If asked what it means to be authentic in your relationships, what would you say?
My guess is that open, transparent and honest would be words that spring to mind. You may even think that being authentic is about being real, wearing your heart on your sleeve, and saying what you think and feel in the moment. And I’d agree, as I think that authenticity can encompass all of the above.
In fact, I’d summarise authenticity as being willing to step beyond superficial interaction with others regardless of the possibility of being judged, misunderstood, rejected, or at risk of having what you share used against you. This being the case, authenticity requires strength of character and courage, as deep down we all long for the approval and acceptance of others.
Its for this reason that authenticity also requires having a healthy self-esteem, for to be genuine with others we must first be accepting and comfortable with our genuine self.
Coach and author, Tony Stoltzfus describes two relationship paradigms; the Trust Paradigm and the Agape Paradigm. He suggests that these two perspectives shape both the way we approach relationships and impact how authentic and deep our relationships become.
He describes the trust paradigm as one in which we posture ourselves in a place of self protection, guarding what we share, how we share it, and sharing only with those we’ve grown to trust. Because of the subtle nature of this paradigm we will even use this lack of trust in others to rationalise our need to place limits on the authentic nature of our interactions with them, therefore justifying the elusive nature of our conversations.
On the other hand, within the agape love paradigm, our posture tends to be one of open handedness, where we’re willing to freely give to those we interact with in spite of our reservations about them, whether we fully trust them, or how concerned we are about how they might perceive us once we’ve shared. With this paradigm our reservations aren’t ignored, but rather displaced, as we give less emphasis to their view of us than we do to how God sees us.
Therefore, the nature of this paradigm focuses on what we’re able to give rather than what we receive; in this case, the gift we give is that of ourselves to the other, which in turn invites them to do the same.
Each paradigm has an impact on relationship formation
The difference between the two is probably obvious, but its worth noting the impact both paradigms have on the way we develop relationships with others.
The first, as it is based on the need for others to qualify themselves as being trustworthy (due to our fear of rejection), results in a guardedness on our part that serves only to make them more reluctant to be authentic with us and increase the time it takes for us to develop more meaningful relationships.
The second, characterised by an acceptance that judgement from some is inevitable and that not everybody will like or accept us with all our vulnerabilities and past and present mistakes, leads to a willingness to take risks, move beyond superficial chit chatter, and therefore develop more deeply authentic relationships quicker.
Paradigm repositioning is necessary for authentic relationship
When living your life from an agape love paradigm you’ll relate to others from a place of freedom rather than fear. And in knowing primarily that you’re loved and accepted by God, you’ll interact in the knowledge that as you appropriately open up to others, you’ll not only develop a deep and authentic relational network, but you’ll become a catalyst for change as you set an example that will inspire, challenge and encourage others to be their authentic self too.
To get to this place might require a shift, a repositioning of how you approach new and existing relationships. It may be that you need to be intentional about taking a risk, being open about an area of insecurity, or be willing to ask for support to address a challenging issue that in doing so exposes your vulnerability.
The pursuit of love takes courage
But there is power in transparency, for as you open up others will follow, and in taking risks you’ll break down barriers to genuine relational connection. This will lead to openness from others, as what you’ll see is that the more transparent you are, the more others will be drawn to you and open up spontaneously.
So yes, challenging and repositioning our paradigm from trust to love is scary and requires courage. But though scary, if we want to replace surface level with authentic relationships — where people have the opportunity to have their lives shaped by when we offer ourselves as a gift — we must pursue love with courage.
If the goal is authentic relationships where we are known and loved regardless of our shortcomings, is that not something worth aspiring to?