False Self

You lose resolution when you make copies.

Are you being you, or a second-class version of someone else?

If you think you can please everybody, you guarantee yourself a life of burnout and constant frustration. It’s tough trying to live up to everyone's expectations. If you manage to meet everyone’s expectations, you have more than likely crafted a false self.

The false self is created through the gradual gathering of all the internalized messages and voices from people who want you to conform to their ideas of how you should be and what you should do. But living this way can make you lose touch with your true self.

The false self is the personality you construct that lives in response to what the outside world says instead of what naturally draws you. Being who you are is probably the hardest thing you'll ever have to do. You’ll always find some conflict between your internal knowledge and social expectation.

Far too many people have their souls locked up in someone's tyrannical hold on their desires and wishes. They may have come from homes where their ideas were routinely dismissed or simply never validated. They might have been told to "shut up." Or their parents might have said, "That's the dumbest thing I ever heard." Or even, "What do you mean you don't want to go to _____ or to be _____ or do _____? Of course you do!” You need tremendous discipline to be your true self.

The true self represents values and desires that come from your unique temperament, personality, and perspective. No two people’s desires are the same, but many people give in to the social pressure to conform. They follow the pack and try to emulate other people, to help them determine what they should think and feel, and how they should behave. We are not conditioned to be our true selves. When we don't fit in, we might withdraw from social settings or try to see the world from a different point of view.

I firmly believe that each person is unique in his or her way of thinking, feeling, and seeing the world. When we minimize that uniqueness to fit in, we waste our potential and might miss our unique contribution to the world.

Below is an exercise that will help you get a sense of where you are on the journey to being your authentic self. We all project different versions of ourselves, based on the environment we’re in. Sometimes, we just settle for being fake. We put on a mask and hide behind a persona, because we just don’t know who we truly are or we’re afraid to rock the boat by exposing our authentic selves.

Have you been putting on a mask so people accept you? Let’s take an assessment to determine if there is a part of you that has become false. Take your time when reviewing this questionnaire. Don’t feel rushed. Think about and reflect on the truth of each statement as it applies to you.

False Self Assessment[i]

1. I often need to be approved by others to feel good about myself.

2. I often remain silent in order to avoid conflict.

3. When I make mistakes, I feel like a failure.

4. At times, I compromise my own values and principles to avoid looking weak or foolish.

5. My self-image soars with compliments and is crushed by criticism.

6. I do for others, at times, what they can and should do for themselves.

7. I am fearful and reluctant to take risks or my fears often cause me to play it safe “just in case.”

8. I often go along with what others want rather than “rock the boat.”

9. I often compare myself to others.

10. My body feels tense and stressed more often than it feels relaxed.

11. I have difficulty speaking up when I disagree or prefer something different.

This assessment can reveal whether you are living out your true or false self. I think we are all guilty, at one point or another, of not living out what we believe or being who we are. Otherwise, we would be perfect. We can all breathe easy knowing that we are not alone in this: We want to be perfect, but we fall short.

The point of this assessment is to make you aware of ways that you might not have been keeping it real with yourself and with others. Part of the journey isn't about becoming something—it’s about unbecoming everything that isn't you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.

Becoming aware can sometimes be enough to make you want to change—but not always. If you’ve identified things that you are guilty of on this list, decide to do something about it today. This does not mean that you should break out in rants about how you don’t want to be controlled by anyone or make major life-altering decisions impulsively. The assessment is meant to be a healthy self-reflection tool that will help you transition into the person you truly are.

A word of caution: GO SLOWLY AND THINK IT THROUGH BEFORE MAKING MAJOR DECISIONS! As a rule of thumb, anything that’s done too fast is not good. “Desire without knowledge is not good—how much more will hasty feet miss the way!” (Proverbs 19:2, NIV) It took time to form your personality traits. It’s going to take time to change the way you think, behave, and operate.

Be patient, but be intentionally patient. Review this list periodically as you go through life. One of the saddest things is to build your life portraying a certain image, only to find out you were being fake—and when too much time has passed, it’s much harder to get back to discover who you really are. Don’t let that happen. Decide today that you will choose to walk as your true self and live authentically.

When you live as your true self, you will be able to follow dreams and goals determined from within; state your beliefs calmly, without putting anyone down; and stay close to people without insisting that they see the world the same way you do.

When you’re not being you, you lose out, and the world loses out, too—because you are robbing everyone of your unique self.

