The true-self, false-self dichotomy is a common struggle faced by many.
Personally, this dichotomy is a constant struggle in my life, influencing my behavior in both the past and present.
Who we are and who we try to be are constant driving forces. We strive to maintain an image that others like, respect, and want to get to know. Our identity is shaped largely by the environment in which we live, and through our interactions with others. It is molded into a force that controls how we act, what we say, what we think and feel every moment of everyday.
Experiencing the dichotomy.
At an early age I was acutely aware that I felt different from those closest to me, my family, my classmates and my peers. I could not help but be impacted by the plethora of external signs and messages that instructed what was appropriate and what was not. Sadly, the key supportive systems in my life early on sent messages (mostly nonverbal) that I was not OK. In retrospect, these needs, deemed unacceptable at the time, were not clear violations of human nature yet basic elements required for love, affection, and connection with others.
These fears and signs that I did not fit in, compelled me to adjust my behaviors and interests early on, in order to blend in with others my age. “Blending in” provided a sense of safety, an escape from the scorn and bullying, and unwanted attention.
This is my story. I hope it can help you uncover yours...
My story portrays the reality of true-self, false-self dichotomy. Many of us learn to put on a variety of masks throughout our lives, starting in childhood, and continuing throughout adolescence and early adulthood. Sadly, for some, this act continues and their mask is never removed, forever secluding what lies within.
Best-case scenario, the mask you wear provides gains, such as an ability to form strong connections with others, increase material success, or lead to political and occupational gains. Yet, false identity, or wearing a mask, can also breed negative consequences such as hiding to avoid ridicule, scorn and bullying. This false-self can lead us to increased suffering and wasted energy, subverting the true self out of fear, and costing the development of one’s true, unique parts such as self love, passion and creative generativity.
This past weekend, I spent my Saturday strolling around Chicago, checking out the popular tourist sites I rarely take time to see. At the Shed Aquarium, I was amazed by the beautiful, freaky, and highly diverse aquatic life. My boyfriend started to think aloud, pondering how the species were sorted; creating such diverse ecosystems that perfectly sustained and balanced each of these different, unique living species. I was struck by this, and after pausing a minute to think, I realized that each exhibit was sorted by a specific region and body of water, that was further recreated to sustain these creatures.
Each tank was filled with different colors, shapes, and settings. Clown fish, belugas, stingrays, dolphins, jellyfish and crustaceans were all cohabiting space, living in peaceful tandem with one another. I was struck by how such diverse and distinct creatures had learned to live so well together. So accepting of shared space and of shared differences, and of their own uniqueness.
I was struck by the simplicity of these creatures just existing and cohabitating as they are.
This experience can be summed up well by the great Gerard Manly Hopkins, As Kingfishers Catch Fire; “Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, crying what I do is me: for that I came.”
To know your true-self, you must be presently aware of who you are and what you bring to your role each day. It’s not what you do, but who you are that is remembered. You must strive to look within, and be honest in your hopes, wants, desires, motivations, before you can fully meet your potential.
For as hard as you work, and as long as you endure, it all sums to wasted time and energy if your telos or final goal seeks to fulfill the your false-self; a self driven by others expectations, desires, and distorted images.
I invite you to return home to your true self today. Shed the mask. Quiet the burden of others expectations and pressures. And, listen within.
Strive to re-introduce yourself to your inner desires and dreams.