REAL is the title of our 2016 book and the 2023 documentary produced by Thrive Media about our work. Since 2016, REAL has become a buzzword to describe everything from products to people. What does REAL mean, and why is it our focus? Bottom line, we won’t feel alive unless we are real.
We are born with an inherent core ‘self’ wired deep within our brains, like a neurological thumbprint. You might refer to this as your soul if you’re of a spiritual mindset. We ‘become’ ourselves when those who love us reflect that self back to us, like looking in a mirror. We have a powerful drive to become our real selves and a powerful need to be loved and belong.
At the same time, we are all born into a family, culture and society with a pre-determined set of expectations that define who we are allowed to be. Gender is just one example of many. We are handed a role and expected to play out that role.
Through the early years of our development, connection and survival are interchangeable. When there appears to be a choice between being our real selves or preserving connection, we will always choose connection over authenticity. This often painful choice leaves us with a sense of being unacceptable, flawed or not good enough in some way.
We relegate what we believe to be the shameful aspect of ourselves to the basement of our psychological house, where we lock it up and preferably throw away the key. Sadly, we also throw away part of ourselves. We cover this basement with strategies, defences and masks designed to fit in.
We stop being real. We stop taking risks. As a result, some part of us sits on the sidelines, waiting for life to magically happen rather than entering the playing field. We aren’t necessarily aware of how much we contribute to our own dilemmas in this way. Being real feels vulnerable and risky because we all run into these painful suspicions about ourselves as we wrestle with the choice to be ourselves or to fit in.
Fitting in isn’t the same as connection. At some level, we know we aren’t being real. Imagine someone important looking deeply into your being, through your eyes to your core. What happens? To the degree that you feel anxious, you are also not being real.
The quality of our life shifts dramatically on a psychological, emotional, and spiritual level through the experience of authentic connection. Connection is how we become ourselves as children AND as adults. We have to risk allowing ourselves to be seen, deeply and vulnerably seen, flaws and all. When we do this, we learn to accept ourselves when we see others’ genuine acceptance, and we learn to love ourselves when we receive others’ genuine caring.
When we’re vulnerable and real, the love and care others extend has somewhere to enter. Love cannot enter through a defense or a strategy, but as soon as we are willing to open the door to the basement, it floods in.
Through the experience of real, authentic connection we discover that we can be who we are, flaws and all. You are here to be yourself, to be authentic, loving, vulnerable, brave, and honest. Your REAL self is the best you have to offer.
Catherine O’Kane is a Registered Clinical Counsellor, teacher, workshop facilitator and a gifted and entertaining public speaker with Clearmind International. She has a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, and has been a practicing therapist since 1992, helping people evolve out of personal pain into purpose. She firmly believes that what we put out in all our relationships has the power to ripple out and effect positive change in our families, communities and beyond.