To Thine Own Self Be True: The Notion of the False Self
We all develop a persona (i.e., mask) we portray to the outer world. As participants in polite society we must socialize ourselves to correspond to social expectations, customs and demands that, if unfollowed, would marginalize us. Unfortunately, for some persons this social pressure to conform to the wants and needs of society starts early in childhood with their attachment figures (e.g., caretakers, parents). These persons may describe themselves as “a service” or “a utility” to their friends and family, constantly sensing that their existence is only validated if they are tending to some other person and rarely themselves. Others may feel a keen sense of emptiness or meaninglessness in life. Such a condition is common among those who painfully endure a narcissistically organized personality type.
These masking characteristics of hiding one’s interiority and/or pretending to be happy and carefree may indicate that someone is harboring a “false self.” The notion of the false self was outlined by the pediatric psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in the mid-20th century. Winnicott suggested a false self emerges when a vulnerable, truer version of ourselves, one that includes our authentic thoughts, wishes, needs, desires, and feelings is not allowed expression. The means that limit this expression can include an environment wherein someone was regularly invalidated, teased, shamed or unrecognized when having true internal qualities, and thus, persuaded to repress them. Instead, a person may develop a false self that corresponds to what he/she believes other people need or wish to see.
Persons with this psychology may have trouble expressing or contemplating on their own interiority. They may even feel awkward feeling their feelings or thinking about their thinking, often defensively suggesting it is a “waste of time” or at least a fruitless endeavor. If you would like to work towards uncovering your true self and gently tearing away a false self, please consider consulting the clinicians at Town Center Psychology. You are not alone! For more information on the false self, check out this link: https://www.theschooloflife.com/thebookoflife/the-true-and-the-false-self/