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Alcohol and Mental Health

How To Be More Authentic (According to Science)

September 29, 2023
27 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
September 29, 2023
27 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
September 29, 2023
27 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
September 29, 2023
27 min read
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Reframe Content Team
September 29, 2023
27 min read

Today, "authenticity" has become one of the buzzwords floating around in brand campaigns, influencer jargon, and corporate seminars. Its sudden prominence might (ironically) make it seem artificial, when in reality, it’s a concept that’s been on the minds of our ancestors for centuries. From the ancient Greek "Know thyself" to Shakespeare’s poetic “To thine own self be true,” the quest for authenticity touches the core of who we are and how we perceive the nature of existence. It’s even in fairy tales! (Think The Ugly Duckling or the more modern Shrek). So it may be a trending hashtag, but its roots run deep.

Now imagine it's a Saturday evening and your friends invite you for a night out. You find yourself sitting in a bar, music thumping around you, and your friends are laughing about the latest trending meme. They’re ordering drink after drink, but you’re sipping on your soda, wondering if you should just join in even though you realize booze just isn’t doing it for you anymore. But what if, instead of wanting to blend in, you decided to be your authentic self, no holds barred? Let’s find out what science has to say about living authentically and how it relates to your journey with alcohol!

A Quick Jaunt Through History 

Ever wondered where this whole idea of "authenticity" comes from? From ancient inscriptions to modern-day philosophy and digital dilemmas, the pursuit of the “real” has always been a part of our collective journey. Let's time-travel a bit and uncover the origins of this age-old concept.

  • Antiquity: the birthplace of self-knowledge. Our first stop is ancient Greece. Remember those grand marble columns and philosophers in togas? Well, they were onto something. The phrase "Know Thyself" was inscribed at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, suggesting that self-awareness was the key to understanding life and the universe.

    The search for authenticity was in full swing across the world as well. Ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius believed in the cultivation of one's inner character and emphasized sincerity as a crucial virtue. Laozi’s foundational text Tao Te Ching highlighted the importance of living in accordance with the Tao, which involved living in authentic harmony with nature, free from societal impositions. And in Buddhism, the concept of "anatta" or "anatman" — meaning “no-self” — underscored the belief in the self’s impermanence and suggested that letting go of attachments and ego can lead to a more authentic existence.
  • Middle Ages: seeking the authentic self in spirituality. Fast forward to the Middle Ages, and we’ll find people seeking authenticity in monasteries and sacred texts. Monks, mystics, and scholars believed that by connecting with the divine, they could attain a genuine sense of self. 
  • Renaissance: art and beyond. The Renaissance era gave us more than just cool paintings and sculptures. Artists, like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, portrayed raw human emotions and experiences in their works. They emphasized authenticity in every brushstroke, highlighting the beauty of real, unfiltered human expression.
  • Modernism: existentialists join the party. Enter the 20th century, and philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir proposed a different take on authenticity. They posited that humans are thrown into the world without a predetermined essence — so it's up to each of us to define and create our own authentic self.
  • Today: digital age challenges and triumphs. Now, in our digital age, authenticity is both celebrated and challenged. While the internet has given us platforms to express ourselves, it's also raised questions about what's genuine in a world of filters and curated online personas.

The Neuroscience of Authenticity

The last few decades also expanded the exploration of authenticity by bringing it into the realm of neuroscience. From a neurological standpoint, living inauthentically can cause cognitive dissonance — a mentally and emotionally stressful state in which our actions don't match our beliefs. Studies have shown that long-term cognitive dissonance can make us feel immoral or impure, causing dissatisfaction, unease, and depression.

On the other hand, being true to ourselves, especially in social situations, can boost our mood and self-esteem. Living authentically gives us a sense of belonging and also reduces the risk of mental health issues.

As far as specific brain regions are concerned, here are the main players:

  • The prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain, located right behind the forehead, is in charge of decision-making, self-reflection, and regulation of behavior. When we’re in sync with our genuine selves, this region ensures our actions align with our beliefs and values.
  • The amygdala. Nestled deep within the brain, the amygdala is our emotional epicenter. In emotional terms, authenticity means expressing and understanding our genuine feelings without suppression — and a well-regulated amygdala helps us do just that!
  • Mirror neurons. These fascinating neurons fire both when we perform an action and when we observe someone else doing something. They're vital for empathy, allowing us to genuinely connect with others' feelings and create authentic bonds.

