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Authenticity as Best-Self: The Experiences of Women in Law Enforcement

  • Jacobs, Rochelle
  • Barnard, Antoni
Published Article
Frontiers in Psychology
Frontiers Media SA
Publication Date
May 06, 2022
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.861942
  • Psychology
  • Original Research


Law enforcement poses a difficult work environment. Employees’ wellbeing is uniquely taxed in coping with daily violent, aggressive and hostile encounters. These challenges are compounded for women, because law enforcement remains to be a male-dominated occupational context. Yet, many women in law enforcement display resilience and succeed in maintaining a satisfying career. This study explores the experience of being authentic from a best-self perspective, for women with successful careers in the South African police and traffic law enforcement services. Authenticity research substantiates a clear link between feeling authentic and experiencing psychological wellbeing. The theoretical assumption on which the study is based holds that being authentic relates to a sense of best-self and enables constructive coping and adjustment in a challenging work environment. A qualitative study was conducted on a purposive sample of 12 women, comprising 6 police officers and 6 traffic officers from the Western Cape province in South Africa. Data were gathered through narrative interviews focussing on experiences of best-self and were analysed using interpretive phenomenological analysis. During the interviews, participants predominantly described feeling authentic in response to work-related events of a conflictual and challenging nature. Four themes were constructed from the data to describe authenticity from a best-self perspective for women in the study. These themes denote that the participating women in law enforcement, express feeling authentic when they present with a mature sense of self, feel spiritually congruent and grounded, experience self-actualisation in the work–role and realign to a positive way of being. Women should be empowered towards authenticity in their world of work, by helping them to acquire the best-self characteristics needed for developing authenticity.

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