Authenticity & the False Self

April 2, 2013 § 37 Comments

By T’ai Carmenhide_behind_a_mask_by_Catliv, deviantART,  site:

“No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.” ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

“To be nobody but myself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else—means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting. ~ e.e. cummings

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” – C.G. Jung

Helene-DeutschIn 1944  Helen Deutsch—notably, the first psychoanalyst to specialize in women’s psychology—coined the term the “as if” self.

This concept was expanded upon and called the “false self” by D. W. Wincott  in 1960. “Other people’s expectations can become of overriding importance,” Wincott noted, “overlaying or contradicting the original sense of self, the one connected to the very roots of one’s being.” (“Our Need for Others.”)

social mask, site credit: www.

The idea of a false personality construct being distinct from one’s essential, authentic nature dates back over 3000 years: in the  Bahgavad Gita, Ego (or Ahamkara) is described as the body-identified sense of self which is disconnected from the true soul.

virabhadra, site credit:“According to the Gita,” notes Ramnath Subramanian “there is a fundamental difference between ‘real’ ego and what it defines as the ‘false’ ego. Real ego is our very essence, the consciousness that makes us aware and awake to reality. The false ego is a false identity crafted to preserve the sense of being the most significant and the most important all the time. In short, it is a narcissistic search for being loved, validated and appreciated.(“The Bhagavad Gita and the Problem of the Ego,” Huffington Post.)

The Bhagavad Gita asserts that the Ahamkara (ego) must be removed for true fulfillment to be achieved.


social mask, site credit:

“We all need an ability to mask or control our baser emotions so that we don’t blurt them out inappropriately where they can get us into trouble,” explains Dr. Tain Dayton in “Creating a False Self: Learning to Live a Lie.” “The real danger lies not in creating a mask or false self, we all do that somewhat. The danger lies in mistaking the false or idealized self for the true self.

“A false self because it is an unconscious defense, can stifle the growth of a conscious, authentic self. It’s the false self that strategizes and develops strength, confidence and acceptance. And the true, conscious self gets suffocated and sent into hiding.”

removing the mask, site credit:

One surefire  way to distinguish one’s core center from the egoic personality structure or false self is meditation, in which we cultivate what has been called “the witnessing self.” Meditation asks the practitioner to become conscious of when one is thinking, which really just means becoming aware of when one is talking to oneself internally. 

In our everyday Western life, a constant inner monologue  for us has become like breathing. We identify with our thoughts to the point where the statement “I am not my thoughts,” however factually correct, feels somewhat radical when taken to heart.

Yet the meditation practitioner soon finds moments, however fleeting, when the inner dialogue is stilled and mental silence is achieved. Anyone who has ever experienced this will tell you that this moment feels very much like making contact with one’s true being—which, according to mystical traditions the world over, it is.

psychic, site credit:

“Based on the philosophy of [the ancient Hindu texts] the Upanishads,” details Neera Kashyap in “Personal Growth & The Witnessing Mind,” [we are taught] that if we could witness our thoughts and emotions, we would discover that what is witnessed false self, site credit: not our essential nature, but an ever-changing flux of our mind’s desires and tendencies.

“By practicing witness consciousness, we can distance ourselves from our chameleon-like mental tendencies. [This way] we observe our world, but simultaneously also absorb the detachment, power and impartiality of our anchor, the witnessing mind.

“Anchored, we observe,” continues Neera. “Anchored, we inquire into the origins of our thoughts and emotions, and the problems that arise from them. Anchored, we see them rise, take form, and ultimately merge into the witness. The thoughts, emotions, and problems are transformed, by their mergence in the silence and peace of the witness.”

“There are two birds, two sweet friends, who dwell on the self-same tree. One eats the fruits of the tree, and the other looks on in silence.”

“This verse from the Upanishad,” notes Neera Kashyap, “sums up the secret of abiding happiness, in our lives. We enjoy the fullness of life, yet simultaneously witness this participation silently. This seems essential, when we consider the next verse of this Upanishad, in which the imagery is further developed.

“The active bird is overcome by sadness at her unceasing and unwise partaking of life. However, when she beholds on the same tree the eternal power and glory of the other bird, the witnessing spirit, she is freed from sorrow. For she sees that between herself and the other bird, there is a fundamental identity.”

two-birds, credit unknown

Wincott prescribed what he called “play”—anything that brings out spontaneous aliveness, from art to sports to meaningful conversation—as a way to revive contact with the authentic self.

removing-mask, site credit: is no doubt that self-acceptance is also key.

