—we’re all composites when it comes to our personality. Here are the 23 signs (my comments are in parentheses):

1. You find small talk incredibly cumbersome. (As an introvert, I’ll say that’s putting it mildly. Too much small talk can make introverts feel tired and annoyed—it’s like static on a radio to them. Introverts can and will engage in small talk, but it doesn’t take long for them to look for or wish for an exit. A number of aspects that follow can all be tied back into this one. Extroverts, however, will carry on conversations about anything and enjoy it well enough, if not a lot.)
2. You go to parties -– but not to meet people. (Introverts, when they do go to parties, go to see people they know, to be with people who accept them as they are and they can be relaxed around. If they do connect with a new person in a real way, they’ll enjoy it. Extroverts tend to be “the more the merrier” types.)
3. You often feel alone in a crowd. (Introverts don’t like crowds, or like them in small doses. They have to mentally prepare themselves for crowds. Again, extroverts tend to be “the more the merrier” types.)
4. Networking makes you feel like a phony. (Introverts prefer deeper conversations that lead to real connection. They know it may take a lot of small talk first, to find someone who will engage in deeper conversations (see No. 1). And, yet again, extroverts tend to be “the more the merrier” types.)
5. You've been called "too intense." (Introverts prefer deeper thoughts and conversations—they need them because that’s their nature. They’ll engage in lighter conversations, but only for so long. This doesn’t mean extroverts don’t enjoy deeper conversations, but they don’t fuel and feed many extroverts as they do introverts.)
6. You're easily distracted. (This refers to an introvert being in an overly-stimulating environment, which stifles clear or deeper thought and engagement. Introverts may zone out in such situations, in order to conserve energy. Extroverts are comfortable in overly-stimulating environments; it fuels them.)
7. Downtime doesn’t feel unproductive to you. (Downtime is a necessity for introverts. They need it to recharge their batteries and to stimulate their creativity. A whole day alone with a good book or some other downtime experience is like heaven to an introvert. Longer is even better. Extroverts tend to thrive on stimulation that comes from others and activities. They can take only so much alone time; introverts can take only so much social engagement.)
8. Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards. (For all the reasons listed above and below. Extroverts are eager to mingle.)
9. When you get on the subway, you sit at the end of the bench -– not in the middle. (Or prefer end or back seats wherever you go—like in a theater, for fast getaways, if needed. Extroverts like to be in the mix.)
10. You start to shut down after you’ve been active for too long. (Introverts are often more sprinter types than marathoners, activity-wise. Extroverts have a different kind of energy reserve.)
11. You're in a relationship with an extrovert. (Introverts like to sometimes ride the “waves” with an extrovert. Notice I said “sometimes.” That need for quiet, alone time is always there—an introvert can actually feel or become unwell if they don’t get enough of this. Extroverts may or may not understand this need, may or may not think it’s a strange way to be. Life is for living, is an extrovert’s motto. The introvert lives life, just from a more inward perspective.)
12. You'd rather be an expert at one thing than try to do everything. (Introverts like to and need to focus. It’s more about how well they function and feel best than about what they do; though, they need to feel aligned with what they do. Extroverts are more outwardly adventurous. An experience, for its own sake, may be more important than alignment with it, for an extrovert.)
13. You actively avoid any shows that might involve audience participation. (However if picked, an introvert might get into it, if the participation is brief enough. An extrovert might deliberately attend such a performance and even volunteer, vigorously.)
14. You screen all your calls -- even from friends. (Sophia Dembling, author of "The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World," said, "To me, a ringing phone is like having somebody jump out of a closet and go 'BOO!'" Introverts prefer to be mentally and energetically ready for phone calls (see No. 1). Plus, when deep in thought, which is often, they don’t respond well to being disturbed. Extroverts love to engage anytime. It’s stimulation that feeds them.)
15. You notice details that others don't. (Unless an introvert is distracted by an overly-stimulating environment, they notice details; and these can be physical ones, but often are inner ones, like emotional dynamics. Extroverts, like introverts, notice whatever they attune to, but it may be more about what someone says than why they say it.)
16. You have a constantly running inner monologue. (Introverts tend to prefer to think before they speak; and as natural thinkers, they think and process thoughts all the time. Extroverts are more comfortable with speaking first and thinking about it later. They’re also more comfortable acting without thinking it through first. Both of these aspects are something introverts sometimes wish they were comfortable doing, but the fact is they aren’t. Both of these are things extroverts sometimes wish they hadn’t done, but it’s their nature.)
17. You have low blood pressure. (A scientific study said introverts tend to have lower BP than extroverts do. This makes sense, since introverts look for deeper meanings and have all that quiet alone time to do it in. Extroverts are out there, living on the edge, for the most part. There’s going to be a certain amount of stress in that way of living.)
18. You’ve been called an “old soul” -– since your 20s. (Again, introverts tend to prefer to think before they speak, which can seem like wisdom to others (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t). Extroverts tend to be more in-the-moment types—the time is now, to speak and act, which is sometimes wise and sometimes isn’t.)
19. You don't feel "high" from your surroundings (Like, say, at big parties. Extroverts respond to their environments differently than introverts—they align with the energy, while introverts look for what and who they are in true alignment with).
20. You look at the big picture. (Introverts tend to be okay with details and facts, but can also engage abstract concepts, as well. Some extroverts are, again, in-the-moment types. What’s happening in front of them is what’s happening. Introverts tend to look for the undercurrents and dynamics.)
21. You’ve been told to “come out of your shell.” (Introverts come out of their shells when they feel like it, thank you. But they keep their shells close by. Extroverts have shells, and sometimes they visit them.)
22. You’re a writer. (Some introverts find it easier to communicate through writing; plus, all that time alone to think charges up their creativity. This doesn’t mean extroverts don’t write, but the ones that do likely have enough introvert in them to support this. Many extroverts would prefer to speak than write. The alone-time it takes to write might be too much for them. They may prefer to dictate their writings and have someone else type them up.)
23. You alternate between phases of work and solitude, and periods of social activity. (Too much activity can stress and tire an introvert. They know how much socializing, work, and downtime works for them. Some extroverts have to wear themselves out before they realize it’s time, or past time, for downtime.)

