This false self is also sometimes seen as the “idealized self” or the self through which we operate because our true self just somewhere along the line (usually quite young) felt too weak, inadequate or overwhelmed to function and gain approval in the situation in which it finds itself.”
Dr. Tian Dayton (Article adapted by Bill Hoffman)
How Did This False Self Get Created in the First Place?
Generally we think of family as one place in which we can be ourselves and become the authentic person we are meant to be. But what if the family we’re in doesn’t allow for the expression of each individual’s genuine self, if the family demands that we be who it needs or wants us to be to such an extent that we learn to create a false self in order to be accepted and loved?
This false self functioning, is often seen in alcoholic families or other types of families that have impossible standards of who and what to be, such as with extreme wealth, religion or even military; it is also associated with pain filled, dysfunctional families which are likely 90% of our population on one level or another. Many of these family types overlap, ie, alcoholism and extreme wealth. Kids who grow up in these families often learn not to express their genuine and spontaneous reactions about what they see going on around them; because if they do, they risk being attacked or put down by those in the family who are invested in maintaining the status quo and denying that problems exist.
Because it isn’t safe to be open about what is going on in the emotional atmosphere of the family or for that matter to even feel what is really going inside themselves, these children may learn to live a sort of emotional lie because unconsciously, they fear that letting in the truth will overwhelm them or those they love. This is not even taking social pressures into consideration.
Family members silently collude in creating the sort of false cocoon of normalcy that they feel is lacking in their family. Staying safe and “looking good” become of paramount importance. To this end children and even adults become what will please and protect the system rather than who they really feel like on the inside. It’s just not safe.
The false self is an adaptive (though actually maladaptive) reaction to any dysfunctional situation. It is largely unconscious, that is the person with the false self would never know that it’s false and if you were to challenge them on it, they would see you as the problem, not themselves and they would probably set about analyzing your need to criticize.
If you are bold enough to confront, take on or critique a false self behavior….well…look out. The false self is there to hide, ward off or cope with unfelt, unacknowledged pain and when you challenge the behavior, whether it be compulsive talking, joking, chronic cuteness or intellectual superiority, you challenge the pain. The hurt that is hiding gets somehow triggered or touched and anger or retaliation may ensue.
When someone who has become dependent on false self functioning goes into therapy or enters a twelve step program they can go through a period of feeling very vulnerable and shaky because they are removing their coping strategy and exposing the pain underneath it. But over time new emotional habits get created and new ways of healthy coping get practiced and adopted. And this person can become much more comfortable “living in their own skin”.
This is not for the faint hearted. It takes genuine courage to move out of a place of hiding and into the open. But that’s how we were designed for living… in the truth out in the open with the rest of those that are hiding. Going to a 12 step program is a great place to comprehend that you are just like everyone else basically speaking. You find fellowship you find freedom to “be.” Lies get exposed and life begins to change, if and only if you are truly engaging in a process of perpetual exposure through living honestly.
It was nearly 40 years ago that I started my journey of discovery through AA, then coming to Christ and surrendering my life on a daily basis to this day. I never stop learning, I never stop growing I never stop being exposed I never stop learning and I also never stop becoming more free, even though it’s many times three steps forward and two steps back. Even though there’s times of emotional relapse. Even though there’s times of fear wanting to hide not being 100% honest with myself or someone else.
As my friend Brennan Manning said, “the real Brennan Manning is a bundle of paradoxes… I love and I hate I’m courageous but I’m fearful I’m truthful but I cover up sometimes. ”
This was a man of brutal honesty,who had a reckoning with himself and God, who didn’t pretend, cover-up, hide and lie. He was who he was and he knew he was loved the way he was by God. He ultimately said “God loves you just the way you are not as you should be because you’re never going to be fully as you “should” be.”
Final point for today’s discussion is this… dogma will always sabotage any narrative we create. I, or you “should have”, you always, you never, you or I must, etc. Once dogma is the overshadowing narrative dictator, we are likely creating a false narrative whether we think we are or not. It’s quite insidious, like addiction itself. And after all, we are all “flesh”, or self, or ego addicts. It takes true brutal honesty to see the truth that can make us free.
Bill Hoffman – Article adapted by Bill Hoffman by Tian Dayton
THE PROCESS – AVAILABLE HERE