“When we’re self-accepting,” elaborates Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. in “Evolution of the Self, “we’re able to embrace all facets of ourselves—not just the positive, more ‘esteem-able’ parts. As such, self-acceptance is unconditional, free of any qualification.

“We can recognize our weaknesses, limitations, and foibles, but this awareness in no way interferes with our ability to fully accept ourselves…Perhaps more than anything else, cultivating self-acceptance requires that we develop more self-compassion.”

It can be hard in a world that values success, perfection and positivity to accept our failures, flaws and darkness, but ultimately, in order to touch the authenticity within ourselves we seek—ironically!—-accepting the aspects of ourselves which we like least is the first step to unleashing that part we like best.

removing the mask, credit unknown

What are your thoughts on authenticity, identity and the false self?

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§ 37 Responses to Authenticity & the False Self

  • batgurrl says:

    Tzi. You bring me back to my beginning. So easy to be lost in this world of shadows. Ego can be so controlling and we are oblvious that we are lost. May more understand what you say. Peace would be reached then

  • Kurt Keefner says:

    Hi Tai, Thank you for an interesting post. You and I seem to be thinking along similar lines. I’m just about finished with a book about inauthenticity and magical thinking (in the bad sense). I’m not so much writing about the idealized, “perfect” self as about people pretending a sense of life, i.e. trying to be cool or chic or folksy or droll, etc., both coloring the world and donning a mask at the same time. I know you and I are not going to agree on some things, but I think we should open up a line of communication, if you’re interested.

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Interesting! Magical thinking and the fine line between pathological fantasy and actual intuition is one of my favorite subjects! I’m always interested to start a thread discussing those themes. 🙂

      Congratulations on finishing your book!
      On on,


      • Kurt Keefner says:

        When I write of magical thinking in Killing Cool (the book), I mean not keeping the distinction between the mind and the world straight. Instead of recognizing that the world exists separate from us, magical thinkers believe that wishing makes it so. They project onto the world. Often they believe the world has an emotional aura to it.

        There are a lot of variations to this phenomenon. Some people make themselves dramatic and live in a “dramatic” universe. Cool people project a Zeitgeist onto the world. Others escape into the supernatural. I cover about ten personality types in depth and touch on another dozen or so.

        This blurring of the line between consciousness and reality can be quite dangerous. Think of George W. Bush trying to be a cowboy. Think of all the failed social programs and wars (Vietnam, War on Drugs), that came out of people trying to be saviors.

        I think I’ve hit on a way of coming at America’s problems that captures many of them at once and suggests a single cure: respect for reality. Of course, just telling people to respect reality isn’t enough. We also have to learn how to center and identify the unconscious material we are projecting. And we have to learn a specific kind of humility.

        I would love to know what you think of all this, and I would be happy to send you a copy of the book when it’s published. I hope you’re not put off by how analytical I sound. I am also a deeply intuitive person. And usually I’m funnier than this. Sorry!

      • Tai Carmen says:

        Not at all! Analytical thinking interests and intrigues me. 🙂 It sounds like you’re exploring some very interesting perspectives and really making some fresh connections in terms of applying magical thinking to a broader collective scale. I think this is an excellent premise for a book! (And a killer title, I might add.)

        It’s interesting to hear you talk about certain “cool” figures or movements projecting a Zeitgeist onto the world — I had always seen them more as expressing a cultural Zeitgest that was already present in the abstract, which others felt but were unable or unwilling to articulate. But you may be more accurate, really. An interesting perspective. I certainly know what you mean about those living in a “dramatic” universe and how, as Anaïs Nin said so well: “We see the world not as it is but as we are.”

        I straddle the line between agreeing with you and having a slightly different perspective — though I’m entirely engaged! On the one hand, when you say “escape into the supernatural” that implies that the supernatural is pure fantasy; neurotic. Those of us who have had supernatural or mystical experiences have reason to believe there is more to it than that. That being said, I’ve had spiritual/paranormal experiences which proved themselves correct and others which proved to be, as you said, a projection of wish fulfillment/unconscious projection. It’s been part of my life’s work to learn to discern between the two from the get-go, as one is absolutely brimming with possibility — the other, as you say, can be quite dangerous. I’ve seen that side firsthand as well…

        I completely agree that humility is key.