Being authentic is also about aligning our inner and outer worlds. Several neuroscience-based concepts come into play when we’re talking about authenticity from this perspective:

  • Cognitive consistency. Authenticity thrives on consistency. From a psychological perspective, cognitive dissonance (the discomfort felt when our actions don't align with our beliefs) is reduced when we are authentic.
  • Self-concept clarity. This refers to how clear and confident we are about our beliefs, attributes, and feelings. A high self-concept clarity indicates a solid grasp of one's authentic self.
  • The role of feedback. Psychologists believe that authentic people seek out feedback — not for validation, but as a tool for growth.

The Authenticity-Wellness Link

Research has shown that being authentic is closely tied to mental well-being, including these attributes:

  • Less stressed. Pretending to be someone you're not or suppressing feelings can be mentally exhausting.
  • More confident. Being true to ourselves boosts self-esteem and self-worth.
  • Better connected. Genuine interactions lead to deeper, more fulfilling relationships.

The Fab Four of Authenticity: Psychologists Weigh In

From a psychological perspective, authenticity is often talked about in terms of four components (which are echoed in the work of Bruce Avolio, known for his work on authentic leadership). Rather than just letting the term "authenticity" float around vaguely, Avolio broke it down into four distinct, digestible components:

  • Self-awareness. Think of this as the foundation of authenticity. It's like taking a deep look in the mirror and truly seeing ourselves — understanding our strengths, weaknesses, and drives.
  • Balanced processing. This isn't about being a computer processor! Balanced processing means objectively analyzing all the relevant data before making a decision. 
  • Relational transparency. Ever met someone and felt like they were a complete open book? That's relational transparency — being open, real, and genuine in interactions with others to foster trust without oversharing.
  • Moral/ethical perspective. This component emphasizes making decisions based on values and consistent moral reasoning. It's the compass that guides us to do the right thing, even when the going gets tough.

Now, let’s explore these four principles in more detail!

1. Self-Awareness: More Than Just Selfies and Reflections

In the grand journey of authenticity, self-awareness is like your trusty compass. It's about understanding who you are, what makes you tick, and recognizing which of your emotions, strengths, and areas that could use a little fine-tuning. It's more than just introspection — it's about seeing yourself clearly and objectively, both in still moments of reflection and when out in the world.

Self Awareness and the Brain

These brain structures are involved in self-awareness:

  • The prefrontal cortex. Whether we’re pondering life choices or just wondering why we’re craving pizza at 3 AM, this region is active, helping us understand our desires, feelings, and thoughts.
  • The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). This part of the brain helps detect inconsistencies in our behavior. Ever had that “Hmm, that wasn’t very me” moment? You can tip your hat to the ACC for that insight!
  • The insula. Interoception — a key function of the insula — is our ability to sense our internal state, whether that’s hunger, a racing heart, or that gut feeling. By helping interpret these signals, the insula attunes us to our emotions.
  • The hippocampus. Ever reflected on past experiences to gauge your reactions? The hippocampus, a structure shaped a bit like a seahorse, acts as a memory bank. Key personal memories are stored here, allowing us to reference past experiences and learn about ourselves over time.
Why Does It Matter?

Why should we even care about self-awareness? Being smarter about ourselves makes us smarter in many ways:

  • Better decision making. When we’re tuned into our feelings and values, making choices (big or small) becomes a smoother process.
  • Improved relationships. By understanding ourselves, we become better equipped to communicate with others and understand their perspectives.
  • Enhanced emotional well-being. Recognizing our emotions as they come allows us to process and manage them better, leading to a more balanced mental state.
Cultivating Self-Awareness

Now for the million-dollar question: how can you become more self-aware?

  1. Check in with yourself. Take a few moments each day to reflect on your emotions and thoughts. Journaling can be a great tool for this.
  2. Feedback is golden. Sometimes, our own perceptions can be a bit skewed. Seek feedback from trusted friends or colleagues — their insights might surprise you!
  3. Mindfulness practices. Engage in activities like meditation or deep breathing exercises. In addition to helping you relax, they also tune you into your inner world.
  4. Continued learning. Dive into books, workshops, or counseling sessions that focus on personal growth. The more tools in your self-awareness toolbox, the better!

2. Unpacking Balanced Processing: The Brainy Side of Being Objective

Balanced processing is about weighing information fairly, without letting personal biases tip the scale. It’s the practice of considering all relevant information — both positive and negative — before making a decision. Instead of letting emotions run the show or stubbornly clinging to personal biases, balanced processing gives each piece of information its due consideration.

