I have always struggled with the question, “Who are you?” I have learned to follow social norms and simply respond with my name. But internally I’m resisting the urge to dive into a philosophical, theological, and psychological conversation about the concept of the self.
Most contemporary spiritual literature speaks of two competing selves. The first is often referred to as the ‘true’ or the ‘ideal’ self, and the second as the ‘false’ self or sometimes the ‘ego’. Spirituality is viewed as the work we do to overcome the false self and live more fully into our true self.
Over the years I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the assumptions in this two-self framework. For now I’d like to explore just two.
ASSUMPTION: THE FALSE SELF IS NOT WHO WE ARE
It can be very comforting to think that our worst selves are not actually part of us. Perhaps that’s why, when we’ve done something shameful or hurtful, we plead that “I was not myself!”
This dualism between the false self and the true self can never help us find integration and wholeness. Instead it often leads to dissociation from whatever we feel is not our ‘true’ self. But what if even our worst selves are still part of us?
Parts of us may be broken by the trauma of human growing and living. Parts of us may still be under development and not yet mature. But these parts are not false. They are simply incomplete or in need of healing.
In a future post we will explore in more detail how spirituality leads us on a journey of discovery to identify these broken and incomplete parts of ourselves and bring them into the light. For now it is enough just to consider that the so-called ‘false’ self is still a very real and authentic part of ourselves.
ASSUMPTION: WE ARE JUST TWO SELVES
A dualistic framework that splits the self into one ‘true’ and one ‘false’ self leaves out so much, and robs us of the richness of our unique being. In her excellent book, The Vein of Gold, Julia Cameron speaks about the importance of identifying what she calls our ‘secret selves’. She writes:
Each of us, as Whitman writes, does “contain multitudes.” Contacting the jostling crowd of inner selves, giving them a chance to speak and to act, can greatly enrich our lives.
She humorously describes how the many artists in her home town bring their secret selves out into the open at Halloween through their elaborate costumes.
These multiple selves within us are related to (among others):
- Different roles and relationships,
- Different skills and abilities and ways we express ourselves,
- Different feelings and desires and dreams,
- Different circumstances and situations,
- Different facets of our personality,
- Different states of mental and physical health.
Furthermore, not one of our secret selves is fixed. Every self within us is a dynamic, ever-changing reality. Some are more complete and healthy than others. Some are more visible and dominant. But all participate in shaping us, driving us, and connecting (or disconnecting) us from others.
A future post will explore how spirituality helps us in identifying, integrating, and healing our secret selves. For now I invite you to consider that your self is not just one thing. It is a community.
MEETING OUR SELVES AGAIN
- What has your spirituality taught you about your self?
- How do the ideas in this post relate to your views of the self? What would it mean for you to consider yourself in these terms?
- What spiritual work would you feel would help you to meet and integrate your selves in a deeper way?
Join the conversation in the comments and share your thoughts and stories around your experience and understanding of yourself, and how it has affected your spirituality and relationships.
Over to you!
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