Real trumps polite!
I often say I like contact with other people to be real. A few weeks ago, someone curiously asked, what does real mean to me? It was an excellent question, and one I thought worth addressing in a blog, because it matters.
Being real to me is about being authentic. It’s about being who I am, feeling able to be myself, without need to edit or adapt myself to what I anticipate others might want or prefer. Being real isn’t about exposing everything, or lacking boundaries, it’s about making sure whatever depth of contact is appropriate is meaningful and has honesty.
In psychotherapy, it’s the usual expectation that the client will be real and that they will say whatever is true for them; after all, therapy is a space that is designed to be safe, to be without judgement or need for adaptation. I’m not sure that is an ideal that can always be lived up to, but it is what is strived for. But what of the psychotherapist?
Therapists don’t share our biographical stories, therapy is not a two way exchange of the kind other relationships may be. We do, however, share our being deeply. If we want clients to be able to be authentic and real in the room, we go first. Therapists work with the relationship as it evolves in the room, we notice and when appropriate share what we notice, both in our clients and in ourselves. We take risks, we make ourselves vulnerable, we dare to go to places clients may not have travelled before, be that uncomfortable topics, or into meaningful contact of the kind that may have been missing for clients in their early relationships.
Therapy is the home of real, but it is not the only context in which it matters. Rather, in therapy we help our clients to come home to their real selves, we enable them to find their authenticity so that they can deepen the intimacy and meaning of the relationships in their life, from those with people with whom they have real but passing acquaintances, right through to those they hold closest and most dearly.
Being real isn’t all about depth, it’s about honesty. It’s not a topic, it’s a way of being in the world. Real rocks, it is the home of joy, of excitement, of safety and of pleasure.
In which relationships do you want to be more authentic and real?