Woke up this morning feeling quite off balance. A weird confession perhaps for someone who is passionate about what he does. Regardless, I felt off balance. I felt as if some how I had drifted away from the “sweet spot" - that place that I like to live from where I am at peace with myself. The place where I am walking with a general confidence that God is at work and the world (my world) is coming together as it should.
I had to face the reality that I had been subtly drifting away from being the person I was created to be, to someone who had started to pretend - pretend that perhaps I was more than what I really was. I found that I had drifted towards what I thought would impress people, what people wanted me to be, and a little less of what I thought people would reject. In a a couple of words - I had discovered I had slipped back into a bit deeper of a false self. I had become a little less honest about myself to myself and others. According to Richard Rohr:
The false self is your psychological creation of yourself in space and time. It comes from your early conditioning, family, roles, education, mind, culture, and religion. The false self is who you think you are! But thinking doesn’t make it so. The false self dies and passes away.
The false self is a mask we put on in effort to hide who we really are. It is usually a carefully manicured facade that has a broad appeal - that in a sense reflects back to others what they like and value - usually themselves and their opinions. The false self is a lonely place because while we may feel like we are more likable, we may feel like we have more friends - the reality is we can only relate to others to the depth of the mask we wear. The reality then is we find ourselves quite lonely. It is insidious because we are taught (by hard knocks) that to be accepted we need to conform to the ideals of the group - even if that means pretending! What a cruel trick!
My experience with my false self is one of isolation and fear. Despite having the "right" answers and the "right" personality, there is a general sense of dis-ease - an awkwardness. To this end I think of the story of King David before he was king. He was a young sheep herder while his nation was at war. One day, he had to see his brothers at the battle front and upon arriving, he noticed the enemy was taunting and making fun of his nations army. They had a big brute of a fellow who was rather intimidating. Young David, indignant with the taunting said he would take care of this situation himself.
No one stepped into stop him but the King (Saul) gave David his armor to go fight the Goliath. David tried to put on the kings armor, tried to wield the sword and shield, but it didn't fit right. It was awkward for him. He had on all of what others thought he should but it wasn’t working for young David. David finally decided this was no way to deal with the giant before him. He shed the awkward and cumbersome armor and went with what he knew - a sling and several smooth stones. As the familiar story ends - David accomplished the task, slaying the giant enemy and this led to his nations victory!
When David took the armor of King Saul - it was as if he put on a false self - it was cumbersome, didn’t fit and actually impaired his ability to deal with the enemy he faced. When he realized this - even with the objections of his friends - he stepped out of the false self and into his true self - with a sling, some stones and his relationship with God.
The true self according to Rohr is:
“not created by anything you have done right or wrong. It is never about requirements; it’s about relationship—the quality and capacity for relatedness.”
From my personal perspective, the quality and capacity for "relatedness" is my relationship with God. This is also the basis for right relatedness with myself and other people. I find as I stray from this in my own life, to put on strange armor / a self that is not authentic, is when problems seem bigger, solutions seem more elusive and the more I struggle.
To this end I am learning to recognize those times when I slip - I recognize the symptoms and I am getting better at responding sooner. The reality is for all of us, the discovery of who we truly are - the true self is a slow, gentle excavation. Where as we learn to know ourselves by prayerfully reflecting upon our thoughts, actions and feeling; we learn what feels right - where our strengths are and where or weaknesses are. We learn to no longer fear or feel ashamed by our weaknesses but learn to accept them and then learn to live to our strengths and patiently develop those weaknesses. We learn to love ourselves for Gods sake.
Clues you may being living via a false self:
- overly worried by what others may think of you
- reluctant to say what you really think or feel for fear of being rejected or ridiculed.
- a subtle but nagging sense of loneliness.
- a sense of shame when a weakness is exposed.
- find yourself embellishing your experiences, success or your strengths.
Helpful Ideas for Self Discovery of your True Self
- I have found a small group of faithful, forgiving friends to be so crucial to this process. People who love me, care about me and I feel safe with even in the mess. Those who will stand by me and support me without feeling like they have to fix me - to forge me in their own image.
- Cultivate a vibrant life-giving spirituality that connects me to a faithful sense of love and acceptance. Not an acceptance of the broken, unhealthy things we do but accepting of us as people with all our warts. I have found, through my relationship with the person of Jesus (not with church or doctrine) I am learning to experience the security of divine love which creates a safe place to discover who I truly am.
- Be kind to yourself. Release yourself from unreasonable expectations of performance and forgive yourself for your mistakes. Give yourself the free gift of forgiveness!
- Be as honest as you can with yourself and God knowing God will not reject you and it is His heart to see you as He created you to be.
- Watch and listen for the warning signs that you may be living from behind a mask. A dis-ease, awkwardness a sense of crushing obligation and a growing sense of loneliness.
- One who can help along the journey of discovery of God and ourselves - who will not take responsibility away from us but empower us to live well. I have found it helpful to engage the services of a skilled soul care professional.