The concept of good and evil have been explored for as long as we’ve known. The first two humans depicted in the Bible, Adam and Eve, succumb to this dichotomy as Eve plucked the fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge. Was it really “evil” of Eve to pick the fruit? Well, I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Regardless, she did something she wasn’t supposed to, which is said to be the beginning of sinful human nature, giving rise to the embodiment of good and evil.
The book The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde explores the duality of human nature and the inner struggle between good and evil. Sigmund Freud’s work further explores this concept and how our conscious and subconscious mind work to form our decisions. Freud maintained that suppressing evil in an attempt to achieve perfect goodness can result in the development of a Mr. Hyde-type aspect to your character. In other words, subconscious programs are running regardless of whether you are aware of them or not and, consequently, can impact your conscious thoughts and decisions.
Authenticity is not good nor evil. It is idea that you are delivering what was advertised…be that a fixer upper home, a flawless diamond (which doesn’t truly exist, by the way); quality medical advice; or an honest, qualified business partner (which could also be a hit man or drug dealer). In other words, what you get matches what you thought you were getting.
When talking about humans, authenticity can be quite complex. This is because we don’t know the background and nuances of every person we meet. Even when we’ve known someone our entire life, we don’t TRULY know them. I would venture to bet that most, if not all of us don’t even truly know ourselves. You can only be as authentic as you think you are. This means you may show different sides of yourself at certain times or with specific groups of people. In some cases, you may not feel safe being your authentic self. For example, if you are a National Rifle Association member, you may not feel comfortable sharing that side of yourself around your anti-gun friends.
When you meet someone for the first time, it is the norm to “be your best self.” This means you will not be truly authentic. Yes, you may actually BE that person part of the time; but it’s not the whole story of who you are. It’s like when you see pictures of a beautiful B&B and show up realizing they touted the awesome kitchen and bathroom but failed to point out the plumbing doesn’t work well, there’s no hot water and construction is going on next door. Having said that, if we showed every detail of our personality to every person we met, we’d likely not have many friends. It’s just too much. There is essentially a courting process to getting to know someone over time. But this should lead to the general truth about a person and not just be smoke and mirrors.
When you realize you’re dealing with a Jekyll and Hyde person, you may feel a sense of betrayal. It’s one thing if the person tells you he/she has an issue and you decide to work with it. It’s another entirely when you’ve only known the wonderful, prestigious Dr. Jekyll and then realize Mr. Hyde’s been doing some pretty shady things, yet they are really the same person. This dichotomy can be difficult to understand and, therefore, overcome.
Personally, I’ve struggled with authenticity throughout my life. I used to be terrified people would find out about my “secrets.” Between the secrets I was carrying and being ridiculed as a young girl for saying the wrong thing to the wrong group, I created a subconscious program early on that being truthful could lead to painful backlash. As a result, I did everything I could to do bury that part of me. I thrust myself into education and my career, becoming a workaholic and perfectionist…to a fault. I thought that if I could create the diversion of success, no one would pay attention to my flaws.
Was I being “authentic?” I don’t know. I wasn’t intentionally hiding anything that would harm others. I was mostly hiding it from myself, which is enormously damaging from a health perspective. I was suppressing it, hoping that ignoring it would make it disappear. But that’s not possible. In reality, suppressed emotions and events are like a festering wound just waiting to burst out in a flesh-eating infection. It’s bad…really bad.
The thing is that, although I wasn’t intentionally hiding things that could hurt others (as if I were Mr. Hyde), I was suppressing things that would inadvertently come out as hurtful toward others. For example, if my husband said something that triggered a suppressed event, I might lash out at him. It was like jamming a hot poker into a wound that would never heal.
Fortunately, I’ve found tools to heal many of the wounds I had. But I believe it will be a life-long process for me, as I discover new things along the way. I’m still triggered by certain things. But, now, I understand that each time I am triggered is an opportunity to heal deeper wounds.
When you don’t work to heal those wounds, one of two things happen: 1) you are constantly triggered, allowing your subconscious programming to run your life or 2) you operate under the Jekyll and Hyde effect, showing one side of you to most people while having a secret life on the side. Both options can be quite damaging. But at least option number 1 is authentic. It may not be flattering. But at least people know who they are dealing with.
Having said that, there are certain times when even the most authentic person may be inauthentic. For example, the news anchor who had a bad day, but has a job to do and needs to play a particular role. Or the flight attendant who is expected to by joyfully accommodating, despite any personal issues.
For me, when I show up to deliver a keynote or workshop, I am being paid to do a job and have a role to perform. If I feel down in the dumps for whatever reason, I must figure out a way to authentically tap into the part of myself that will bring about the persona people expect to see. If I merely suppressed my negative emotions, I would feel drained after the event. However, if I transcend those emotions, I will be energized and regenerated after the event. HUGE difference between the two…one is authentic, and the other is not.
So, to me, authenticity isn’t divulging every part of who you are all the time. Instead, it is sharing the essence of who you are as a whole. We ALL have both good and evil within us. We simply express one more than the other at different times. The key is to embrace ALL parts of yourself and work to balance the bad with the good. Be okay with imperfection…in yourself as well as in others. And, as with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, decide who you truly want to be and fully embody that part of yourself, while acknowledging both exist. That, my friends, is authenticity.