All of us have a false self, created to protect us as we move through life. That false self has no true personal power. When we rely on it, we feel like we’re climbing a wobbly ladder. This episode teaches how you can stop relying on your false self and reclaim your true self, where your real power, ingenuity, and deepest truth lie. It is the key to an empowered and intimate life. Living from our true self is life’s greatest adventure!
Table of Contents
- Using Your False Self as a Defensive Structure
- My People-Pleaser False Self
- Understanding and Naming Our False Self
Episode Introduction: False Self
I think that maybe the greatest key to a rich and love-filled life is learning to discover our true self and separate it from our false self. In this episode of the Deeper Dating Podcast, you’ll learn how to identify your true self and your false self, and liberate your true self in your relationships and in your life, so stay tuned.
Today, I’m going to be speaking about how to identify your true self and separate it from your false self in your interactions with the world and with yourself. Every week, I’m going to share the greatest tools that I know to help you find love and grow love and heal your life in the process because the skills of true dating are nothing more than the skills of intimacy, and the skills of intimacy are the greatest skills of all.
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So all of us create a false self to protect our true self when it feels too frightening to be genuine in the world. What happens is when our false self becomes dominant, it begins to bury the very qualities that it was originally designed to protect. And those buried qualities, which I call our core gifts, hold the key to deeper love, to our creativity and to the deepest meaning in our lives.
So how can we free them? That’s what we’re going to be talking about in this episode. We’re going to talk about the process of rediscovering and gradually liberating these challenging but life-changing aspects of our true selves, our core gifts. I speak about them in much greater detail in my course Deeper Dating, and in my book Deeper Dating.
But in my years, my many years, as a psychotherapist, I really have become more and more profoundly convinced that these parts of ourselves hold the missing link in so many cases to our search for love and a richer, more meaningful life.
Using Your False Self as a Defensive Structure
The great psychoanalytic theorist D.W. Winnicott used this term “false self” to describe the kind of defensive structure that a young person has to create when usually his or her mother but his or her parent can’t respond to him or her with empathy and care. And no parent’s perfect but if this kind of lack of parental empathy is chronic, the child is forced to create a false self that’s designed to meet the parents’ needs, not their own.
And the more that this child comes to feel that their true self is not appreciated, is not delighted in, is not cherished, and is not dignified, the more the false self has to become dominant.
Winnicott describes this kind of terrible poverty of inner life that occurs as our false self gets bigger and takes up more and more space as a loss of our innate vitality, and joy, and creativity.
So we all need to create a false self, and we all do create a false self just to smooth the waters of our day-to-day life at the very least. But when we get too dependent on the crutches of our false self, we lose the spark of our deepest and most unique personal gifts.
We lose the spark that is so essentially us and nobody else. It’s our soul. It’s our core gifts. And these gifts of our true self are often not easy, they challenge us. They challenge other people. And how could they be easy? Because as I say, they’re our genius, and genius domesticated is genius lost.
The Cost of Depending on Your False Self
These parts of us hold our greatest yearning. They hold our riskiest, juiciest thoughts and ideas, and they hold our most essential vulnerability, our most profound needs, our wildest joys, our deepest hurts, our secret story.
So our true self is really challenging in its power, its tenderness, and its originality. And unless we are taught to name and understand this true self part of us, our core gifts, what I call our core gifts, until we learn how to work with their force and their vulnerability, we lose our link to them. Then we rely more and more on our false selves to get us through and we become more and more uncomfortable with our true selves.
More and more there’s this ring of fire that we would have to step through; shame, embarrassment, vulnerability to cross over into our true self. When that happens, we lose our ability to play, to create, and to love. Kierkegaard said this amazingly. It’s very moving. He said,
“The deepest form of despair is to choose to be another than himself. “
So powerful. And just to share a story….. a number of years ago, I was in a position where I had committed to way too many things, which I’m really prone to do. I found myself trapped in this kind of web of obligations and demands that just felt impossible to reconcile or carry. But I had to do every one of them, I felt. And it felt like I was just being completely crowded out of my good life, that good life that I remembered, and there were no options.
Taking a Chance on God
I had a mentor at the time, whose name was John McNeill, I’ve done some writing about him, and he was a hero of mine. He was a Jesuit priest who was kicked out of the Jesuit order by Benedict, who then became the Pope. He wrote a book. He wrote a number of books that are just amazing about the journey toward authenticity and true spirituality. One book that I love deeply is Taking a Chance on God. And I actually wrote the forward to his last book, which is called Sex as God Intended.
Anyway, he was my spiritual advisor. So in my meeting with him, I told him about what was going on for me and he said something that was very surprising. It wasn’t what I expected, but it really shed very intriguing light on this whole situation. So he said, “Ken, I somehow feel that you don’t have enough access to your true self in this situation.”
So he asked me, “Can you see if you could find your true self in this situation and also identify your false self?” So I knew about this concept, of course, but I had never been bluntly asked to do it myself. So we’re all going to be doing that today in this episode. I’m going to ask you to do some work with this, to discover the preciousness of your true self and the importance of understanding your false self.
Anyway, so I did it, and my answer was clear. It was scary and beautifully clear. I had been putting my obligations way ahead of my well-being.
