The True Self and the False Self

“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde.

True Self False Self

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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

Colossians 3:12-17 – A New Set of Clothes

White Shirts

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (NIV)

Easter is to live forever in our hearts.  The great message of the Resurrection is: We now have opportunity to experience new life, free from sin, death, and hell.  Oh, it isn’t that we never need to deal with evil; we very much do.  The difference is that we now have a new awareness of our spirituality.  And with awareness comes choices.  If we aren’t aware of our feelings, our spirit, and/or old nature, well, then, it’s as if we operate on auto-pilot – losing altitude in an immanent descent into tragedy.  When we are aware of our inner selves, then we mindfully ascend through the clouds to join Christ.

We can make choices about what to wear.  With awareness, we look in the mirror and see that the grave clothes need to come off.  The old raggedy garments of pride and hubris, greed and immorality, selfish lust, jealous envy, spiritual gluttony, unholy anger, and complacency get taken off and tossed in the garbage.  We then go to God’s expansive walk-in closet and choose the bright raiment of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and grab the beautiful coat of love which covers it all with such dignity and honor.

It would be super weird to try and put the new clothes over the old raggedy grave clothes.  That’s not only gross, it’s downright wrongheaded.  Practical Christianity always involves two actions: taking-off and putting-on.  Human willpower and/or ingenuity tries to live a virtuous life while ignoring the vices.  This will not do for the Christian.  The endearing qualities we so desire to possess cannot be obtained without first dealing with the crud of sin which clings to us like so many stinky dirty clothes.  To put this in theological terms: the cross and resurrection go together.  Sin must be put to death before a victorious life is put on.

Once we have acknowledged sin, let Christ take it all off, and put on the new clothes.  Then we’re ready to hit the town in style.  We walk out the door with a tremendous sense of peace, knowing God in Christ has cleaned us up.  We stroll into the world with lips whistling and a song in our hearts – singing with gratitude for what the risen Christ has accomplished on our behalf.  After all, we just put on very expensive clothes and it didn’t cost us a dime.  In fact, we’re so darned thankful that we don’t just talk to others, we sing our words to them – even though we can’t carry a tune.  It doesn’t matter.  Our coat of love compels us.  Easter is bursting forth from the tomb.

Almighty and everlasting God, you willed that our Savior should take upon him our clothing of death upon the cross so that all humanity would have the privilege of wearing humility, gratitude, and love.  Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of Christ’s life, and, also be made aware of our participation in his glorious resurrection, in the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Click Easter Song which was written by Annie Herring in 1974 and made famous by Keith Green a few years later.  The California Baptist University choir and orchestra perform this version.  May your Easter blessings multiply.