Your Brain's Take on Balanced Processing

When it comes to processing information, a few specific regions and functions — ones that are now familiar to us — step into the spotlight again:

  • The prefrontal cortex plays a crucial role in ensuring we consider all options before making a decision.
  • The amygdala can sometimes make our decisions emotionally charged. In balanced processing, it's essential to recognize when our amygdala is sounding the alarms and take a step back to ensure our prefrontal cortex has a say.
  • Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, play a part in how we feel about our decisions. While they can guide us toward rewarding choices, it's important to recognize that they might also sometimes cloud our judgment with the lure of instant gratification.
Why Is Balanced Processing a Game-Changer?
  • Better decisions. It's simple—when we consider all the information at hand, we’re more likely to make well-informed choices.
  • Reduced regret. By ensuring every decision is thought through, we’re less likely to look back with a "shoulda, coulda, woulda" mindset.
  • Improved understanding. Regularly practicing balanced processing can sharpen our understanding of different topics, as we’re always seeking out a range of perspectives.
Tips for Achieving Balanced Processing

Embracing these steps gives your brain a healthy workout and sets the stage for more thoughtful, enlightened decisions:

  1. Pause before deciding. Take a moment to make sure you're not reacting impulsively.
  2. Seek diverse opinions. Surrounding yourself with yes-men? Time to change! Seek opinions from various sources to get a holistic view.
  3. Stay curious. Cultivate a curious mindset. The more you want to know, the more you'll explore different facets of a subject.

3. Zooming in on Relational Transparency: The Brain's Role in Genuine Connections

At its heart, relational transparency is about showcasing our true selves in our interactions. It's about sharing feelings, beliefs, and intentions with others in an honest and straightforward manner. No masks, no pretense — just the genuine, unfiltered you.

Our brain orchestrates our capacity for relational transparency through a few key areas and functions, some of which are already familiar to us:

  • Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Nestled deep within your brain, the ACC plays a role in detecting inconsistencies between our actions and our intentions. It nudges us when we're being less than genuine, prompting a niggling feeling that something's 'off.'
  • Mirror neurons. As we know, mirror neurons play a part in empathy, helping us resonate with others' feelings — so they’re crucial for fostering genuine connections.
  • Oxytocin. Oxytocin (the "love hormone" or "social bonding hormone") floods our system during close interpersonal interactions and touch. It fosters trust and bonding, creating a biochemical foundation for relational transparency.
Why Embrace Relational Transparency?
  • Trust building. When we’re genuine with others, they're more likely to trust us. It's as simple as that!
  • Emotional well-being. Being your authentic self reduces the stress of putting on a façade, leading to a more content and harmonious mental state.
  • Deeper connections. Transparency can pave the way for more profound, meaningful relationships. You're not just sharing pleasantries — you're sharing you.
Tips To Foster Relational Transparency
  1. Active listening. When engaging with someone, listen with intent. This means putting away distractions and truly tuning in.
  2. Open up gradually. It's okay to take baby steps. Share a bit about yourself, gauge the response, and build from there.
  3. Ask for honest feedback. Sometimes, we might think we're being transparent when we're not. Trusted friends or mentors can offer insights into how we come across to others.

4. Spotlight on Moral/Ethical Perspective: The Brain's Compass in Right and Wrong

Moral and ethical perspective boils down to how we navigate our choices in a manner consistent with our values. It lets us align our actions with our values, allowing us to sleep soundly at night.

Your Brain's Moral Compass: How It Works

The brain shapes our moral and ethical perspectives. Here's a peek at the behind-the-scenes action:

The Significance of a Strong Moral/Ethical Perspective

Here are a few benefits of honing our values:

  • Community building. Societies thrive when individuals act in line with a shared moral code. It fosters trust, cooperation, and harmony.
  • Inner peace. Aligning actions with beliefs provides a sense of contentment and coherence in life.
  • Character development. Regularly reflecting on and acting upon our ethical beliefs fosters personal growth and maturity.
Ways To Sharpen Your Moral Compass
  1. Reflection time. Set aside moments in your week to reflect on your actions and decisions. Do they align with your core beliefs?
  2. Engage in debates. Friendly discussions on moral topics can challenge and refine your perspectives.
  3. Continuous learning. Delve into philosophical books, attend ethics workshops, or watch documentaries. Expanding your knowledge can only refine your moral stance.

Authenticity and the Alcohol Journey: Finding Our True North

As Martha Beck writes in Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, “Almost everyone who feels stymied, aimless, directionless is carrying an unresolved emotional wound. A lack of enthusiasm for life is always a sign that the deep self is hurt. Every person's essential self is pure, productive energy, and yours will return and send you into a fulfilling life almost automatically if your psyche is in good repair.”

