I’ve read, seen and heard this term “fake it till you make it” quite a bit the past few years. It’s supposed to mean that if you’re struggling with something, finding something hard, or just plain having a hard time and not doing well, you can pretend you’re doing better than you are and eventually you’ll really be doing better than you are. I think there is a tiny bit of truth to this if it’s meant in the same sense that C.S. Lewis wrote about when he said:
“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him.”
Perhaps he’s right that “pretending” your way into a virtue will eventually cause this virtue to become your true character over time, the way that a child putting on an adult’s shoes eventually “fits” into them. You can eventually “fit” into a virtue by practicing it. I prefer the term practicing over pretending as it sounds more like forward movement than putting on masks in order to hide ourselves.
Also, Tony Robbins often talks about how our physiology affects our psychology. In other words, if you’re feeling depressed and are sitting or standing slumped over, the first thing to do is pull your shoulders back and breathe. In other words your body informs your mind how to feel. There is also a lot of truth to this.
But overall, as a lifelong strategy, “Fake it till you make it” isn’t going to fly. At least not if what you are actually wanting is to be real and to be loved for who you are and not who you pretend to be.
It seems that what we all want is not only to be real, to be authentic, but to be real and authentic…and be loved. The part where it gets scary is when being authentic might cause rejection, disapproval or outright alienation. If you were raised with people who did a lot of hiding from themselves and their emotions, or if expressing your true feelings was met with abuse, rejection or invalidation, it’s easy to see why people find it easier to fake it.
Personally, it seems like more work to not be real than to be real. But I can see why people fall into this trap because maybe for the time being, it seems the better alternative. But as anyone wrestling through this can tell you, it’s not the better alternative. It ends up becoming a bigger and bigger hole to dig yourself out of.
My own frustration with being real is more related to the kind of responses I sometimes come up against which make me see why so many people find it easier to not bother with authenticity. Things like telling someone how I’m feeling when it’s not a happy-smiley day for me and then being either preached at, lectured or invalidated in some other way.
Henri Nouwen said it so marvelously:
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
So what are some solutions to the dilemma of wanting to be real, but also wanting to avoid being hurt, and more importantly, to be heard and be loved for who we are? Perhaps there isn’t any big solution, but two things that come to mind are risk and discernment.
Risk is part of being human and is part of any human interaction. We need to risk being hurt in order to have authentic relationship, friendship and community. The important thing though is to make sure to bring discernment along with us when taking risks in sharing with others. Discernment about when to tell, who to tell and how much to tell.
Discernment is much like gut instinct, but even finer tuned. It helps you locate the line between your own fear and the need to take a risk and step out, whether that’s stepping out in connecting with people or stepping out in a new direction in life. It’s a divine gift and like all gifts, it can be cultivated and strengthened so that it becomes easier to tune into. The more you do, the better choices you will make in who you share your concerns, burdens and heaviness with. As you probably know, sharing with the wrong people can be worse than not sharing at all.
So tune your ear and heart to God’s guidance and choose wisely. Then take the risk and share your heart honestly and openly. The right people will be okay with hearing your junk. And who knows, it may even free them up to share theirs. That doesn’t mean we need to wallow forever in a “junk sharing” pity party, but it does mean that there should be at least one or two people in your life with whom you feel like the Emily Dickinson quote below. God knows how thankful I am for those people in my life.
As always, let me know if I can be of help. Wishing you all the grace and strength you need.
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