        The idea of identifying unconscious projections is an excellent focus…! I do wonder how sure you can really be about what is “objective” reality. I suppose there are certain things which are undeniable. But each experience is so multi-facetted, there are so many aspects to reality, so many nuances, I’m not sure that there is one “right” way to view reality. Philosophically we’re into the territory of relativism vs objectivism — fascinating subject!

        Thank you so much for your kind offer — I would love a copy of the book when it’s done. 🙂

        On on!


  • It is good to question the self, and as a friend asked earlier today- “how far back does the self go?”. .. I always look forward to your posts. Thank you for touching on the topic of ego. 🙂

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Thank you for being part of the conversation. Your friend asks a good question! Only our inner knowing can tell us that at this point….So glad you enjoyed the post.

      On on!


  • Reblogged this on TropicalTruth and commented:
    Great as always

  • a breath of fresh, reminding
    there’s a centre that’s not always central
    to every thing that moves

    thank you for speaking into it
    this universe that hears


    • Tai Carmen says:

      an offering receives an offering
      words for words
      meaning within

      the world brightens
      with each true exchange

      Thank you for such a beautiful response-poem! Such a delight to receive. Added a sparkle to my morning. 🙂

      On on!


  • Thank you for the post. I have thought about the masks we wear and how they are built so early on in life and for most people they do become their identity. Searching for our authentic selves is one of the major journeys of life. I am grateful for the well thought out and interesting post. 🙂

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful and affirming feedback. I’m thrilled the post meant something to you. The subject continues to fascinate me.

      On on!


  • Bob says:

    I think it’s worthwhile to underscore the importance of silence in coming to know the witnessing self. We all complain about the clatter and clutter of our lives, but the noisiest, most disorganized place of all is inside the mind as it negotiates everyday thinking. There are spaces between thoughts and one’s focus is well-spent exploring those openings.

  • M.K. Hajdin says:

    I don’t think the solution to narcissism is more focus on the self, when excessive focus on the self is actually the problem. Instead of “deep-sea diving within the self”, going down a bottomless rabbit-hole that will never lead to fulfillment, focus outward and develop an awareness of how all life is connected.

    • Tai Carmen says:

      You make an excellent point, but perhaps missed mine: I meant this only in context of meditation. Deep-sea diving into the observer-stillness meditation can provide as a way to experience the authentic essential self — which is really the self getting out of the way to experience pure being. Perhaps I should reword that section to be clearer.

      I do agree that deep-sea diving into the everyday self will just cause more neurosis. Thanks for helping me see I need to word this differently.

      Focusing outward on the interconnectivity of all things is of course excellent advice!

      Thanks for being part of the conversation.


  • Issa says:

    I was a weird little girl, I was nice & generally the one who got picked on. As it turns out I was & am somewhat Autistic, slightly enough that honestly I gotta say I don’t relate to all the Ego bashing I come across. All I know is that Me Myself & I all get along just fine, there isn’t a part of myself that is a tyrant. Im amused by my observations, I crack myself up sometimes, as well as keep myself good company. “We” also care deeply about other lives, Human, Animal, & the Earth. I actually feel anxiety when I come across articles like this, they feel insane to me. I took the time to share this for any others out there who feel like I do, Im sure there must be one or two who Grok 🙂
    A Girl

    • Tai Carmen says:

      You may be surprised to learn I Grok, Issa. 🙂

      It is insane. That’s my point. The article explores neurotic mental habits that many a modern mind has been known to unwittingly fall into. That is awesome that you don’t relate! But it’s something enough people have experienced to create whole slews of psychoanalytic material, theories, books, etc.

      On on,


  • Alan says:

    I often feel trapped inside a persona that I know is not me, yet I have inhabited this persona for so long that it has hardened around me like an exoskeleton.

    The false self is unfortunately all too common in a society that idolizes the inauthenticity of wealth, appearance, material objects, and technology over more authentic joys of inner peace, love, and consciousness. Sadly, many seem to be so caught up in their false self and the daily rat race that they are almost completely unaware of the authentic core that lies hidden inside of them.

