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5 Top Tips for Building Authentic Relationships [From a Psychologist]

Updated: Apr 26

Takeaway: Building genuine connections can often feel easier said than done. That’s why we created this guide. Here, we share practical tips for how to be authentic in a relationship. Continue reading, if you'd like to learn more about how to show up as yourself and make real, fulfilling connections with others.


Gone are the days when you can walk up to your kindergarten classmate and ask to be best friends. Somewhere between being that silly boastful kindergarten kid and that high-maintenance teen, came us socially anxious adults; insecure about who we are, unsure of what we even bring to a relationship, and planning out every word before engaging in a human interaction. Let's not even examine the current relationships we have: Susie is getting married, Johnny quit his job to go on a 3-month excursion around Europe to "find himself," and no one seems to have time, let alone the energy, to spend with friends. When did finding genuine friendships become so challenging? We got you with this one: in this article, you'll learn more about what authentic relationships are, why they are so important, how to be authentic in relationships, and how therapy can help you on your journey to cultivating intimate relationships, and meaningful and long-enduring friendships.


authentic relationships

What is an authentic relationship?


As therapists, we get tons of questions about authentic relationships: who is considered an "authentic person?" what does it mean to be your "true self," and what is comprised of a "healthy relationship?" Spoiler alert: many of these terms are in quotation marks because there is not necessarily one definition for these terms, nor a straight answer for these questions, as what it means to be authentic or genuine is unique. However, there are certainly a few key factors for us to pay attention to when it comes to authentic relationships.


Comfort and Safety


First and foremost, in an authentic relationship, you'll experience a feeling of safety and comfort. That's not to say that your social anxiety and low self-esteem won't rear its ugly head at the most inopportune moments, but generally speaking, an authentic connection will include a natural ease to the dynamic and an overall feeling of wellness and security.


Judgment Free Zone


To foster comfort and safety, a genuine connection will include one that is nonjudgmental. Healthy relationships that are free from ridicule, will be open and accepting of your views, belief systems, thoughts, emotions, and lifestyle choices. These relationships will also make efforts to be understanding, as to validate your experiences in life.


Letting Your Freak Flag Fly


Nothing feels more liberating than getting to express yourself freely when in relationships. Thus, authentic relationships are dynamics that allow you to be the "real you" where you get to showcase your authentic self and share intimate details of your personal story. I know your heart rate just increased a bit, but no need to sweat: expressing yourself takes courage and no one expects you to know how or what exactly that looks like all the time. We'll talk more about this piece when we get to how to be authentic in relationships.


Transparency


While we love that our friends are accepting of our person and support us even when we don't make the brightest decisions, we also love when we are in relationships where we can be provided with truth and honesty. We might not always like to hear what our friends have to say, but a sign of an authentic relationship is that you can be forthcoming. Typically, forthcoming information is in service to the person and with their best interest in mind.


Trustworthy


We didn't just stumble into a relationship where we can tell someone that they have spinach in their teeth. To develop these genuine relationships it often takes time so that a foundation of trust can be built. Many of us have a complicated history when it comes to relationships: intergenerational trauma, enmeshed family systems, lying and cheating partners, and spousal or intimate partner abuse and violence. Thus, trust is essential when it comes to relationship building and the maintenance of authentic connections.


R.E.S.P.E.C.T (Thanks, Aretha Franklin for this amazing reminder)


You may be asking yourself, how do you begin building trust in a relationship, especially after the shitastrophe of relationships you've had in your past? Great question! As mentioned above, an element of trust will include honesty and transparency. But that is not the only source when creating trust. We also need respect in this cocktail. When we respect a person, we appreciate their thoughts and feelings and create a safe space for genuine expression, make time for meaningful moments and joyed experiences, and adhere to set boundaries. Respect often includes the feeling of reciprocity and balance in a relationship.


