The False Self as Witness

IMG_4048In the previous post,we asked the question,”Do you know your true self?” Today, let’s take a closer look at what the false self is, and how it develops.

As human beings, we need a witness: a person to see what we do and feel, and to reflect back to us. That enables us to put words to our experiences, making it possible to give meaning to our lives. As we mature, the external witness is incorporated into the self, creating the ability to give meaning from the inside.

When we live in a situation where we do not have an adequate witness, the harsh inner critic develops into the self. Our internal witness become critical, nothing is ever good enough, and we are driven either to work harder or, in some cases, to give up. We ask ourselves, “Why try when nothing will ever be good enough?” Or perhaps your role in the family was to be the one who always failed.

The false-self forms early in life at a time when we rely on others – specifically our caretakers – to be our witnesses. It takes its cues from early experiences when those caretakers could not adequately meet our needs, and when babies are expected to please their caretakers. This is largely an unconscious process, and as a result, many people live mostly out of their false selves until they make the effort to find their true self underneath.

If the false self develops in a positive way, it can be very helpful. It will get you through life with grace and little conflict. If the false self develops in negative, destructive way, it can be dangerous. It can hurt you and the people around you.

Regardless of how it develops, the false self does keep you from knowing your true self, causing an empty place inside. The emptiness can cause loneliness, anxiety, and depression, which could lead to addiction and other forms of self-destructive behavior.

For example, a young woman told me about her desire to always have someone else’s boyfriend or lover. The only way she could be interested in someone was if they were already “taken.” It was in “the pursuit” that she felt most alive. After she broke up the couple and reached her goal, she lost interest and became depressed.

With great shame she told me, “that’s just the way I am.”

As she began to examine her life, she came to the realization that her desire for an unavailable person was learned growing up. She had to compete with her mother and her siblings to get her father’s attention. Unknown to her as a child, he was distant and had little to give.

She received many negative messages, both verbally and non-verbally. She interpreted her father’s inattention to mean she was unworthy and unlovable. As she continually lost the battle for her father’s attention, she developed the belief that she would always be second.

These messages came together to form a false self so strong that it became the only self she knew.   She believed she was a dishonest, untrustworthy person who did not deserve love. This self was so well developed that it controlled her behavior and how she felt about herself. She had become the messages conveyed by the negative voices in her mind.

In the process of finding her true self, she had to listen to those messages to discover which ones came from the false self. When she did, she began to find people, activities and things she liked and wanted. She began to hear different messages because they were the ones coming from her true self.

Just like this woman, you may believe, “it is just the way you are,” but you do not have to remain as you are now. There is more to you that you know; there is a true self – a place inside where you can feel at home.

If you want to learn more about your true self, I can help. Call for a free 15 minute consultation at: 919-881-2001.











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