Being real – it is one of the best feelings or states of being that you can experience. It is invigorating to express your thoughts and emotions without reservation (Freedom of Speech). The only thing that I can think of in my own life that has felt even better than this, is a hug from my niece, or nephew. Being real feels like this for me: I am in my body from head to toe (i.e. my spirit is powering through me), my mind is clear, I feel emotionally lighter, I have more energy and I am blissfully happy. In other words, being authentic leads to greater well-being on all levels. In Ayurvedic philosophy it is believed that health is only possible by “Standing in the Self” which is another way of saying “Be True to You.” Taking care of your own health in this way is also very self-loving. Personally, I don’t think I really felt love for myself, or others until I began getting real. In spite of all of the positive aspects of being in integrity, there will be times when saying what you think might be unsafe. One such instance in my own life involved a party I attended  with my cousin where one of the guests started yelling racial slurs at us with such vitriol that we decided to leave (we were the only people there of Southern European heritage – she did it in an indirect way as if she was talking about people that weren’t there). The atmosphere was so charged with hostility that only God knows what would have happened if we stood up for ourselves.

Speaking your truth also involves other less severe risks which usually come in the form of peoples’ negative responses.

The Inevitable Backlash

The criticism that comes from being honest always reminds me of those words spoken (or yelled) brilliantly by Jack Nicholson in the movie ‘A Few Good Men’ – “You can’t handle the truth.” I would change the word ‘the’ to ‘my’ as truth tends to be subjective. In my experience, there are three main categories of backlash: “You’re Judgmental”, “You’re Unforgiving” and “You’re Projecting.” Below is my understanding of these forms of disapproval as well as how to deal with them.

You’re Judgmental

Those who call you ‘judgmental’ usually don’t realize that they themselves are being judgmental when they refer to you as such. The reality is that making judgments is a part of life. Think about how often you judge or discern whether someone/thing is good/bad, better/worse or right for you. Even if you are ‘spiritual’ believing that we are all One and that everything has a purpose, do you honestly like or ‘love’ everyone/thing you come across? Such value judgments are based on many and varied aspects: trust, respect, loyalty, an education, materialism, ‘fitting in’, religion, culture, social status, image, sensitivity, intelligence, humanitarianism, strength, integrity and so on. Your values reflect what is important to you; what is important to you is a representation of your Real Self.

When you accept that you are judgmental and that you will be judged, being real becomes so much easier.

You’re Unforgiving

There are a few schools of thought on ‘unforgiveness’: you are creating bad karma for yourself; it is bad for your health or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, it is warranted unless you see genuine remorse from those who have transgressed against you. My response to these beliefs is as follows: bad karma derives from intentional acts meant to exploit or harm another; your health depends upon how truthful you are with yourself; waiting for others to show remorse is dis-empowering because you’re depending on them to change for you.

Forgiveness is not something that can be forced. If it is important to you, work at it. You may find it difficult to do believing that you have to have ongoing relationships with those who have harmed you but this isn’t necessary. Some things are so much easier to condone than others – forgiving someone for gossiping about you is far more doable than forgiving someone who has raped and/or murdered your child.

Those who insist that you forgive usually have unresolved issues. For example, one of my mother’s neighbors is adamant that my mother forgive her sister when she (the neighbor) refuses to forgive her own sister (i.e. “Do as I say, not as I do”). Remind these people of their own stuff – this often results in them staying out of your emotional life.

You’re Projecting

This is a classic psychological justification which may be used by some to get you to stop speaking your truth by turning it back onto you. It involves perceiving negative qualities in others which are supposed to be a reflection of characteristics that you are not willing to own up to yourself. This is true in some instances – it is also inaccurate in many others. Confronting certain individuals (or groups, organizations etc) in relation to their mistreatment of you or bad behavior in general, is also known as “being assertive.” Their response to your assertiveness is their responsibility.

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Reaching the Summit

In my mind’s eye, I always see the height of self-empowerment as the top of a mountain. When you begin your ascent by getting real with yourself and the world it is treacherous because you don’t know what unforeseen dangers lay ahead. Eventually after much work, pain, soul searching and disapproval from others, you will reach that pinnacle. From there you’ll feel peaceful, not caring about what others may think of you. Life’s challenges may cause you to stumble and fall a few feet but if you are committed to yourself you will climb back up again and again. Look down – see how far you’ve come. The price you paid for your integrity was worth every penny.