Day #14 The False Self

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” Gal. 6:4-5 (MSG)

Did you know Twitter used to use a blue check mark by your name that meant you were “somebody.” It seemed Twitter liked to separate the somebodies from the nobodies, and getting a check mark meant people thought you qualified as “notable” (think: clever, valuable, smart, and worthy). (Twitter has since changed its requirements in November 2022.)

On social media, we often create a self we want people to see so they will be convinced we are worthy enough to be loved. We instinctively know there is part of us that we let no one else see.  For if they were to see us as we really are, we are certain and afraid they would not like what they see. Author Albert Haase, in his book, Come Home to Your True Self, writes, “It’s easy to lose touch with who we are and become obsessed with what we are not.” A core anxiety we all share is that we are not good enough.

So, we create an identity we want others to think we are, and it is achieved by an elaborate means of effort maintaining an illusion preoccupied with appearances. We prop up an external image…an image of a life we are not actually living. We self-protect and try to find some kind of significance in what we do, and “hustle for our worthiness” (Brene Brown, The Gift of Imperfection, 33) by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving, while pretending all is well. This constructed self needs constant approval and behaves in ways we think guarantees us to be accepted, valuable, and significant. So one of the big questions we must ask ourselves is, ”Who am I when I’m not doing?”

Author Brennan Manning calls this self, the false self, “The Poser.” He writes, “The Poser is a handler, a spin doctor, a fixer, a clean-up artist—he’ll do whatever it takes to maintain the appearance that we are not out of control, that our lives are not unmanageable, that we are not in need of a Rescuer.” Manning writes,

  • The Poser trembles at the thought of disappointing people.
  • Posers are frantic for approval. (We have an almost suffocating need to please, which makes it difficult to say no, even when no is the right answer.
  • Posers are habitually overcommitted to people, projects, and causes….
  • Posers are driven by a compulsive desire to appear perfect. We hope everyone will admire us and no one will truly know us.
  • The Poser pursues relationships with those who will make them look good.

Thomas Merton notes that the best adjective that describes the false self is: compulsive. The temptation to hang on to the pretend/false self is constant.

Perfectionism and shame are its closest ally.

Facing brokenness is never easy. We can respond in a variety of ways but the biggest temptation almost always takes the form of self-protection. We will do anything to avoid, divert, deny, or hide our brokenness from ourselves, from God, and from others. However, and this is important…what remains hidden cannot be healed. To ignore our brokenness means our brokenness will have complete autonomy in our lives.

How do we face our brokenness in a way that becomes life-giving? One way is through self-empathy. Self-empathy is stopping and noticing (self-examination) our lives with curiosity and compassion, without judging. Author Chuck DeGroat writes, “…self-compassion is far more crucial to our well-being than self-esteem. Self-compassion is the practice of being an imperfect person, someone who is merely human in an age when we are all trying to be superhuman” (Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion and Healing the Divided Self, 46).

So instead of pushing through, sucking it up, or soldiering on…give yourself permission to say “No.” Give yourself permission to not be perfect; to fail, to be human. Lean into the process of becoming, rather than one who has “arrived.” Live from a continuous posture of opening yourself and responding to a fresh work of grace, knowing this is your real life.

Questions for Reflection:

The false self can be identified as the self apart from God. When or where have you noticed your false self making an appearance?

In what ways have you propagated your false self?

How do you want to respond to your false self?

Today, how can you practice being imperfect?

Tomorrow we will talk about some of the ways we can combat the false and return home to our true selves.

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