Reliability


A wonderful quality in authentic relationships is reliability. When a person is reliable, this means that we can depend on them during times of need. That doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be seeing each other every weekend, let alone talking every quarter, but it does mean that your friend would come to your side at the drop of a hat should you need their support. Bonus points: reliability can also increase trust in a relationship.


Communication is Key


As with any healthy relationship, communication is paramount in the building of health, trust, and intimacy. Open communication is difficult, even in the most loving and respectful relationships, as it often takes self-advocation, self-understanding, self-esteem, and communication skills to effectively get your point across. It also must include receptivity on the receiver's end, respect, and active listening. When communicating it's important to be as fully in the present moment as you can. The goal is to make our friends feel heard and for us to feel heard in return.


Support as We Grow and Change


Those once-in-a-lifetime friendships are hard to come by, and the true apples are the ones that continue to love you as you grow and change. You aren't going to be the same person you were in high school, college, and your young adult years. You're not supposed to be! A wonderful part of life is expanding your worldview, crystalizing your beliefs, and adapting to new ways of being. As you engage in reflection and have more life experiences, you'll also experience self-discovery, further self-awareness, and a developed true self. You might not be best friends with the people who were once your closest confidants, as it's natural to grow apart as you change. However, those authentic relationships you've created will continue to support you even if from afar.


If you find yourself in relationships that invoke fear, do not respect your boundaries, do not accept you, take advantage, are deceptive, lower your well-being, and do not encourage your personal growth, you may be in relationships that are not only disengenuous but also harmful and working against you in your efforts towards building a life that is meaningful and healthy. If you or someone you know may be in an intimate partner violent relationship please click here.


what is an authentic relationship

Why authentic relationships are important


Is it possible to live in a world without genuine relationships? Of course! People do surprising and unremarkable things all the time. Plus, there are plenty of individuals who may prefer the comfort of solitude. There's no wrong or right way to live your life (remember how we said these terms are hard to define? Who is to say that the relationship one has in solitude isn't genuine and satisfying enough?)

But, for those who are itching to learn why authentic relationships are important, we encourage you to read along.


  1. Combatting Loneliness: When we think about our existence, we really are quite small. Existentially speaking (we can't help ourselves), we are isolated. A philosophy professor at Dr. Shaw's undergraduate university once said: "we come into this world alone and we leave this world alone." Not to get too spiritual over here, but as beings, we are alone. Feeling the added weight of social loneliness puts many of us at risk for poor mental health. Thus, efforts towards cultivating authentic relationships are immensely helpful when it comes to combatting loneliness.

  2. Improving Connectedness: You might scroll your Instagram feed, observing others who always seem to be having the best time partying it up with their endless list of friends. However, it's different to have an endless list of friends and an authentic relationship. This is the difference between acquaintances and genuine relationships. With genuine relationships, you are more likely to feel more connected than if you were one of twenty-five randoms at a party.

  3. Elevates Self-Esteem: When we have close relationships and feel more connected in life, this also improves our self-esteem. We have people that love, support, and celebrate our quirks and who we are as people. Many of us who struggle to form meaningful connections, often have lower levels of self-confidence and may often wonder "what's wrong with me?"

  4. Validates Existence: At the risk of sounding existential again, when our lives are complete with authentic relationships our existence is also validated. We are seen by others, understood by others, and accepted by others. During periods of self-doubt and low self-esteem, our friends are there to remind us of who we are and the wonderful qualities we have and provide to the world around us.

  5. Boosts Mood: In a world that is full of doom and gloom, having authentic relationships can be an avenue for increasing dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. We crave experiences that bring us joy, and that remind us that there is more to life than work and chores. Ever heard of the laughing cure? Laughing is one of the best natural remedies and can be achieved with those that we trust.

  6. Increases Intimacy: Sincere relationships provide us the opportunity to experience feelings that are quite rare, yet significantly satisfying: love, acceptance, and appreciation. These emotions increase our ability to intimately connect with others and have a cyclical effect in improving self-esteem, mood, and worldly connectedness.

