A false self develops to accommodate the unspoken needs of a parent who’s continued love and support are connected to the child’s ongoing accommodations. A false self persists in the child long after the parent’s mandate is relevant and long after the child has grown. Tragically, a false self interferes with living an authentic and satisfying life.
DO YOU FEEL AUTHENTIC?
- Do you feel entitled to express your feelings?
- To share your thoughts?
- Do you celebrate your unique perspective and enjoy engaging with others?
- Do you feel alive and filled with your own unique energy and vitality?
- Do you generally expect to be received and valued by others?
- Do you feel real?
OR, DO YOU WORRY OTHERS WILL DISMISS YOU?
- Are you pretending about who you are?
- Do you edit your comments to make sure you’re “acceptable”?
- Do you accommodate others, putting their wishes before your own?
- Are you a conformist?
- Do you become confused or disoriented when asked for your own opinion?
- Are you a pretender? Do you feel fake?
- Do you pretend to feel or think the way you imagine others want you to feel?
- Are you afraid of disappointing others?
- Do you struggle to know how you truly feel?
- Do you feel a sense of futility about ever allowing your real self to emerge?
- Are you afraid to be authentic?
- Do you have a vague feeling that your relationships are sterile?
WHY DO WE DEVELOP A FALSE SELF? If some of these descriptions resonate with you, perhaps your real self has been hidden away. Perhaps you received an early but unspoken mandate that you must accommodate another’s wishes: a parent’s constant need for cheering up to combat depression, for example, or a parent’s need for companionship to substitute for a missing marital partnership. Tragically, you may have been required to accommodating these wishes as the only way to guarantee their love. It was an unspoken bargain!
THE BARGAIN: Tragically, when a parent has a desperate, unmet need, he or she often turns to a vulnerable child for fulfillment. Some unmet needs include the wish that you be a good boy or good girl. Or, that you take up a their lifelong, unfulfilled wish to become the person they wanted to be, but could not—a doctor or a lawyer, for example. Or perhaps you were needed to keep them from slipping into their own depression or sadness. They instituted an unspoken mandate that you “cheer them up.” Some parents turn to a child as a substitute partner in a marriage where a legitimate marital partnership is missing or failing. Only by accommodating and by becoming the “thing that was needed” were you assured of continued love and caring. And so to comply with the bargain, you banished your true self, your authentic, alive, unique self. Instead, you became the self that was required—the false self.
THE PAINFUL CONSEQUENCES: Living a life with an overriding sense of pretense and lack of authenticity takes a big toll. There is an ongoing sense of not feeling fully real or fully alive or fully authentic. The need to accommodate pervades relationships but doesn’t necessarily create the desired outcome. Underneath the accommodation there lurks resentment and anger which can bubble to the surface. Underneath the accommodation lies the belief that others don’t truly understand or care, and that it’s too painful to remain in their company or engage in relationships. Often, remaining alone is felt to be the only solution that doesn’t trigger the false self, and the strong feelings of resentment and of being misunderstood by others.
WHAT TO DO? Ending the need to pretend is important, worthwhile work. Psychoanalysis can build and strengthen the silent, hidden authentic self, making it possible for its emergence. Treatment with a trained psychoanalyst will explore the emotional origins of the false self and establish strong, reliable ties to support the growth and emergence of the real, authentic you.