'Keep it real', 'be real', 'she's so real'... however you phrase it, authenticity is recognised the world over as a force for good and a highly desirable state both personally and where our perception of others is concerned (it doesn't just relate to people, either - think about realness in organic clothing and whole foods).
Why? Because as humans we have an innate understanding that the unmasked directly translates as integrity and that being our true self - without pressure to feign false emotion or action - equals fulfilment and happiness. After all, contentment is when we do what we mean and we mean what we do, as the saying goes.
Inversely, when we're going against the grain of who we really are and what we really stand for, life can start to feel very out of whack. It's like we're wearing an uncomfortable outfit cut for someone else.
But here's a conundrum: We also yearn for love and human connection, which can take us in different directions to who we really are. Sometimes it's just subtly, but sometimes it's in a significant enough way to make us feel psychological discomfort.
So how can we balance our desire to feel connected with our innate need to feel like we also belong to ourselves; that we're in control? This can get complicated.
Our need to fit in is key to our hardwiring. We learn from day dot that success is parallel to approval and conformity. Rewind back to school, when you were waiting to be picked for a sports team in PE (a practice I personally hope has been phased out). For many of us there was a burning anxiety, shame, and fear of being left out. Then you move swiftly on to your teenage years, which are fraught with the terror of being different or missing out.
Those feelings move from the playground to work and romantic and social scenarios as we get older, but they never really go away.
A vibrant young client of mine in her early twenties told me, "I sometimes feel like if someone asked the real 'me' to stand up, there would be a deafening roar as the chairs are all pushed back and a million people rise to their feet. I can't bear it; why don't know who I am?"
This is a perfectly normal feeling to have, but it's worth understanding why we have it in the first place and what we can do about it.
For starters, we all have variations of ourselves in different situations and the so-called "invented self" is normal. And it doesn't help that the idea of being yourself conjures up a fear of weirdness, symbolised by quirky wardrobes full of purple or the jokey loudmouth who holds odd and opposing views.
Finding our true self is a bit like learning to ride a two wheeler as we wobble our way through different life transitions - belonging, yet also becoming.
Achieving this balance in a committed relationship can be a bit of a litmus test.
Authenticity means different things to different mental health experts, of course.
According to some psychologists, it's less about expressing your opinion without filters, and more about being self-aware. The overall consensus however is that authentic people feel better about themselves, and are altogether happier and more creative - because they are more humble and better able to take criticism. Research has shown this to be true.
So what if you are worried you have lost your potential self in the relationship you thought you were totally committed to? The one where you felt you had met your other half? What if you feel like you were just half of what you once were?
Couples often express sentiments like: "Something is missing", "This just isn't me", or "I hardly recognise myself".
One client even compared how she felt as like a dump of late spring snow on a tender spring shoot. She felt everything was becoming buried. Over and over I hear: "She doesn't let me be me" or "He doesn't really know the real me."
This sensation can drive people to despair. It can feel like you've chosen the wrong partner because what else could explain that sense that something is missing?
Feeling marooned and saturated by doubt, couples will often go on to say they are having problems communicating. And they're right: they are in touch with their anger, blame and perceptions about their partner - but they're still covering up that tender spring shoot which is made up of sadness, fear, shame, and a yearning to connect in a deeper way. To be truly known.
The crux of it is that, for many of us, the fierce yearning to be loved for our real selves is tempered by an equally strong terror that our real self is not worth loving.
Here are the ironies: Airing this fear is most likely to lead to the very authenticity we desire in our relationships. Relinquishing control can give us control. Revealing those deeper and more accurate feelings are like an efficient bridge to a more authentic connection. When we can show someone who we really are - and more significantly who we want and need to become once we begin to speak from actual heartfelt experience - things will very often shift and take shape.
The paradox is that to be authentic and powerful, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Not in a "why don't you come over here and walk over me while I cry" way, more of a "here is how I really feel and this is what I really need" vulnerability.
They are two quite different brands.
Inversely, restricting and boxing up our thoughts and feelings stifles progress and potential. Lies, transgressions, false flattery, avoidance and silence all mask the authentic self. It's an exhausting cocktail of sadness and frustration.
Of course, we all have to act sometimes. Think about at the boardroom table, where your professional self kicks in, even though you're sometimes raging on the inside.
But blocking our truest, most unmasked self does the most damage where our intimate relationships are concerned. That's the worst kind of trap to be in because your spirit, for want of a better word, can't breathe. And that, ultimately, is a bigger risk than never risking being seen at all.