    Yet somewhere in the spaces between the getting and spending people do sense that they are not living up to their potential. I think this is one of the appeals of the superheroes with “secret identities” — Batman, Superman, Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk — the super-personas representing the greater second self that can burst forth if you can only find a way to wake up.

    Meditation, play, and self-acceptance seem like excellent ways to break free. Echoing Bob, I think silence is also key. Silence and solitude. We live in such a busy world that we are often trapped in the noise of other people that we lose touch with who we are.

    Right relationships and meaningful work can also help to elicit the true self. While one shouldn’t depend on external solutions, being in an environment that brings out the best you can certainly incite a transformation.

    Also, while I don’t recommend seeking one out, a major external conflict or crisis in life can activate dormant powers. When crises do occur, it may help to recognize and integrate the inner strength that you forgot existed.

    Thanks for a great post.

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Thanks for this great feedback. Your point about modern society being collectively narcissistic — based on inauthentic principals and thus, inherently, structurally conducive towards creation of the false self — is well made and something I’ve been thinking about myself. I’d like to write a post on it.

      On on!


  • Lauren says:

    I’ve had a lot of fears and issues surrounding this subject, and recently identified it as the core issue that was causing most of my recent chatter and discomfort. I realized that the important lesson for me to work on right now is to live as my true self, and let go of attachment to what other people think. It is incredibly freeing – letting go of those worries has already made me feel lighter and more loving… and I’m just beginning. I keep coming across meditation as something I should be incorporating more into my life… how wonderfully this article combines everything. Thank you for sharing!

    • Lauren says:

      Wow, that really was a comment all about me! haha – I just meant to say how the article relates exactly to what I have been working on lately… the timeliness of your articles is always wonderfully in sync. 🙂

      • Tai Carmen says:

        I think it’s interesting to hear about your journey, Lauren. 🙂 We are so often mirrors for one another and sharing personal process notes is de-isolating. So often the personal is universal…I definitely think letting go of the attachment to what others’ think is a major step towards reclaiming authenticity. Good point!

        Thanks for letting me know my subject choices are in sync with the larger organism of this readership…I do try to tune in with that. So it’s fun to hear when the topics do resonate particularly with people. 🙂

        On on!


  • Rob Arnold says:

    I have to say I found this to be a real challenging thought. I have delayed in responding because I wanted to ponder how I act in everyday life, I was surprised to realize I do get lost a bit in the false self. Not trying over think this but I try to be all things to all. A chamelion to different personalities of those I come into contact with. I suppose in many ways it is a defense.And after thinking about your writing I do equate my self as my thoughts. I do not see this as a negative. My dad and I have debated half full, half empty glass perspective. He says half full is optimistic and correct. I have argued that to have the half empty perspective is better in that it prepares us for action. Does this apply? In any case ,I appreciate you and look forward to next months subject. Hope all is as good as can be with your family. Thanks!
    To you, health and happiness!

    • Tai Carmen says:

      Glad the post inspired some interesting self-reflection. Thank you for your well wishes and cheers! ~ TC

    • Tai Carmen says:


      I’m glad the article provided some food for thought.

      I think it’s natural to respond to others and “play to the crowd” ~ the “chameleon” as you describe it. But I do think one’s awareness should remain connected at all times ~ ideally ~ with an essential core self. But these are definitely deep aspirations, not everyday ones. It could take a lifetime to connect with that authentic inner self.

      I think we all do tend to get lost in the false self. That’s the reason I wrote the article. 🙂 Our culture focuses almost exclusively on rewarding & developing the persona & the most outer layers of ego-based self. So it’s understandable…

      As far as “we are our thoughts” versus “we are not our thoughts” I think there are levels… On one level, our thoughts represent our state of mind, our aspirations, our fears, our worldview…in many ways we could look at this collection of factors as an identity. But from meditation, & trying to extend periods when thoughts & the mental life are not forefront in one’s awareness, one can experience a state of being where thoughts are not the primary focus, BEING is the experience. Presence. And it is a superb feeling…

      It’s not something one tends to experience right away upon embarking on the meditation, but even just working on sitting for five minutes a day (using a timer is helpful, to avoid the mind’s constant wondering how long it’s been) can work the “muscle” necessary to experience this state of being…suddenly five minutes will become easy, and then you can change your alarm to go off after ten minutes.

