‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’

The above extract is from Margery Williams Bianco’s The Velveteen Rabbit, a children’s book from the 1920s.  A thoroughly beautiful allegory, it describes the life of a toy rabbit who yearns to be real.

It’s a common desire. We sometimes find ourselves in a space of not really feeling, not really experiencing, a husky, dusty sensation, which leaves us to question the validity of our true selves. Am I authentic, embodied and alive? But the allegory above shows that ‘real’ is a life-long, complex journey which needs, first and foremost, love.

Some people are loved into realness, others love themselves into realness – but one of those two things must happen to ignite the other for us to become.  Realness requires vulnerability and compassion, side by side.

You can’t be real wearing a mask or armour, so you must make the choice that you are enough and that your real self will be seen, nurtured, and respected by the people around you.  Of course, that doesn’t always happen, and so as children we learn what version of real, or how much real, our family, friends, and colleagues can accept. Being real can be terrifying, both for ourselves and others.

If surrounded by acceptance and love, children tend to become securely attached and well-adjusted. Those children have less trauma and find it easier to make friends with their real selves as they grow into adulthood. Children who feel they must hide, perform or reduce their expression of self in whatever way (gender, sexuality, belief system etc) are more likely to be like the velveteen rabbit, longing to be real.

This armoury makes building relationships more difficult and the longer it goes on, the harder it is to shed the façade and unveil the true self.

The rewards, however, are worth the risk.  Vulnerability – in this case, showing our true nature and trusting those around us – enables us to find the people who will become our inner circle, our lifelong friends, our chosen family. By loving ourselves fully – and I don’t mean in a conceited way – we begin to settle down, in true acceptance of ourselves and the meaning of self in relationship to others.

Please get in touch if the above article resonates with you in light of your own situation.

Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash

Disclaimer: This article contains the views of the author and is not a replacement for therapeutic support. Please reach out to a registered therapist if you are experiencing distress and require assistance.