Trapped in the illusion of Authenticity: We all have a dark side

EMERALD CONNECTION COACHING AND CONSULTING Trapped in the illusion of Authenticity Blog Post Photo by Ann H from Pexels on Canva Pro Image1

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Authenticity isn’t always about the light: discover the freedom in embracing your shadow.

We’re constantly encouraged to “be ourselves” and to “live our truth,” yet this is only validated if it aligns with the socially acceptable narrative. This pursuit of authenticity can feel like a double-edged sword, trapping us in an illusion where we present selective versions of ourselves while suppressing our personalities’ “less palatable” aspects.

But what happens when we acknowledge that everyone has a shadow side? How is the pressure to be authentic and the parts of ourselves that we prefer to keep hidden reconciled?  In this post, I explore the concept of authenticity, the complexities surrounding it as well as the societal pressures that shape it.

We’ll also confront the idea that true self-acceptance involves embracing our entire being and viewing our darker, less celebrated traits as catalysts to growing into our gifts. Facing these shadows head-on enables us to move toward a more holistic and fulfilling sense of ourselves, breaking free from the illusion and embracing a more authentic reality.


Authenticity has gained significant attention in our society. Essentially it involves being true to yourself and living in alignment with your values, beliefs and desires as opposed to conforming to external societal/cultural pressures or expectations.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines authenticity as “ the quality of being real or true” and Oxford Reference refers to it as “the condition of significant, emotionally appropriate living”. A simple deduction then is that authenticity means embracing who you genuinely are, both privately and publicly. This requires a deep self-awareness and honesty about one’s gifts, personality, fears and shadows. Being consistently true to one’s unique character and spirit is what differentiates the accepted definition and requirement for authenticity.

Without getting too academic about this topic, Carl Jung’s “shadow self” is worth a mention. Jung stated that the things repressed within our unconscious minds are those things that are believed to be evil, socially unacceptable, detrimental to our own or others safety or health. This “inner darkness” can be described as emotional and fueled by a primal drive and are the things that we hide about ourselves. Interestingly, these shadow qualities can be determined within ourselves by what we criticise most in others (projection).

If we accept that we are both shadow and light and honestly accept all these aspects of ourselves, we are better equipped to work through our shadows to access the true gifts within ourselves. However, the modern obsession with authenticity markets a very different version of this concept.


In today’s social media-driven world, authenticity is glibly thrown around as the precondition for happiness and fulfilment. Public figures and influencers tout the importance of authenticity and share “real” moments from their lived experiences to connect with audiences. I’m not suggesting that these experiences are all fake(d) however, many are curated especially for the purposes of social media content and as such leads to the perpetuation of the authenticity facade. Also, this content focuses mostly on flashing the “good” experiences and not the growth through the shadow side of their humanness.

This creates pressure for those consuming the content to “be authentic” and force individuals to conform to fake ideals of authenticity rather than embracing all of their true selves. In itself, this activates fear and doubt in people where a veneer of superficial authenticity is projected, instead of encouraging people to embrace all of who they are and unashamedly live and share this. This illusion can lead to inner conflict, emotional and mental stress and disconnects one from the deeper aspects of one’s true self.

This pressure to be authentic can be overwhelming when the messages broadcast about the importance of being oneself come with implicit guidelines or expectations about what this specific authenticity should look like. This pressure leads to individuals sharing the curated versions of themselves that align with the social norms and expectations – far from who we truly are. But who am I with a dark side?


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This is a fundamental aspect of our existence and experience as human beings where positive traits like kindness and love coexist with negative traits like selfishness and greed. Fully embracing who we are is a matter of embracing both the light and shadow sides of ourselves.

The less socially acceptable side that we hide from public view – consists of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are categorised as negative or undesirable which are not for public consumption or display. While they are naturally part of the human experience, they are mostly suppressed or hidden. But what’s the purpose of this shadow side and what does it have to do with authenticity?

The shadow self shows itself in myriad ways during our daily experiences such as when we are stressed and less able to control our reactions and emotions or when our insecurities are triggered. Examples are jealousy that arises in competitive environments or rising anger in response to perceived injustices. Look at your relationships because this is where the shadow often rears its head. But there are gifts in how the shadow influences our interactions with others. Awareness of the influences of your shadow self in your relationships, brings opportunities for growth and self-discovery.


Our fear of being vulnerable is probably one of the biggest we face as humans. But this is only because we’ve been conditioned to show our good sides and hide our shadow sides from the world. However, there is power in being OK with being vulnerable about your shadow self and it’s the first step to being a more authentic version of yourself. As much as authenticity is a multifaceted concept, so too are we as human beings. When you think about answering the question: “Who am I?” the authentic version of your answer will incorporate aspects of your shadow as well.

In contrast to the facade of authenticity that’s promoted on social media and some social circles, true authenticity involves a holistic acceptance of ourselves, warts and all. This is paired with recognising and integrating all parts of our personality and being open to the opportunities that may be offered to plough through and shine more of our light. This self-acceptance can lead to a more profound and authentic sense of self and have the consequence of more meaningful connections with others. True authenticity calls for deep self-reflection and the willingness to confront the uncomfortable parts of ourselves.