  7. Meaningful Moments: Oh boy, we just can't stop being existential today. For those big thinkers reading this, life can feel mundane, and at times, rather pointless. Authentic relationships foster an opportunity to have moments in life that are enjoyable, meaningful, memorable, and that take a small role in shaping who we are.

  8. Life Satisfaction: Research shows that while romantic relationships are important, friendships also play a role in a person's life satisfaction and psychological wellness.

Now we know your blood pressure is spiking! Intimate relationships require vulnerability. Let's face it: who actually likes being vulnerable and putting themselves out there with the risk that others may judge, scrutinize, and ridicule us? We get it! There are many self-protective reasons why we may choose to conceal aspects of our identity, not share our thoughts and emotions, and limit others from getting a touch too close. And yet, here you are, reading this article because you want deeper more soulful connections with others. We promise we take baby steps.


How to be authentic in a relationship: A therapist’s guide


how to be authentic in a relationship

The meat and potatoes: how to be authentic in a relationship. It might be surprising, but this doesn't necessarily come second nature to all of us. While there are a few out there who know themselves well, are comfortable with who they are, express themselves confidently, and know how to communicate effectively, the large majority of us are fish out of water. Why? Well, like anything in psychology, there's never a straight and narrow answer (Sorry!) For one reason, we may have been raised in an environment where it was safer to conceal aspects of our identity, so we learned to continue masking aspects of ourselves. Socially speaking, we may have also been conditioned to believe that certain qualities are more admirable and so those are the ones we try to emulate. As mentioned already, there may be additional fears and anxieties about presenting ourselves sincerely to avoid judgment. Lastly, how do you even begin to know if we are representing ourselves authentically? (This last question, is up for philosophical debate).


While you'll read a few key ingredients of authenticity below, it's important to note, here, that just because you aren't "the same" in every relationship doesn't mean that you aren't being genuine. In fact, in our philosophical debate, it can be argued that we are who we are in relationships. Meaning, in different situations and amongst differing contexts we may actually be different. As people, we are not rigid or fixed entities, we are constantly shifting and growing. We're complicating things, we know, but just keep in mind that it's ok for different environments to bring different qualities of ourselves out and that that doesn't equate to disingenuous.


1. Know Thyself (Gotta love Socrates)


How can we be authentic if we don't know who we are? That question isn't to suggest that we are any one thing in particular, nor that we are reducing ourselves to a set of qualities or belief systems, but more so in opening ourselves up to exploring our preferences, our desires, our curiosities, and our views. Asking ourselves what we find important and in what settings do we flourish. Knowing yourself means knowing that you are going to change. The important takeaway here is to explore within and amongst instead of shying away from being vulnerable with ourselves.


2. Share Yourself


When we become more familiar with you we are, we can test the waters as to how we'd like to express who we are. We know it seems scary, but we're actually expressing ourselves right now! From the careers we choose to the attire we wear, these are all avenues of self-expression. As we continue to further express ourselves, we can experiment with sharing our thoughts, viewpoints, and feelings with others. This goes hand-in-hand with presenting ourselves honestly, and in making efforts towards building trust in relationships.


3. Harness Your Inner Tiger


Does anyone else think of the song, "Eye of the Tiger" every single time the word tiger is thrown around? While we might not always feel cool, calm, and collected, rehearsing self-affirmations and reminding ourselves of our specialness is a way of practicing confidence. This is often a more challenging component to embody for those of us struggling to form authentic connections. However, as we develop authenticity (through better knowing ourselves) and begin to express this with others, confidence, or self-assurance, often follows. It's essentially the experience of accepting ourselves or feeling satisfied with who we are as a being.


4. Love Your Pretty Little Self


"If you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?" Spoken by the infamous RuPaul. Being that love and sincere regard are elements of authentic connections, how can we provide those experiences to others, if we don't experience it towards ourselves, first? Remember: baby steps. It's ok if you don't feel fond of yourself and have struggled with low self-esteem and positive self-regard. The key here is to make small efforts in showing yourself care: ending your work day at 5p (heck yea, boundaries), treating yourself to a yoga class (heck yea, self-care), or saying "no" when asked to change your aisle seat to a middle seat (heck yea, self-assertiveness)!


