Developing a secure sense of self:2 – True self, False Self

In the previous related post we saw how our sense of self is shaped in our early years. There is a relationship between a strong inner sense of self-cohesion and the consistency of love we got in our early relationships. However we also saw that an  insecure working model of relationships can be formed and will be reflected in the way we relate to others in adult life, due to the fact that we did not feel safe some or most of the time. The last post ended with the encouragement to understand your childhood insecurity and the force it still contains. This post will suggest some other reflections.

One way we respond to our unmet needs when we are a child is to create a False Self. We realized that safety and affection were more likely when we behaved in certain ways. Thus the False Self is created, effectively to please the parents or other caregivers and maintain their love, which we instinctively grasped to be based on certain conditions –  such as that we always perform well. It develops when the mother, father or other caregiver reflect their own defenses or emotional lacks onto the infant rather than reflecting the infant’s actual moods.  It then goes on, even into adulthood, to constantly anticipate the demands of others and keeps up this mask  because it believes that is the best way to get approval.

Now,  most of us, to some extent, have masks or public personas which we use in different situations in adult life. However, what we are referring to here is a False Self functioning which operates in an unconscious way in repeating patterns and internal demands in our adult choices.

The False Self helps comes about to hold the family together by balancing or denying problems and keeps a certain functional harmony alive. However, it becomes so well constructed and adapted that eventually the true self can become lost to us. We find it hard to “be ourselves”. We use the False Self as our “better self” because our true self feels  too weak at times to gain approval.

This can lead to low self-esteem.  Self-esteem is a person’s core belief about himself or herself,  and although it varies depending on circumstances, the pattern usually leans toward a optimistic  or pessimistic sense of self. In general,  one way of dealing with a pessimistic view is to look for anything outside to make us feel better. For example we may have chosen  to become a perfectionist.  The reasons are clear: if we do something perfectly, then we will be praised and get the affection of others.  Or we can develop dependent behaviour, when as Dr Weiss states, one’s “whole life is spent in wildly swinging arcs to meet others’ expectations. If you’re nice to me, I’m a good person. If you look at me funny, I’m a bad person. I don’t know who I am. I am incredibly dependent on other people to tell me who I am.”

Developing Self Compassion is one way to work with low self esteem. This is the ability to  treat oneself kindly in the face of failure, rejection, defeat, and other negative events. Being self-compassionate means we are less likely to compare ourselves with others, to seek all our support outside ourselves and to dwell too long on negative feedback. We will post more on this in the next post.

One thought on “Developing a secure sense of self:2 – True self, False Self

  1. Hi, I’ve found the second post on developing a secure sense of self, but am still in a haze as to how to follow your thoughts on developing a secure sense of self. In the first post you mentioned that meditation or other Eastern practices may cloud the issue of actual psychological wounding being responsible for the sense of self being unclear. I’d love to know how your thinking progresses from there. How would an individual best proceed to treat the wounding once it is established where it came from? Thanks, Chantal.

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