“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde.
People are complicated. They cannot be reduced to simple categories, as if an individual person can be neatly labeled as good or bad, nice or naughty, magnificent or mean, altruistic or selfish. No, people are wondrously intricate beings with a vast inner world of values and motivations. The reality of humanity is that we are a befuddling mix of virtue and vice with capabilities of much greater good than we realize along with an unfortunate capacity for heinous words and actions in the world. We are both blessed with the enduring mark of God’s image and cursed with not acknowledging our inherent worth through using cheap parlor tricks to prove we matter to others. As a result of these two often competing realities, we all tend to inhabit a sort of spiritual schizophrenia which vacillates between the true self and a false self.
What is the true self?
The true self is a person’s pursuit of realizing their own potential of gifts and abilities to be used for the common good of all. The true self embraces authenticity, vulnerability, and courage in their desire for growth and development of the inner person. The true self is open, being curious about self and others. Wanting to realize the full implications of God’s image within them, the true self is free to explore the vast potential of good which resides inside. The true self loves others from a place of invitation and patience. The true self is a master of one’s own inner wisdom and, so, has ability to rest and have peace.
What is the false self?
The false self is a person’s compulsion to achieve an idealized form of themselves. Such a self seeks the adulation of others since they lack awareness of their true self. The false self holds on to secrets, avoids emotions, and seeks perfection. The false self is closed, being afraid that others might reject them, if they knew the true self. Thus, the tragedy of the false self is that – in seeking self-protection – they do not find the self-realization and love they long for. Obsessively attempting to present an image to the world of having it all put together, the false self does not risk being brave. Instead, it fears others might see the bad within them, and so, judge and reject them. The false self uses love to manipulate others to love them back. The false self has no mastery of self because it attempts to become a master of a small world over others. The false self is never at rest and obsessively moves from one project to another.
Why does a person have a false self?
When someone has a great deal of inner stress, they might become estranged or alienated from their true self. For example, if someone has experienced trauma, they might direct their energy toward molding themselves into an idealized self. The hope of such a misadventure is to become impervious to any further trauma and pain. In short, the false self seeks power over others through doing everything the right way all the time so that they can feel a sense of security, superiority, and/or control in every situation.
How do I realize the true self?
The following is by no means an exhaustive list of connecting with our true selves. Indeed, you will likely come up with many more ways. After all, you have potentialities within you which I do not possess!
- Pay attention to your spiritual self. Just as our physical spine supports us and we need to take good care of it, so we have a spiritual spine which supports us when we need it – that is, if we pay attention to it and maintain good habits of self-care.
- Believe in the inherent good you possess – that it will eventually win and have the day. The image of God permanently resides within us; the curse of the fallen world does not. Have faith that goodness will prevail in your life.
- Focus primarily on exploring your true self through a positive plan; and, only secondarily focus on combating the false self. Compulsively trying to suppress the false self is, ironically, giving it power to call the shots in your life.
- Develop new habits and routines which are life-giving for you. Avoid implementing long lists of do’s and don’ts which are cumbersome and burden your soul with an unnecessary heavy load. A good rule of thumb here is that if your plan and routines are serving you well, then you are probably on a healthy path. If you find yourself constantly a slave to your routines, then you are serving the plan and are likely on an unhealthy road.
- Create a safe space for yourself in which your true self can arise. This means developing healthy rhythms of giving and receiving love; and, sharing your story and listening to others share their stories. And these occur when we have a safe space to inhabit. Safe spaces typically don’t fall into our laps. We need to take some initiative to find them.
- Take your emotions seriously. Many people have learned from their family of origin and/or their church or faith community that thoughts are more important than feelings; and, to not show emotions or even really acknowledge them. This, perhaps more than any other reason, pushes a person toward pursuing an idealized false self. In truth we are emotional creatures and our feelings are significant, valid, and vital. As we take those feelings seriously through talking about them and sharing them with trusted individuals, our true self begins to emerge.
- Seek support through finding groups who share your desire for self-realization and discovering persons who model what you are looking for. For example, for me, Jesus Christ is the ultimate model. When tempted with a devil’s pact for achieving salvation through self-idealization, Jesus did not take it. Instead, he chose the hard road of self-realization and was satisfied doing the will of God.
Some quotes on realizing the true self:
“If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found.” – Anonymous
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” — Brené Brown
“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” – Benjamin Franklin
“Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.” – Judy Garland
“The path to great confidence is not in becoming invincible, flawless, and seemingly perfect. But rather, it is in embracing your humanity, in all its messy glory and tender vulnerability.” – Aziz Gazipura
“Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.” – Carl Jung
“Live life as though nobody is watching and express yourself as though everyone is listening.” – Nelson Mandela
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss
“The freedom to be yourself is a gift only you can give yourself. But once you do, no one can take it away.” – Doe Zantamata