I often help people who are struggling with feeling disconnected from themselves. They might use the phrases such as, “I just don’t feel like I can ever be me”, “I don’t know who I am”, “I feel disconnected from myself”, “I always feel alone, even when I am with others”. These are known as true self vs. false self issues. This month I will explore the origins of these problems and talk about how to move closer to your true self.
The false self is an adaptation we make in order to survive. Particularly important are how we have to adapt to remain connected and loved by our parents. When conditions are right we are able to “go about being” without being too pulled to far from our natural path. When the conditions of our childhood are not, we are forced to make large adaptations to remain loved and cared for by our parents.
For example, a young baby tries to play with his rattle. Ideally his mother is able to watch and enjoy his play. The baby feels safe to play and is able to “go about being” without having to worry too much about his safety and mother’s needs. In a contrary example, if the baby’s mother is anxious and is not able to watch and be at ease, the baby gets the signal that it is not safe to play and may cling to his mother for safety instead of playing with the rattle.
Of course all parents have off days, but over time if these sort of patterns repeat, the child may have to tune more and more into his mother and the outside world. This means less time for them to tune into and discover the own innate desires and personality. This is where the false self begins. The false self is also sometimes called the “adaptive self” because it arises out of the need to adapt to the circumstances of the world the child is raised in.
Reclaiming your true self
To some extent we all adapt. At a party or at work we all too some extent know how to put on a mask. Some people however struggle to ever take off the “mask”. Importantly when the needs of the outside world were very high growing up, these people may not have a properly formed “true self” to fall back on. You can think of the true self existing in these people as a seed that has not been watered. The potential for it exists, but it needs nurturance.
The way to nurture your true self is by being more you; more often. True selves need connection to grow.
Most people have a sense of “being myself” vs “not being myself” in a relationship situation. For example at work you may be “less yourself”, but with your friends you may be “more yourself”. The process of becoming more your true self is an ongoing process of take small risks and exposing your true self to others. This gradual ongoing process gradually erodes the false-self shell and gradually forms a more solid true self.
This journey takes years, but each step counts. The more connection and love the true self gets, the more people start to feel at home in their own skin. The depression and anxiety that result from maintaining the false self “mask” start to fade and is replaced by a feeling of wellbeing.