There have been many answers to this question over the years, but the one I currently like the most is described very nicely in Pete Walker’s excellent book: C-PTSD: from surviving to thriving. There, Pete writes the following:
“A central aspect of the truly helpful relational work was what John Bradshaw calls ‘healing the shame that binds’. I believe toxic shame cannot be healed without some relational help. Several therapists and groups aided me greatly to unbind from the shame that made me hide whenever I couldn’t invoke my perfect persona.
“Concurrently, I learned that real intimacy correlated with the amount I shared my vulnerabilities. As I increasingly practiced emotional authenticity, the glacier of my lifelong loneliness began to melt.”
As Pete Walker encapsulates so nicely, when you’re walking around trying to pretend that you’re ‘perfect’, or always 100% put-together, or always have the answers, or the faith that you’re meant to have, you end up feeling so very lonely on the inside.
Because you aren’t being REAL.
Even if you’re surrounded by millions of friends, and have a fulfilling career, and a big family etc etc, if you can’t be REAL (at least for a lot of the time) - then you will feel like the loneliest person on the planet.
Traumatized people often find it very difficult to let their guards down and be REAL, because they’ve usually experienced so much mockery, criticism, and lack of acceptance. When you grow up in a traumatizing environment, it’s safer to hide your flaws and struggles behind a big wall of aggressive perfectionism than to risk being made to feel awful because you aren’t always perfect, all the time.
Like it or not, Western society promotes and glorifies shaming other people in the cruelest of ways. I think mocking other people has taken the place of the gladiator sports that were so popular in ancient Rome, except now we cut people’s heads off with blog comments, ‘jokes’ and Facebook posts instead of swords and spears.
It’s understandable that so many people dive for cover in the face of this very unhealthy mode of interacting with others. It’s very, very hard to maintain ‘real’ around cruel, superficial, hyper-critical people.
(If you’re wondering how I deal with that myself, the short answer is that I try to avoid these people as much as possible, because otherwise they drive me completely bonkers and push me back into ‘feeling ashamed’ flashbacks within a nanosecond.)
And that’s one very big reason why I try to write ‘real’, as much as possible, because the more real I can be, the more those other people will also start to feel safe to express their own brand of ‘real’ in the world.
Yes, it would definitely be easier to write from a place of having a ‘perfect persona’ a lot of the time. I’d probably ‘fit’ into more people’s boxes a little easier, and stop pressing buttons in very repressed individuals who find honesty dangerous. I also wouldn’t open myself up to people thinking ‘less’ of me because I’m not perfect after all.
But you know what? The path of pretend perfection kills the soul. So I could end up looking like I was doing better from the outside (maybe…) but I guarantee I’d be feeling a whole lot worse. And a whole lot lonelier. A whole lot more like I didn’t really ‘fit’ anywhere in the world.
Being real is risky sometimes. Being real can sometimes alienate people who aren’t ‘real’ themselves, and who find it far too overwhelming to deal with. Being real means there’s no-where to hide when your flaws and negative character traits come roaring out at you.
But being real is also the way to truly forge deep connections to other people, and to God, and to ourselves. And if that’s the only benefit you get from being real (and I don’t think it is), it’s more than worth it.