Most people don’t live the life they were called to live because they are too busy living everyone else’s. To live your life the way someone else wants, and to never do what you believe you are called to do, is a tragedy. True freedom comes when our acts proceed from our entire personality. Your decision to pursue a course of life should be based on a careful understanding of your strengths, deepest inclinations, and desires. Your course should align with your vision of the future.

Living authentically takes a lot of work and patience. Your path will be uncovered over time. Although we have all participated in inauthenticity at some point, it’s hard to confront one's own hypocrisy. Yet looking at your true self is necessary if you’re going to get back on the right road.

It’s easy to veer off course. It usually starts out with small compromises of your integrity, but compromises can end up derailing your life.

Have you ever heard the saying: “Be yourself, because people who mind, don't matter, and the people who matter don't mind”? But what happens when the people who matter do mind? What if your parents and friends and even mentors cannot accept who you really are?

To live authentically, you need to be empowered to step away from being defined by people’s opinions—even the opinions of those close to you. It’s difficult to go against the dominant thinking of your friends and family, but it’s liberating. Do your best to avoid doing anything that goes against how you're wired. Remember, you cannot live a brave life without disappointing some people.

You might find that the people who get disappointed ultimately don’t matter, because they have their own agenda for your life that they forgot to tell you about.

Three Powerful Temptations

Three factors plague us as a culture and help to fortify the false self. Fighting these temptations is like swimming upstream. It's tough, but we have to do it.

1. Performance—I am what I do.

The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." Luke 4:3, NIV

Our culture wants us to be concerned with resumes and titles. When people are introduced for the first time, the first question usually is, “What do you do?” The underlying message here often is, “What are you worth? How are you useful?” If you don’t have the right answer, you might feel unvalued and worthless. But it’s dangerous to think that your intrinsic value is determined by external success. It’s unhealthy. Being productive and fruitful in your career is great, but it should not be a determining factor of who you are and what you’re worth. You are not what you do. You are who you are, and you have value—even before you accomplish anything. Once you truly believe this, you can pursue your goals with less stress and anxiety, because you know your self-worth isn’t attached to the work. Your true value is the fact that you are a child of God.

2. Possessions—I am what I have.

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Luke 4:5-7, NIV

If your identity is rooted in what you have, it is inevitable that your destiny will be off track. You can have things, but don’t let things have you. Our culture measures success and security by what we own. One of my measures of success is who I am apart from my things. I am not validated by wealth. God validates me.

3. Popularity—I am what others think of me.

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ Luke 4:9-11, NIV

Maya Angelou had a saying: Don’t pick it up and don’t put it down. In other words, if you live for people’s acceptance, you will die from their rejection. So don’t pick up the praise you might receive, because then you’ll have to pick up the criticism, too. One person said to me, “I’ve tried so hard to be who others wanted me to be that I've forgotten who I am.” You will be free when you can be relaxed around anyone because you know you are a child of God. What people think of you is none of your business. What we believe other people are thinking is often just a reflection of our state of mind in that moment. Your business is to do the best that you can do, learn from your mistakes, and stay anchored in your values.

Resisting these cultural temptations will be tremendously hard for some folks. I know it’s hard for me. I can hear people saying, “If I become myself, some people will be mad at me. If I become myself, I might lose money or even opportunities.”

My answer is that any opportunity presented that tells you to not be yourself or to betray who God made you to be isn’t right for you. Never do anything that requires you to be someone you’re not. Resist the desire to be understood by everyone.

Ways to Fortify Your True Self

1. Find places that allow you to be authentic and the best version of that authentic self. When are you your best self? By “best self,” I mean your most confident, self-assured, well-equipped, and centered self. For some people, it might be in some type of athletic arena. For others, it’s in a classroom. For some people, it’s in an office. For me, I’m my best self when I’m working with people in the role of a coach or workshop facilitator. I get to hold space with people to clarify their situations and circumstances in order to help them find solutions for their problems and pursue their goals.

2. Every day, express a preference and find something that nurtures you. When you say what you prefer and choose activities that nurture you, you support a significant part of your true self.

3. Ask yourself this self-reflection question: Who is putting the pressure on me to be someone I’m not? What will be impacted if you don’t have certain things, aren’t perceived a certain way, or don’t perform specific functions? Are you okay with just being you—or are you letting your performance, possessions, or popularity validate you?

[i] Scazzero, Pete, “The False Self”, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 23 May 2014, http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/the-false-self-2/

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