It’s funny how productive you get when you don’t really need to be. I swear I have learnt more about psychology over the last couple of months, bored and unemployed and needing something to do and focus on, then I ever did in my Social Science degree in which I majored in Social Psychology and Social Research.
This is a bit of a follow-up on the article I wrote about Freud, projection and defense mechanisms of the mind. This is another defense mechanism of the mind in which I find truly fascinating. After having a conversation with someone a few weeks about self and identity, I did a little research and became fascinated by the concept of the false self and the true self.
Originally the concept of the False self was determined as he “False Self” a defense designed to protect the True Self by hiding it. It is thought that in health, a False Self was what allowed one to present a “polite and mannered attitude” This is like saying that we remain polite and civilised in society even when on the inside we don’t feel like it. Our false self allows us to hold our feelings back. However in the healthy individual we still know what is our true self and what part of us is putting on a front.
These thoughts were extended by Kohut who extends them into the unhealthy individual and shows us what happens when this false self takes over the true self. In a sense, when we lose sight of our true self and become our false self, a defense mechanism to cover our true self.
These are the 5 stages of the true self and false self ranging from the pathological to the healthy individual.
- ‘At the pathological end of the continuum the false self acts as if it were the real person’ – the true self remaining concealed, only a virtual possibility. However, the false self always lacks “… something essential” socially, the person is perceived as false.
- Less severely, the false self protects the true self, which remains unactualised – for Winnicott a clear example of a clinical condition organised for the positive goal of preserving the individual in spite of abnormal environmental conditions of the environment.
- Closer to health, the false self supports the individual’s search for conditions that will allow the true self to recover its well-being – its own identity.
- Even closer to health, we find the false self “… established on the basis of identifications”.
- In a healthy person, the false self is composed of that which facilitates “… a polite social behavior, good manners and a certain reserve”. It is this essential courtesy that makes possible life in society: ‘the false self acts to allow smooth passage through the world by inducing appropriate and socially acceptable ways of expressing love and hate’
So in conclusion, we all have a false self. However in the healthy individual this false self should only be used to keep us civil and polite and a functioning member of society and we should be aware of the fact that it is false and what our true self still is to remain a healthy individual. I will remember that so I don’t lose myself ever again.