We cannot all be the same, or some of us aren’t needed. We need extroverts to enliven life and moments and stimulate the energy so it doesn’t go stale. We need introverts to keep things real, to provide the bigger picture, and to calm things down. Life is like a musical composition: We need the notes (extroverts) and the rests between the notes (introverts). If a composition is all rests, there’s no music. If it’s all notes with no rests, there’s no pause to breathe, and performers and listeners alike will pass out or gasp for air. To those of you who are extroverts, thank you for what you offer to the world and to introverts who benefit from “just enough” excitement from time to time. To those of you who are introverts, did you notice how many of the 23 are about being authentic? So if you were comparing yourself to extroverts, as I was, stop it. Both are authentic. Both are needed.

I think it’s more important that you feel authentic than “appear” authentic to others so that you then perceive yourself as authentic. Authenticity comes from within, never from outside of you. Who are you comfortable being in your everyday life? Who are you—what is your true character or nature—when you face challenges? It’s okay to be who you are and it’s okay to discover who that is as life presents changes to and for you. It’s okay to share as much of your authentic self with others as you feel comfortable with; but be sure to share it with yourself. Know thyself. Love thyself. It’s a good practice, one you’ll appreciate.

Practice makes progress.
© Joyce L. Shafer

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Author's Bio: 

Joyce L Shafer is a Life Empowerment Coach dedicated to helping people feel, be, and live their true inner power. She’s author of “I Don’t Want to be Your Guru” and other books/ebooks, and publishes a free weekly online newsletter that offers empowering articles. See all that’s offered by Joyce and on her site at http://stateofappreciation.weebly.com/guest-articles.html#.UPGKUB3BGSo