Being real to me means living my life the way I choose. With my rules, my expectations and a healthy dose of acceptance of my shortcomings. However, that is certainly easier said than done. Those of us, who want to keep it real must constantly juggle between our instincts to act however we want, and on the other hand, cater to society’s expectations.
There are many things that get in the way of the quest to be true to yourself – fear, shame, duty, etc. In many of my coaching sessions, I sense the deep longing to not be concerned about letting others down, the fear of embarrassing ourselves, the fear of rejection, the fear of judgement, the fear of falling flat on our faces, and the fear of being alone.
Of course, we want to be real, to be true to ourselves, and yet, so much gets in the way that sometimes it seems impossible. There are bills to pay, people to please, rules to follow, wounds to protect, and shame to hide. After all, the matrix we live in is constantly feeding us information on what we need to do, how we need to act, and what we need to be. Hence, living a life that gives full expression to you, can be a challenge.
And I say that as someone who strives to be true to myself and to dance to my own tune. My mother was a great example of someone who sincerely attempted to be who she was and to not care what anyone thought or said. However, whilst I observed her breaking all the molds, and on the outside not caring what others said or thought, I was also aware of a deep sense of loneliness and isolation that she experienced because of her commitment to being herself in the most real sense. When others would whisper about her, or crack jokes at her expense, she from appearances would seem unaffected, but I would often glimpse an expression of hurt on her face. However, notwithstanding the costs she paid, until the day she died, she was a shining example of someone who consciously chose to be her real self. In time, I have realized I am more like my mother than I have ever credited during her lifetime.
Nonetheless, when we consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, at the bottom of the pyramid are our basic needs, our need for safety and security and our need for loving and belonging. These are all important because our earliest memories relate to the primary quest for love. Love is the foundation – the ground we learn to walk on. From the moment we slipped out of the womb (and before), we needed it nearly as much as we needed the air we breathed. We did everything we could to get that love, even if it meant gradually giving up pieces of ourselves to please the person (s) whose love we sought. When we felt loved, we felt safe.
However, not all of us experienced that sense of safety, as whenever really got the love we were seeking. So, the world became a very unsafe place. We didn’t know how to behave because nothing we did brought us the love we so badly needed. In fact, we started equating getting love as a transaction – we obey the rules, we have to do certain things, we have to live up to others’ expectations etc. Inevitably, this will interfere with our ability to be true to who we are. After all, the consequences of not pleasing those whose affections we craved were what we tried to avoid. And some of us, raised in volatile or unstable environments, knew how to run for cover or to morph ourselves into whatever shapes would best protect us.
It is, therefore, no surprise that we forget that by morphing into what others want us to be and do, we are actually failing at the one job that is our most important one. That is the job of loving ourselves unconditionally. That sounds simple, right? Yet it is probably the hardest to do! It starts with a realisation that when I fail to be real with myself – when I fail to acknowledge our truth, we end up disrespecting ourselves and ourselves the love we seek from others. Ultimately – this thing about ‘being real’ for me is about being true to myself. It does mean having a healthy regard for your context (after all we are not islands). But even taking that into account, it means finding appropriate ways to do what is right for me.
To do this work of chipping away at other expectations takes a lot of courageous effort. But it is work that is worthwhile doing. It is worthwhile to interrogate every layer, peeling away at our wounds and narratives that shape how we show up in the world. Indeed, I am not going to sugar-coat it. Every step we take at recovering our true self puts us at risk. We may be shamed for it, we may be rejected, we may not be loved!
But, if we consider not doing this work, we deny ourselves truth and freedom. Gradually, as we do this work, we realise that we have greater capacity and courage to do the work of coming back to ourselves. We might lose people along the way – but we will also find other people. As we do so, we open new possibilities of being and functioning in this world.
Herewith some tips to support you in doing this work.
# 1- Access your inner voice
To access more of your true self, you have to be able to access your inner voice. We experience inner wisdom in different ways. Maybe you “see” a picture, vision or image that comes into your head. Perhaps you feel sensations in your body – energy, emotions or feelings. As we go through examples of how to listen, pay attention to how and where yours shows up. When you access your inner voice, you are better able to understand what you want (not others’) and you can better self-advocate or stand up for what you need.
# 2 – Take small steps to self-expression
Like with anything in life, practice makes permanent. It takes time to grow and nurture your true self. The more you listen and hone your skills, the better and faster you will become at hearing and listening to your intuition, your gut, your innate wisdom. Play with strategies and see what works. Better yet, as you read through the ideas, identify which ones you felt or sensed would be good to try. Try those first.
#3 Find support
When you are true to your core self, you might feel shaky. Or have some emotional symptoms that can include feelings of anger, frustration, being overwhelmed, loneliness, and eventually depression or anxiety. It is best to find either professional or social support that can hold you during such times.