Have we been conditioned by societal norms to be less authentic and is there a gender difference in how authenticity is expressed
After having a conversation with a friend & colleague on authenticity, I wondered if there could be a gender difference in how we see authenticity & its expression. He suggested that if I intuitively distrusted someone on first meeting that I should tell them – that this was an authentic expression of my feelings, was an open & honest communication and enabled the other person to respond, either by allaying my distrust or by leaving my presence.
This sounded very reasonable & yet made me feel very uncomfortable and I wondered why this did not feel like a good idea, my reasons are as follows:
- I could be projecting my feelings from another relationship onto this person and totally wrong in my first impression and given more time, this would become apparent.
- I could have misinterpreted some quirk of theirs and not yet know enough about them to make an informed and balanced assessment of trust.
- It may be interpreted as confrontational & leave me open to attack.
- It just wouldn’t be a nice thing to do!
We tarried back and forth with reason; his argument being more logical, practical and far more superior than the fumbling discomfort I felt but could not eloquently express in words. I did not see how choosing to keep my feelings to myself was being inauthentic. To me, authenticity is about knowing yourself, accepting yourself, being aware of how you feel in any given moment, being connected to your emotions and speaking that truth with compassion and when it is appropriate to do so. Choosing to remain silent about something in order to gather more information, is not to be inauthentic.
I came away with much thinking to do.
I looked at when in my life I had been completely honest with how I felt about someone/something. It soon became apparent that the occasions when I had expressed my authentic feelings of anger, distrust, disappointment, need or vulnerability, had not been met with a reasoned response but rather with harsh, aggressive and punitive reactions. These occasions were in childhood and adulthood and taught me to be wary and mindful of others.
Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson theorized that we develop through eight psychosocial stages, which impact on our social understanding, interactions & relationship development. His theory suggests that we have the capacity at each developmental stage to either grow our strength of self or stagnate & block our growth of self, dependent on our ability to deal with the innate conflict that arises at each stage. Could a harsh reaction to an expression of self, cause one to become less authentic or just less likely to be open and share with others?
Stage one comes in our first 18 months of life and deals with our development of trust/mistrust; This being representative of whether our physical and emotional needs are met or not met by our caregivers.
Erikson goes on to suggest it is at this stage that hope may develop as a balance between trust and mistrust, where a child’s needs are not met but they have an experience of them being met in the past and the chance of them being met in the future. This has been described as being open to experience and aware of possible danger.
This is how I feel when meeting someone for the first time whom I may not trust; I am open to what I am experiencing and aware of possible danger. Being aware of possible danger, I would not forewarn the person I was unsure of that I did not trust them, as this would seem to be counter-intuitive to me. I would sooner be more aware and vigilant to any other signs relating to whether they could or could not be trusted. Given time, my concerns could be allayed and I could share my first impression with the person and we could laugh at how very wrong I was. Or, my concerns would prove true and I could either choose to tell them that I did not trust them before moving on or just move on. My friend called this manipulation & not honouring my authenticity.
I had never looked at this as manipulation before, to me I was being internally authentic and externally mindful of the social dynamics.
This made me pause. Was I manipulative and how does this impact on my ability to be authentic? I thought on this & spent the day reading up on manipulative behaviour. It was enlightening and I could see some aspects of my behaviour echoed through the myriad of manipulative tactics within the female armoury. It also highlighted to me a very real difference between the workings of the male & female brain.
Although males & females inhabit the same world, they also inhabit very different social structures and expectations. For a female to tell a male she does not trust him, especially on first meeting, could leave her open to physical confrontation. For a female to tell another female she does not trust her, could leave her open to psychological confrontation and this could go some way to explaining why I balked at the idea of telling someone that I did not trust them; It could leave me exposed and vulnerable. So, was I choosing to keep quiet out of fear? Was I choosing to honour fear instead of my authentic feelings?
Professor Steve Parks (The Chimp Paradox) explains human nature as comprising of a chimp, a human and a super computer; the chimp is responsible for our drives (sex being a major driver), motivations, survival and instincts and its will is five times stronger than the human; the human is responsible for our sense of community, sense of meaning, purpose, virtues and altruistic tendencies and our super computer is responsible for storing & accessing memories, learnt behaviours and conditioning. He describes how male and female ‘humans’ are not too dissimilar in their wants/goals but how female and male chimps have more differences in their innate natures: Males being more territorial, competitive, physical & direct and females being more wary, insecure, sensitive to the males’ moods/change, and mindful of the female social hierarchy which is needed to create social support for positive/healthy childrearing. Males do not necessarily need to employ the sophisticated manipulations that a female may feel she needs to develop in order to protect herself and her young from:
1) An aggressive male
2) Abandonment by her mate in replacement of another
3) Being ostracized by females from the tribe.
According to Noam Shpancer Ph.D (Feminine Foes, 2014) various studies (Cant, M.A., Young, A.J) (Vaillancourt, T.) show the complex intra-sexual workings of female competitiveness and how sophisticated and intricate these can be. The female is more sensitive to language, connections & subtle social cues than is the male & this can leave her vulnerable to manipulation by other females & equally enable her to manipulate. When competing for a mate, being open & authentic with others may put her at a disadvantage. Smell may play a major role in attraction, health, ovulation, mate selection and occurs at an unconscious level and outside our control. It has been suggested that female society has formed around sexual conservatism, reducing the sexual supply to males thus increasing its worth & value & shunning females who do not conform to this construct. I think manipulation is a mechanism used as a part of our primitive drive to find a mate. If the chimp is 5 times stronger than the human aspect, this could highlight how very powerful a force it is. I believe that authenticity heralds from our spiritual nature, which follows our human altruistic desires and self-actualising tendencies.
How liberating it is to speak one’s truth without the very real prospect of being shunned by others, ostracized from the tribe, unable to find a mate, limiting resources & causing psychological, emotional, societal atrophy but until the primitive drives are brought under control, much courage is needed to speak one’s authentic truth unless one has trust in one’s connected self.
I think that speaking your mind and being authentic can be two different things. I believe that authenticity does not come from ego, a need to be right or oneupmanship but from a desire to be of service to another through speaking your truth & connecting truthfully with another person with compassion & awareness of where they are in themselves.
I think the complexities of our societal constructs and our strong genetic drivers, make it challenging to be authentic.
I do, however, believe we grow in our authenticity as we grow to know more deeply who we truly are.
Maybe there is no gender difference regarding authenticity, maybe the gender difference is with the mechanism of manipulation & maybe it’s the barriers that we choose to erect between us, out of fearing a loss of control, exposure & vulnerability, that keeps us from being our authentic selves with each other & holding a space for each other to shine. 😉
Resolving social conflict among females without overt aggression.
Cant, M.A., Young, A.J. (28 Oct 2013)
Do human females use indirect aggression as an intrasexual competition strategy.
Vaillancourt, T. (28 Oct 2013)
Feminine Foe: New science explores female competition.
Shpancer, N. (26 Jan 2014)
The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness.
Prof Steve Parks