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Being true to who we are isn't always easy. Most of us wind up spending more time than we like in a state of phoniness, faking enthusiasm for our "friends" playing impressed with your boss’s lame ideas, laughing at jokes we don’t think are funny, spending time with people who's consciousness isn't in-line with yours for the sake of security or even working for companies we no longer believe in.

Turns out all that false behaviour exacts a price, according to new research from Northwestern University. It actually makes us feel as immoral as if we’d cheated or lied.

“We wanted to understand the deep psychological effects of being inauthentic,” says Maryam Kouchaki, Ph.D., a professor of organizational behavior. She says the new research shows that inauthenticity doesn't just feel lousy. We feel so dirty that we actually want to wash more.

The researchers asked one group of participants to write about an experience that made them feel inauthentic, and another group to write about a time when they felt especially true to themselves. They then asked subjects to fill in missing letters in cleansing-related words. “W _ _ h was more likely to be completed as "wash" by the inauthentic group, for example, and "wish" by the people who had written about authenticity. The participants who felt phony were more likely to say they wanted to use cleansing products and take part in cleansing behaviors than the group who had written about authenticity. It turns out that the sense of being inauthentic inspires the same feeling of being dirty that doing something immoral does.

“We were surprised at the strong connection this group felt to immorality,” Kouchaki says.

The research also suggests that to ease the guilt that comes from that feeling of falseness, we’re more prone to good deeds. The inauthentic group was significantly more likely to volunteer to help experimenters out with a 15-minute survey, for instance.

For anyone looking to make changes in order to feel more authentic in their lives—whether in their work or relationships—the findings offer plenty of validation: When we can’t show our true colors, we suffer. The price we’re likely to pay for being disloyal to our true selves, Kouchaki says, “is distress, and feelings of being morally tainted.”

Always keep it real.

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