My evolving true self
Some of us live our lives trying so hard to manage the thoughts we think others have about us. Our lives become guided and directed by what we believe others think, would or might think of us! We neglect being our True Self because we are so focused on acting according to societal and family demands. Eventually, we forget what it means to BE ourselves. This Adapted Self is our Ideal Self, the Self that we project to the rest of the world. Our Ideal Self is constricted and contracted in awareness and is often in conflict with our Real Self, the individual that we are. Who we are, our Real Self, is relaxed, comfortable no matter the circumstances or situation we find ourselves in. Our Real Self is expanded in awareness!
I am often torn between giving myself the satisfaction of expressing my deepest feelings and thoughts and holding back these feelings and thoughts in order to please the other. More often than not I give into the latter and that often leaves me with a feeling of dissatisfaction and awkwardness. I do not feel comfortable when I compromise who I am just for the sake of amicability. Yet, I do compromise most of the time! But, is it ever proper to simply be one’s self, act and speak your truth the way you think and perceive it and damn the consequences? Can we act whichever way we feel like with little or no regard to the others around us? What makes us conform to society’s and other people’s norms and values or others’ way of thinking, perceived or otherwise?
Our upbringing and environment conditions us to think, feel and behave in certain ways. It provides us with the techniques for survival in life which we eventually mistake for the real, authentic way of being. These techniques for survival, these ways of being are our ego, our false self. The online Oxford Dictionary defines the Ego as: “a person’s sense of self esteem or self-importance”. In Psychoanalysis, “it is that part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity”. Thus, the type of person that I am, my ego can be observed in my personality. This thought alone (that my ego can be perceived in personality) provokes an examination of my conscience, not in the light of my True Self but in the light of how well I have been presenting my Ideal Self! How sad!
There really shouldn’t be any conflict between our Ideal selves and our Real selves if we act out of integrity, integrity being the key word. Integrity here is defined as the state of being whole and undivided! Integrity also gives us a feeling of oneness with ourselves. I would think this feeling of oneness with ourselves, a feeling that also comes with being our real selves would be something to work towards; something to cherish and cultivate. Yet, it appears it is easier to cultivate our Ideal projected self!
My ego oftentimes, limits and even over-shadows and suppresses the expression of my Authentic Real Self. Possibly because the ego is the only knowledgeable form of psychological protection I’ve got to regulate my interactions and at the same time feel safe and protected. I have also in the past, based my choice of jobs and career on what my Ideal Projected Self (my ego) needed and wanted! I felt ashamed and did not feel comfortable engaging in conversation relating to my work if I perceived it job title and position as not the “it” position by the standards of society or a job for someone of my calibre! Yet, I never felt happier or more satisfied when I moved to another job perceived by society as a high status job! Going after certain jobs, behaving and interacting with others in a certain way, was the trusted way I knew how to live my live without provoking conflict or stepping into unknown territory.
Matheson, (1998) points out that the ego unconsciously and automatically regulates and maintains our psychic equilibrium. He believes the Authentic, Real Self functions as a parallel to the ego. It does not encompass the ego but uses some of its functions to accomplish its tasks. That means, if our Ideal Self were to work in collaboration with our Real Self, we would understand and move closer to our Real Self and become the best that we could be. To achieve this, we would need to step out of our contracted awareness; the awareness that limits us to our beliefs, assumptions and perceptions. Letting go, or at least questioning these beliefs and assumptions will expand our awareness and perception in life and allow us to have a more fulfilling experience.
Berne’s Ego State Model (1972) suggests that our egos are ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that we have learnt from childhood from our caregivers or parents. It is also the way we thought, felt and behaved as children. However, as we grow, we accumulate data, we collect more information that updates what we learned as children. Consequently, our way of seeing and interacting with others and the world changes with every experience that we have as individuals.
