The mantra to “get real” has become popular nowadays — and for good reason. We live in a society where images rule and authenticity is reserved for blue jeans and ethnic recipes. We’re trained to polish and parade a false self that we think will garner acceptance and accolades.
The isolation and disconnection that’s rampant in our society is based on a disconnection from our own genuine feelings and longings. We’re afraid to show what’s real, including our fears, insecurities, and yearning for love and intimacy. Instead, we may try to project a confident, self-assured, unruffled self that we think will win us friends and gain success. For example, we might conceal our hurt or sadness when our partner is late. Our built-up disappointment or resentment might leak out later over something trivial, which leaves our partner confused.
The deeper yearnings of our heart — our desire for love and connection — requires something from us. We need to know and show what we’re really feeling inside. Rather than keep our authentic self hidden due to a fear of being rejected or shamed, we need to summon the courage to contact and reveal what’s genuine inside us.
We legitimately want love, respect, and connection. But this wanting will not be actualized unless we’re willing to give something, both to ourselves and others: the gift of authenticity and realness.
Being real with others can feel freeing and empowering, especially when we’ve kept our true feelings under wraps for so long. Honoring our right to be respected and setting boundaries that serve our lives can boost our self-esteem. Expressing feelings of anger when our rights are violated and desires frustrated can feel liberating, if not intoxicating.
The shadow side of being genuine is that we may lose sight of how we’re affecting others. While we pride ourselves on being real, others may experience us as being mean. “Telling it like it is” may bring a newly-found empowerment, but does it leave people feeling disheartened or unsafe with us?
If our intention is limited to free self-expression, our manner of expression may push people away. If our intention expands to include a desire for a fulfilling interaction and connection, then we’re invited to be mindful of how our self-expression affects others.
Being real with others works better when we’re real with ourselves about what’s actually going on inside us. Anger toward our partner for being late is a legitimate feeling, but if we look deeper, there’s probably something more vulnerable going on. Perhaps their lateness is releasing salt into an old wound of feeling disrespected. Or, we simply feel sad to miss valuable time with someone we love. Sharing these feelings would be exposing something that is more deeply real.
According to Buddhist psychology, what is called “Right Speech” or “Skillful Speech” means refraining from saying things that are hurtful. A guideline is to consider three things before speaking: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?
If we only consider what is true, then we have a license to say anything that pops into our mind. Considering whether it is kind provides a check to our impulsivity. What is important is not only whether something is true, but also that we express our truth with gentleness and caring. This softer self-expression reflects the awareness that people’s hearts are tender — and that we have the power to be hurtful or helpful.
Considering whether a comment is helpful means that we’re guided by an intention to deepen the communication and nourish the relationship rather than by an intention to retaliate, punish, or hurt a person. It takes a rigorous self-honesty to differentiate whether we’re coming from a heartful place of caring or a hurtful place embedded in reactivity.
Marshal Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is one useful model for how to communicate constructively by using self-revealing statements rather than attacking, criticizing, and blaming, which are destructive to relationships.
We may pride ourselves on being real, but developing deeper, safer connections with our partner, friends, and community requires that we blend honesty with a simple kindness and consideration of how our truth affects people. It’s a creative practice to search for words that are congruent with our true feelings while simultaneously being respectful and caring in our speech and tone of voice. Skillful communication that honors both ourselves and others is a fine art that can reap huge rewards in our love life and in all of our relationships.