When I was about 9 years old, I told my parents I believed in reincarnation.
I don’t know why or how, only that I knew it was true. The look in the eyes of my young mother and father, coming from Southern Baptist backgrounds, quickly let me know it wasn’t safe for me to say this, and we never talked about it again.
In my late twenties, I sometimes went to Catholic mass with Jim. It gave me an hour or so to reflect, to think, to be quiet within myself and commune with God in my own way. I’ve always enjoyed the ritual of ceremony and created my own ritual within a ritual. Jim knew of my evolving spirituality – not rooted in “being” a Baptist or Catholic, or in any other organized religion. However, most of our family and our friends didn’t. I didn’t want to have to explain or defend myself to the anticipated look in their eyes.
We are all expressions of the Divine.
We are all connected through the divine love and light in each of our hearts. But many of us forget who we truly are, who we came here to be. We come into this world pure, as our true self, and develop false selves along the way. Shaped by our parents, our environment, and our culture.
The true self feels one way but the false self acts another way.
Is it to protect your heart? Or for safety? for love? Is it from fear? for approval?
My false self felt a need to “be” someone for everyone else. Afraid of judgment, of derision, of being seen as not worthy, of needing approval, of needing to fit in. Of feeling like just being myself was not good enough. For much of my life, feeling one way (true self) but acting another way (false self), fearing the look in someone’s eyes.
The desire to be “seen” and accepted for who I am was great but the fear of being truly seen even greater. I’ve lived a large part of my life with the false self in charge. It’s exhausting, and it’s not a joyful existence. Why do you think so many people experience anxiety? It’s only in the past few years I’m letting go, loosening my grip on the need to please, unlearning the false self ways of being in the world, and handing the reigns of pleasing to my true self.
My spiritual beliefs have evolved over the years as I’ve lived, loved, laughed, and lost – learning lessons from life experiences and from a great many people and teachers along the way. All my life experiences have brought me to who and where I am today. Still learning and honoring where my true self wants to go, and joyful and grateful for where I am being led.
As a psychotherapist and as someone who’s benefited tremendously from the healing power of therapy, I know being truly seen and heard is a fundamental aspect of transformative healing.
The concept of true self/false self has been written about extensively from myriad perspectives. Many prominent psychologists have written about it. D. W. Winnicott is known for introducing it in psychoanalysis.
Don Miguel Ruiz writes about it in The Voice of Knowledge, a book based on ancient Toltec wisdom. He says,
“We are born in trust, but we grow up believing in lies…one of the biggest lies in the story of humanity is the lie of our imperfection.”
Debbie Augenthaler, LMHC, NCC, is an author and psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, where she specializes in trauma, grief and loss. Her award-winning book, You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide for Grief, Healing, and Hope combines her personal story of devastating loss with practical insights and simple suggestions for healing. Join her Facebook community, Grief to Gratitude, and follow her on Instagram.