On this site, you’ll hear a lot about the true self and the false self. If you’re not familiar with these terms already, you might wonder what they mean.
The concept of true self and false self can be found in many psychological and spiritual circles, and it can mean different things in each. The definition I’m working with here is the following*:
The true self is the core of you who are, the original you, unshaped by upbringing or society. This is the state you were born in and it is a state that still exists inside you.
This doesn’t mean that finding your true self means regressing back to childhood – just as you have grown physically, your true self has grown too. However, it is usually strongly guarded by the false self and, at first, might be difficult to reach.
Your false self can also be called your adapted self. This is the parts of you that have altered behaviour, repressed feelings and pushed your needs aside to fit in with others.
This is an unconscious process that starts very young and is motivated by a base desire to survive. From an incredibly young age, babies can sense their mothers’ needs and adapt their own behaviour to respond to them, creating the beginnings of the false self.
*N.B.: I don’t see the true self as a ‘higher self’ or something that communicates with, relates to or equates to any god-like figure. This is a purely rational, planet Earth-based, non-mystical exploration.
Imagine people are like onions. At the centre lies our true self, surrounded by layers we have developed through our lives as protection. These layers are our false self.
The centre of the onion needs these protective layers to be able to survive.
Most of us also need our false selves as protection to survive childhood, and we carry these layers with us through our adult lives. Once, they were useful – they helped us survive. Now, however, they are no longer needed and might actually be more of a hindrance than a help.
The above might sound a little abstract, so here are some examples of situations in which encourage a false self to form:
1. Western expectations that real men don’t cry and well brought up women don’t get angry – of course they do.
2. A 2 year-old is playing with her mother’s necklace out of curiosity and is snapped at ‘Don’t touch!’
3. Girls are given the message that personality and virtue doesn’t mean much, if anything – however, the
right weight and ‘look’ will help further them in life.
4. An upset child is told to stop crying ‘You’re embarrassing me/yourself. You’re making a scene. There’s no reason for you to be upset.’ If a child is upset, there is always a reason and it is always important – however small it might seem to an adult.
None of the above are made up. In fact, they are cultural norms.
You Are Not An Onion
As children, our true selves are kind of screwed. From day one, we’re told not to feel this, that we should feel that and that other people always come first otherwise you’re selfish.
The result of that is that we put other’s feelings before our own, imbue messed up ideas of what is ‘expected’ of us and repress and reject who we really are deep down.
Now, it’s time to be selfish.
Image: Darwin Bell