Openness and Authenticity Are Not Enough

I’m currently reading a really great book, Restoration Therapy: Understanding and Guiding Healing in Marriage and Family Therapy by Terry D. Hargrave and Franz Pfitzer. In fact, I can’t recommend it enough.

But as I was reading last night this section of the book jumped off the page at me. It jumped off the page at me because they finally said what I have been thinking before regarding the role and risk of openness and authenticity, but have been unable to formulate myself.

There is a culture (Millennials, certain church environments, etc.) that highly values openness and authenticity, but it is often just about being those things…rather than what those things can lead to. So for example you hear people say, “This is just who I am…either you accept me or you don’t.” Or “I’m just being real.” Or, “I’m just being honest with you…that’s how God created me.”

We like talking about our flaws and imperfections in an authentic way with others. But the purpose of being authentic is not just about sharing our flaws and imperfections…nor is just about being open in order to be accepted for who we are. Rather, true openness and authenticity reflect back to us ways in which we need to grow as people. But too many of us stop short from allowing that reflection to transform who we are…we seem to just be content frolicking in our flaws and imperfections, demanding that others just accept who we are…because after all we tell ourselves, “Hey, this is just me…this is just who I am…God made me this way.”

But God wants more from us…He wants us to grow and to be transformed not only individually but in our relationships with others.

Glad I came across this passage that really brought some clarity to this issue for me.

“A person is only being human and worthy of respect and admiration when open about flaws and imperfections so he or she can deal with them honestly.

Openness is essential for us to be able to trust in relationships because it allows us to deal constructively with these elements of imperfection. If I know that I am imperfect, am unreliable in the way I perform my responsibilities, or irresponsible toward justice in relationships, then deep down I know that everyone copes with the same problem. When one is open about these flaws, the person is openly acknowledging that areas of deficiency; this makes it much more likely that the person will use the openness as an opportunity to correct shortcomings and to grow. Openness alone about flaws without addressing the shortcoming is unfortunate in relationships because it demands that the other relational partner simply adjust to the shortcoming and live as if a problem cannot be corrected or is actually no problem. While we agree acceptance in relationships is important (Jacobson & Christensen, 1998), we do feel that untrustworthy and unloving behavior in relationships is unacceptable….Openness is not about saying, ‘This is the way I am, and to be in a relationship with me means that you take me as I am.’ Rather, it means, ‘This is what I see in myself, and I believe that I can be better.’ When openness points towards growth, our imperfections and flaws and those of our relational partners actually pull us together more clearly in an intimate bond.” (pp. 27)

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Rhett Smith
I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate (MDiv, MSMFT, LMFT-A) and pastor to youth and families. I write about the relationships between psychology, theology and technology.