      The goal is to simply try to contact a state of peaceful being…and every time a thought or emotion comes into your mind, just witness it, and be very aware of it. Label it: “Thought,” or “fear” or “fantasy,” and then…let it pass like a cloud.

      Those are just some tips if you want to experience the level of being beyond thought at which point one feels very distinctly that there is an awareness that is larger & deeper than the mental life…and the thoughts are just the tip of the iceberg.

      However, that is just one path. Many people are perfectly content without going down it. Or so I have to assume. For myself, the path has always called. So, for me it beckons & seems necessary. But I can only speak for myself. 🙂

      So in the everyday sense, you could say that your identity is made up of your thoughts. That makes sense of course. But after meditating for a few months, even just five minutes a day, you might experience a level of being where the thoughts weren’t chattering and in fact, were quiet for several extended seconds. And then you might say to yourself: “WOW!! That was neat. That felt different.” And with that, the mind begins to chatter again, all a-flutter with its triumph. That’s the way it goes…

      On on,


  • Tai, I like this a lot and it think it will help any who read it on their journey of self discovery. I think in a way it is related to what I am writing in my Peace-Earth-Future blog since if people believe society expects them to be a fighter, then they take on that role. I’m sure there is a much more eloquent way to say that but that is as close as I can get at this moment.

    • Tai Carmen says:


      Thanks for weighing in and for the kind words. So glad you found the post stimulating.

      I think that is a well said. We certainly are more a product of what our surrounding environment tells us is admirable and desirable than we may like to admit! And that role is certainly part of the construction of the false self.

      On on,


  • Jem says:

    Great post! I do want to chime in here and say that it may not be possible to completely eradicate the “false ego”, since I see it more as a lower self, or perhaps, qualities/aspects of the lower centers of our being being expressed in sterotypical/expected ways (due to societal pressure, personal cycles/habits/etc.). So, it’s more essential to become aware of the higher self, discovering and becoming enveloped by all that is really is and then re-integrate it into the lower aspects. This would, if you dare to say, bring us to our True Self: the center of being, watcher, mediator,etc., yet all three all very much the same essence. The Whole-E Trinity? I think so. 😉 To become completely whole and never trapped in one self for too long…to be a living ‘Self’ with its ‘selves’.
    As for the comment pertaining to not focusing on the self, I beg to differ. Of course, to each his or her own and to his or her own current evolutionary state of being. Usually, most spiritual paths are either centered on esoteric (intrinsic) or exoteric (extrinsic) ways of living/experiencing/viewing life. If one really keeps on seeking, so to say, both paths will lead to the realization of the interconnectedness of all for all that is within is also without. Let the Journey go on…

    • Tai Carmen says:

      I think you’re right, Jem. The false ego will likely always remain as a part of modern man’s civilized/defensive persona. And there are even functions for the ego. It’s more a matter of it not being the tyrant; not having the driver’s seat.

      Thanks for weighing in…!

      On on,


    • Tai Carmen says:

      Beautifully said, Jem. Thanks for being part of the conversation.

      “Living the Self with it’s selves.” Love it. I think the so-called false self has its place, as persona has its place in performance & some aspects of everyday life. For me, and from what I’ve read, it’s just a matter of knowing the difference for oneself.

  • I’ve been thinking about authenticity off and on lately. The most influential people in my life, the ones that often occupy my thoughts, were the ones who weren’t afraid to drop their defenses and let others see who they really are. It made them vulnerable, but in a subtle way it also made them undeniably strong. I hope to be like them one day, although it is likely to take some time.

    • Tai Carmen says:

      As the great once e.e. cummings said: It takes a lifetime to become who you are. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing. On on!


  • 64doors says:

    I like that the newest movement is that of Authenticity. Showing who we really are inside that others may allow themselves to do the same. With each generation this progresses. When we allow the fear of accepting ourselves just as we are to build a mask for us, what lies beneath becomes some hideous monster that we abhor showing to others.
    The irony is that what is beneath the mask is, in fact, more beautiful than any self we would create. I am thankful that this lifetime has allowed me to find authenticity in myself and to shatter the mask. It is, indeed, a life quest, which separates those who are ready to go on from those who are not yet. Each at his own pace. 😉

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