The beauty of integrating all of who we are and the acceptance that we’re always a work-in-progress, allows us to break free from the illusion of authenticity. It’s not about achieving the socially approved version of authenticity, but transcending the illusion through living life based on your own values, beliefs and gifts.


Our shadow selves can impact our behaviour significantly which may not be immediately apparent. Like someone who represses their anger and may find themselves frequently irritable, blowing up at the smallest thing or being passive-aggressive. Ignoring these darker aspects can lead to individuals engaging in self-destructive or harmful behaviours. Our shadow sides are not just expressed in outbursts against others, but sometimes they rage as internal wars.

Here’s a personal story of one of my internal shadow battles.

In my young adult life I was a control freak and needed to control everything of my own and others’ lives. This gave me a sense of certainty and safety in knowing that I know what’s going on and how it’s going on. Needless to say, this was a very difficult thing to sustain. While I did get it right most of the time, it was not for the benefit of myself nor the others I was trying to control.

Having the ability to persuade people that it was actually for their benefit that they do things the way I “suggested” allowed me to easily take people on the ride. It was a very different story when things didn’t quite work out the way I wanted it to. This would trigger anxiety, anger, confusion and passive aggression because I wasn’t in control and couldn’t predict the outcome of things.

This anger would escalate and I would lash out and trigger a very sarcastic and cynical side of me. The more self-aware I became through my self-discovery journey, the less I liked this shadow. Through my process of understanding where and how this shadow was bred and the impact it was having on my relationships, I started the work to shine more of my light into this space.

Finding more constructive ways of dealing with my fears of losing control and maintaining certainty helped a great deal with this control-freakish side of me. It wasn’t a matter of deceiving myself or others when I suggest something or direct a job, etc. it was about influencing and leading from a more authentic place of win-win: tapping into my natural gifts and strengths of leading and inspiring others instead of needing to control them. When you shine a light on a shadow it becomes smaller, lighter or disappears altogether.


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🔶 Reflection and journaling:  through the process of writing and creative expression about my thoughts and feelings helped bring the unconscious aspects to the surface for me: the unconscious aspects of how I was satisfying my needs, the beliefs underpinning my behaviours and thought patterns, etc. This was done with the help of the counsellor and coach I worked with then.

🔶 Dream journaling: my dreams were valuable sources of insight into how these aspects showed up for me. There were particular themes to dreams and repeating symbology that became tell-tale signs of the inner war that was raging and was powerful in unravelling my inner mysteries.

🔶 Meditation and mindfulness practices: these practices helped increase my self-awareness and were powerful in observing my thoughts and feelings and the transition I was making from the shadow to bring in more of my light.

🔶 Through learning self-compassion, this process helped with greater self-acceptance and understanding of the origins and effects of my thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

🔶 As my self-awareness increased I became very aware of how and what I was projecting onto others. This understanding improved my relationships with others and myself.

Doing the work and recognising all aspects of my being, allowed me to present a more genuine self to the world and myself without the need to hide behind or feed my shadows. People often ask me how I can share these aspects of myself so freely. My response is that I don’t see them as bad things that need to be hidden. Rather, I see them as things that give us opportunities to shine our light more so that the shadows shrink into the background or become impotent. Here are some reflective prompts to help you identify the depths of your shadows.


🟢 What does being your “authentic self” bring to mind? Is this always positive, or does it include some of your less desirable aspects as well?

🟢  Which aspects of yourself do you tend to hide from others? Why do you think they are regarded as less socially acceptable?

🟢  What insights do you gain about your own shadow when someone’s shadow side is revealed to you?

🟢  What fears do you have about showing your shadow side to others?

🟢  How are your own self-perceptions affected by the portrayal of authenticity on social media?

🟢  Consider your closest relationships and how your shadow traits affect these interactions. How can you communicate more openly about your shadow traits with those you trust, to foster deeper and more authentic connections?

🟢  Recall a significant personal challenge that revealed your shadow traits. What practices or strategies would you incorporate into your daily life to better understand and embrace your dual nature?


When we surrender to the idea that we’re always a work-in-progress, we become an insider to our lives, rather than relying only on external validation of who we are. Acknowledging and understanding all aspects of ourselves is vital for true authenticity and contributes to genuine self-awareness and acceptance, while repressing or ignoring these aspects come at a cost.

However, it is understandable that we’d rather hide the unacceptable parts of ourselves in the light of the idealised version that society promotes. Therefore, authenticity is seen only from the “light side” where individuals are always kind, morally astute and positive. When we acknowledge the full spectrum of who we are – with challenges to work through to access the gifts of our spirit – it reduces the pressure to judge others and be more compassionate towards each other.

The journey inward requires courage and honesty but ultimately leads to greater self-awareness and a more fulfilling life. Understanding that duality is an intrinsic part of our nature, helps normalise these aspects and fosters greater compassion and a more realistic view and expectations.

If you’d like help with your journey through the shadow and into your authentic light, I invite you to connect with me on a “Vibe Call” to discuss your options and get to know each other to see if we’re a fit. This complimentary consultation helps you:

  • assess your needs and whether coaching is right for you
  • answer your questions about coaching and what I offer
  • understand what to expect if you work with me
  • get a sense of our compatibility

Keep shining!

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