Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dispositional Authenticity: True to One's Self

To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man. ~ Polonius, Hamlet, Act I, Scene III

I got hooked on Hamlet as a teenager, drawn in by the idea of a young man conspiring with the ghost of his father to expose the truth of his murder. As a son whose father has died, I can relate to Hamlet far more now than ever before, but that's a subject for another post.

This morning I'm thinking about the advice given by Polonius to his son, Laertes, who is about to depart for France. On the face of it, Polonius sounds like a father preparing his son to relate to the world as an adult, and concludes his speech with the famous quote above. In point of fact, he reveals that throughout life, he has been true only to himself, and as a result, being false to any and everyone, when the occasion required it, has been easy. You might say he has been authentically inauthentic and he doesn't even know it.

I'm mentioning this because researchers at Ohio State University have been conducting a study among heterosexual couples examining the role of dispositional authenticity -- the proclivity for being true to one's sense of self -- in romantic relationships. It appears that individuals who are self-aware, and who live up to what they know of themselves, behave in ways that are more intimate and less destructive with respect to their partners.

My father would not have been surprised. He used to say waiting until you're involved with someone to begin the process of self-discovery is like repairing the fence after the cattle have wandered through. "You can't very well figure someone else out, if you haven't figured yourself out first." As obvious as this sounds, it's very revealing when you think about some relationships.

Being true to oneself implies the presence of a self to begin with. At the very least, this refers to a stable and enduring core enabling one to grow, contribute to the well-being of others, and cope with loss and frustration. Among individuals who employ a "false self" as compensation for insecurity, or who rely on a contrivance that has little or no basis in reality, dispositional authenticity is compromised. Like Polonius, their expression of self is situation-dependent and who they truly are, from moment to moment, is uncertain.

For partners who are accustomed to being honest with and about themselves, interacting with the dispositionally inauthentic is perplexing and sometimes, downright crazy-making. Consistency is important, especially where intimacy is concerned, and it helps immensely to be able to interact with someone who is "always home." When your partner's identity is as variable as spring weather in Maine and they are unwilling or unable to examine themselves to find out why, the whole concept of being in relationship is called into question.

(P.S. Thanks, everyone, for your patience yesterday, I appreciate it.)

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