True self/ false self/ no self

Perhaps the most common core belief or story I’ve encountered over the years as a therapist and teacher is some version of “There’s something terribly wrong with me,” “Deep down I’m flawed, bad, evil, incorrigible, or unlovable.” Often this belief is accompanied by an underlying feeling of shame and a fear of being found out, exposed, revealed to be the awful person we believe ourselves to be. Generally this sense of inadequacy is based on being shamed as a child, on being made to feel stupid or bad or unwanted by parents or other caregivers, whether through careless words, neglect or disregard, or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

However this shame is instilled, the growing child will often do everything in her power to disprove or counteract the negative self-image by working especially hard to be good, smart, lovable, or successful. In the process, she develops and maintains a very positive self-image to present to the world, a false self, while still believing deep inside that the shameful self-image is the true self that will eventually be found out, much to her horror and humiliation. Eventually this split can become excruciatingly painful and lead to a persistent feeling of being inauthentic, fake, or phony.

The quickest way to cut through the split is to see that neither the compensatory positive self image, the false self, or the negative self-image has anything to do with who we really are. They’re just collections of thoughts, beliefs, memories, and feelings arising within a vast, compassionate, nondual field of awareness–our true self–that welcomes every arising just as it is, without reservation. Once this deeper reality is clearly glimpsed, the split begins to deconstruct because it no longer makes any sense.

At the same time, however, the parts of the psyche that still feel inadequate and unlovable—often unintegrated child parts—may be slow to receive the full effects of this realization, and it can be helpful to deeply explore the split with love and compassion and gradually bring the shameful thoughts, memories, and feelings to light and release them. As often happens, awakening may bring penetrating insight and relief from some of our suffering, but deeper investigation may be helpful to shine the light of awakened awareness into the darker corner of our hearts and minds.

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