This insight is especially relevant to the alcohol journey. For many, alcohol can become a mask: whether we’re driven by a desire to fit in, escape emotions, or just "feel" a certain way, it can distort our perception of who we truly are. Authenticity, on the other hand, is about removing masks and embracing our genuine self — it can become our “North Star” that guides us to a mental space where alcohol becomes irrelevant.

Here’s how authenticity guides us on our alcohol journey:

  • Understanding our “why.” Authenticity pushes us to reflect on why we started drinking in the first place and, more importantly, why we want to stop or reduce. By aligning our journey with our core values and true desires, we amplify your motivation.
  • Embracing vulnerability. An authentic journey acknowledges the ups and downs. It's okay to feel vulnerable or unsure; what's crucial is to stay true to the journey and seek support when needed.
  • Building genuine connections. Free from the veil of alcohol, we might find relationships becoming more genuine. Authentic conversations replace booze-fueled chatter, leading to deeper, more meaningful connections.

Neurological Nudges Towards Authenticity

As we leave alcohol behind, the brain’s ability to access our authenticity and allow it to flourish grows by leaps and bounds:

  • Clarity of thought. As alcohol's fog lifts, regions like the prefrontal cortex (decision-making hub) become more active, supporting clearer, authentic decisions.
  • Emotion regulation. The amygdala, our emotional center, functions better without alcohol's interference. This means we get to genuinely feel our emotions, understand them, and act authentically.
  • Reward pathways. Initially, our brain might miss the dopamine surge from alcohol. But as we embrace authenticity, activities aligned with our genuine selves can provide new, healthier dopamine boosts.

Walking the Authentic Path

Finally, here are a few ideas to bring more authenticity into your daily life:

  • Start a journal. Chronicle your thoughts, feelings, and experiences daily. This allows you to confront your true feelings and understand yourself better.
  • Declutter your social circle. Reevaluate relationships that don’t resonate with your true self. Surrounding yourself with genuine connections will empower you to be more authentic.
  • Set boundaries. Clearly express your needs, especially regarding alcohol consumption. If a situation doesn’t align with your values, it's okay to say no.
  • Meditate regularly. Mindfulness meditation can enhance self-awareness. Taking even 5 minutes daily to meditate can ground you in your authentic self. Deep breathing can also work wonders when it comes to listening to your body and getting in touch with your feelings and intentions.
  • Seek genuine support. Whether it's joining a support group, seeking therapy, or confiding in trusted friends, make sure the support you seek aligns with your genuine journey.
  • Celebrate small wins. Every time you show authenticity, especially in the face of peer pressure or societal norms, give yourself a pat on the back. It reinforces positive behavior.

Choosing Authenticity

In a world that often pushes conformity, choosing to be authentic is courageous. As you continue on your alcohol journey, remember that being true to yourself is not only beneficial for your brain and well-being but also a fundamental step in achieving your goals. Celebrate the real, unfiltered, magnificent you!

Summary FAQs

1. What is authenticity in a nutshell?

Authenticity is about aligning your inner beliefs, emotions, and values with your outer actions and expressions. It's the genuine, undiluted version of you!

2. How does the brain play a role in self-awareness?

Key regions like the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and insula work together to help you reflect, recognize inconsistencies in behavior, and understand your internal emotional states. They're the control center for introspection!

3. What are the four components of authenticity according to psychologists?

They are self-awareness, balanced processing, relational transparency, and a moral-ethical perspective. These four pillars hold up the beautiful structure of your genuine self.

4. How do Eastern philosophies view authenticity?

Eastern philosophies such as Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism emphasize sincerity, harmony with nature, and understanding the impermanent nature of the self as pathways to genuine existence.

5. Why is self-awareness crucial for authenticity?

Self-awareness helps you recognize and understand your emotions, strengths, areas of growth, and aligns your actions with your beliefs. It's like having an internal compass pointing towards your true north!

6. How does authenticity impact our well-being?

Embracing authenticity leads to reduced stress (no more exhausting pretenses!), a boost in confidence, and deeper, more meaningful connections with others. It's wellness for the soul!

7. How does neuroscience link to authenticity?

Neuroscience helps us understand how our brain regions are activated and interplay to support genuine feelings, thoughts, and actions. So, every time you're being authentic, there's a little brain party happening upstairs!

Happy self-exploring! 

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