5. Be Open to Shifts


Are we beating a dead horse? Know that you are going to change. Be open to this because it will most certainly happen. Unless this is an AI robot skimming this article for Google SEO, your human-ass is going to change. Embrace those changes. Just because you may express yourself differently doesn't mean you are being disingenuous.


While being authentic is extremely vulnerable, you'll come to find that it does get easier with time, especially when you are amongst others who are accepting and respectful. We'll also point out that others actually want you to be authentic, as most of us crave genuine connection. Remember, these relationships validate our existence, improve our self-esteem, boost our mood, and support us as we navigate some pains of existence. Lastly, people can sometimes tell when you are being disingenuous; there are subconscious social cues that indicate when we are lying. In fact, this may be a big culprit for you: because we aren't expressing ourselves genuinely, we are lacking genuine relationships in return. Instead of saying you love the band that's playing, it's ok to say "I've never heard this song" or "I don't actually like this song."


How therapy can help you build authentic relationships


Horray to know that you don't have to tackle this beast on your own. Family systems, sibling dynamics, friendships, romantic relationships, and "it's complicated" statuses are the main areas we focus on at Authentically Living Psychological Services. Why? Everything is a relationship and it is one of the most common life experiences that we struggle with as human beings (go figure). Below are just a few ways that working with a therapist can help you build authentic relationships.


Getting to Know Yourself Better:


Therapy is all about self-understanding and self-discovery. With a trained clinician, you'll be asked thought-provoking questions to get you reflecting on aspects of your identity that you may be less in touch with. Therapy is a place to be curious and inquisitive about none other than, you! In one of the safest places, therapy is all about building trust, respect, and connection so that you can take the necessary vulnerable steps to explore your own story.


Value Identification:


Through depth-oriented work, you'll be better able to identify what your values are, what you find important, and how to live in accordance with those values. You'll explore how to express those values, especially in contexts where others may disagree or not align.


Improving Self-Esteem:


Yes, it is actually possible for you to feel good about yourself. We know it's hard to believe after years of not loving yourself or feeling like less than, but we can assure you that through emotional processing we will work through insecurities and hangups so that you can lead a life feeling comfortable in your own skin.


Addressing Social Anxiety:


Where did that firey kindergarten spirit go? We promise she's not that far gone. Therapy is a space to address interpersonal discomforts, social anxiety, and fears of judgment. We'll work through past rejections, so that those experiences feel less heavy, as we navigate new relationships.


Feedback from a Pro:


Since our therapists are trained in process-oriented work, conversations may touch on here-and-now emotions and reactions, providing you with real-time honest, and direct feedback. Remember, honesty is part of an authentic relationship, so you'll also be able to observe and experience it firsthand.


Communication Tools:


We can all use a little support when it comes to effective communication. You'll learn how to identify your emotions, communicate needs within a relationship, and process difficult relational experiences.


Assertion Training:


Therapy can support those who are struggling to assert themselves, by identifying boundaries, learning how to implement such boundaries, and practing saying "no."


Space for Growth & Change:


Therapy is all about growth and change, and acceptance towards our ever-evolving beings. Watching our clients grow is one of the most rewarding experiences as a therapist. We have observed hundreds of clients develop their identities, have enriching interpersonal experiences, and form meaningful connections.


Together, we can help you build the genuine connections you long for. 


relationship inauthenticity

While you might be feeling slightly overwhelmed and defeated as you're reflecting on your current relationships, this article was meant to not only be a helpful guide as you consider new relationships but also to instill hope and confidence, as you begin to crystalize your identity and recognize who you want in your life.


If you're unsatisfied with your current relationships, want to work on better understanding what you're looking for in friendships, and need assistance in sifting through the bullshit then we encourage you to reach out today.



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Apr 23
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great tips!

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