Berne (1972), divided the ego into 3 different ego states (See diagram below). Each reflects the way one thinks, feels and behaves when they are in that ego state. For example, we would be thinking, feeling and behaving from a Parent Ego state if we copied a parent figure’s ways of thinking, feeling and believing without questioning the rightness or wrongness of the thought, feeling or belief. Likewise, we would be in a Child ego state if we acted, felt and thought the same way we did when we were children in a present moment situation. These ego states are coherent systems of thought and feeling manifested by corresponding patterns of behaviour that are very often unconscious. Yet, our Authentic Real Self can only be expressed if we became consciously aware and spontaneous in our interactions. In fact, Berne’s characteristics of an autonomous person which he equates to an authentic person, are awareness, spontaneity and intimacy.
Berne’s ego states model as shown in the diagram below, indicates how our ways of thinking, feeling and behaving are influenced moment by moment by the contents of our Parent, Adult and Child (PAC) ego states with the Adult using the Parent and the Child contents to evaluate and decide on the best action to take in the here and now.
Each ego state contains the historical and biological components of one’s personality. So, like any other person, I use my ego states to function in society; I use it to relate to myself, others and the environment and the information from all of my 3 ego states influences the ways and means by which I interact and integrate socially.
Unfortunately, this False Self, the ego, is not adaptive to real life. It is there simply to act as a defence and it does become quite defensive when attacked; it protects us from and against painful feelings and situations. And as Masterson (1988) points out, it achieves this goal at the cost of mastering reality because the reality is encapsulated in a fixed frame of reference. It is only by facing and staying with the reality (looking into, staying with and acting from one’s feelings) that one’s True Self begins to develop. This development begins with awareness of self. It starts by simply being and connecting with our feelings. Our bodily feelings will tell us how congruent our actions and thoughts are to our Real Self. Reflective thinking, after we have connected to our feelings would help us see and accept the reality and often also guides us to a better decision for the future.
One’s Real Self can be defined therefore, by pointing to that sense of self that is experienced as a feeling or a thought; the feeling of anger or peace, sadness or happiness etc. Exploration of these feelings in our body will lead us to the discovery of our real selves. For example, actions that do not elicit the intended feelings from us would be an indication that we are not acting from our Real Self. The Real Self "is the guidance system, that guidance that motivates much of our behavior and keeps that behavior on the appropriate path" (Masterson, 1998).
My True, Authentic Self is synonymous to Berne’s Autonomous Self. According to Berne, an autonomous person would be one who takes responsibility for everything he or she feels, thinks and believes. Such a person also either has or develops an ethical system for life - integrity. Autonomy here is a not a one-stop event but a continuous process that involves the Adult objectively computing and integrating information from his/her Parent and Child in his decision making. It is only through this continuous process of integration that the Adult stops from being simply an unfeeling data processing machine to being a person (an Integrated Adult) with feelings and ethics. It is in the process of integration that he/she also acquires technical skills and abilities to use in the future.
We are all unique, special individuals. The confirmation of our uniqueness can only become evident if we express our Real Selves. As Masterson, (1988) puts it, “The Real Self keeps us aware of our essential, separate, unique identity and allows us to adapt creatively to changing situations so that we can continue to express the continuity and uniqueness of our identity and feel ‘real’”. One’s real self is that core self within us that remains the same from one experience to the other. It is that place from where we recognise that we are worthwhile, competent and that we are “not immune to suffering but capable of withstanding them and growing because of them” (Masterson, 1988).
My True Self exists in the feelings and thoughts that come and go in me; it truly exists when I express these feelings without any filters. Yet, if I have to live with integrity and still feel authentic, I recognise the need to filter some of these thoughts and feelings through my Adult, to accommodate the feelings of my environment and others. By consciously integrating the feelings and welfare of the environment and others while connecting to and acting from my own feelings I continue to live authentically. My integrating Adult does not simply adopt the ways of thinking, feeling and behaving from my Cultural and Critical Parent but consciously questions its injunctions and beliefs and accepts only those that “sit” well with me. It also allows my creative Child to activate my Adult mind to create whatever is beautiful and enterprising for myself and the universe.
My True Self continues to evolve with every experience.
Berne, 1972, What do you say after you say hello? The Psychology of Human Destiny. Transworld Publishers Ltd, London
Masterson, J F, 1998, The Search for the Real Self, Unmasking the Personality Disorders of our Age, The Free Press, A Division of Simon & Schuster Inc. New York