My People-Pleaser False Self
My people-pleasing tendency had ascendancy and the part of me that wanted to breathe and needed to breathe was being crushed. My obligations had become senior to my authentic self, my true self. My false self wouldn’t let me say no without terrible guilt.
My true self felt trapped and just yearned to take a stand, but my false self would not allow it. The fear was too great that I’d be irresponsible, that I’d be an irresponsible person, that I would hurt other people, that people would be angry at me, that people would reject me, that I would look really bad.
So I buried my true self because it was too dangerous, and I didn’t have access to that true self. And without access to my true self, I had no power. I didn’t have the power to get out of this quicksand I had created for myself because my inner strength, which was my true self, was buried, and my people-pleaser false self that I had learned to rely on just was not strong enough to handle the challenge of my life at that time.
This is what happens, when we lead with our false self, we will always feel inadequate. There’ll be a terrible cycle of having to prove.
And God knows when we’re in a position where we’re coming to the world or relationships from a place of having to prove, there’s going to be a lot of pain. That feeling of inadequacy is going to just haunt us and chase us because our false self is inadequate. It does not have link to our personal genius or our personal power.
Identifying True Self From the False Self
And when we rely on it, it’s like climbing a wobbly ladder. We’re always going to be afraid of being toppled. We won’t feel solid in the truth of who we are.
So John asked me to do that. And just naming and valuing my true self gave me the courage to make some really hard phone calls, which I couldn’t have done if I didn’t identify my true self and my false self. I pulled back from a lot of things. I extended some deadlines and people were wonderful. They were fine.
I was living under this guard at the gate that was not about them and not about reality. It was about such a terror of doing wrong or being wrong that it had just ascendancy over my true self, which said, “I like breathing.” So before I talked with John, it would’ve been impossible for me to do what I did. After I talked to him, I was able to do it and breathe again.
Simply naming my true self and my false self was enough to change my whole view of things. When the pressure was lifted, my good life came back. And like most of us, I’m happiest when I can breathe, when I can reflect, when I can enjoy my loved ones. But again and again, these parts of me encroach on that.
The false self that always is trying to prove my worth, or maybe more specifically disprove my unworthiness, constantly buries me in an avalanche of obligations.
Establishing a Current Relationship With Your True Self
The truth is that willpower is insufficient to change that dynamic. What it requires is a current relationship with my true self, with the part of me that values a full life more than values proving to people that I’m worthy.
So, now, I’m going to invite you to ask yourself the same question that John McNeill asked me. Now, I’d like you to take a minute, you can pause this if you like, and think about an aspect of your life which is causing concern for you, causing problems, causing worry, a place where you’re kind of losing yourself and you don’t know how to be. And just, we hold this with cupped hands. We give it space. We don’t judge it.
Then, I want to ask you three questions. In this situation, what aspects of your true self have you been frightened to fully claim and express? Now, they may be immature, they may be imperfect, they may be unripe, but we need to start out by giving them freedom. So what are the parts of your true self? What’s the voice of your true self here if you weren’t going to worry about what people think?
Next question. What is the false self that you created to hide this true self? Think about that false self that you’ve created and en wrap the true self in to make life easier, to make life safer. Now, thinking about your true self, can you name that part of you as a gift? Can you think of it as a core gift?
Recognizing the Gifts of True Self
Take a minute to think about how that true self is a gift. What are the qualities it has that are precious? Compassion, fierceness, self-care, generosity, clarity, direction. Take a minute to see and name the gift in your true self. And imagine, now, what would it be like to come from your true self in a balanced way. As they say, say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t say it mean.
Just imagine what it would be like to do that in this situation. As you reflect on what it might look like to engage your true self here, just remember that it takes time and patience to develop the skills to handle the heat and the power of our core gifts. Until we learn those skills, we’re going to tend to either suppress the power of our true self or express it in ways that are maybe a little strident, a little rough, a little harsh, a little unintegrated.
That’s how we learn. But when we ask ourselves, “How can I own this true self? And then how can I express it with care for the world at the same time?” we’re in our growing place. Here’s another thing, too, it’s really important to remember that our core gifts, our true self can tell how committed we are to really protecting and honoring it.
And as much as we may try to rouse our true self out of hiding, it won’t come out until it knows we have its back. The false self is unbelievably strong because it’s forged out of a need to survive.
Understanding and Naming Our False Self
Winnicott said in one of the most poignant, poignant concepts, he said that the need to protect our true self is so great that some of us actually choose death over a threat to that self.
So the key to healing any old hypnosis is through a current relationship with a better reality. So if we want to liberate our true self, it’s essential that we build a loving relationship with it, that we learn how to get a kick out of it, and that we learn how to call it a gift and see how these aspects do reflect some of our deepest, truest life mission DNA gifts.
It’s also essential that we find, and create, and build relationships with the people who are capable of honoring those qualities in us. That is like one of the absolute greatest keys to a happy life. And in your search for love, that’s what I invite you to look for, centrally and primarily. Watch how that changes your world because it does and it will.
So discovering and reclaiming our true self and understanding and naming our false self is one of the greatest adventures in our life. So I’d love to hear any of your thoughts and reflections. You can go to deeperdatingpodcast.com and just click on Ask Ken and share anything you want about these ideas.
Also, I really encourage you to go to that website and sign up for my mailing list so that you can become a part of my learning community. So thank you so much for listening, and I’ll see you in the next episode of The Deeper Dating Podcast.