True Self, False Self by Leslie Margolis, LMFT
TRUE SELF, FALSE SELF by Leslie Margolis, LMFT
Pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott introduced his concept of True Self, False Self as a normal division of an individual’s self under proper developmental conditions.
The true self, or authentic self is the result of a “good enough” mother who provides the child with a healthy environment and appropriate responsiveness. The false self, or pseudo self, is the child’s defense against the predominance of the mother’s (or primary caregiver’s) expectations and tendency to impose her own, often narcissistic, needs onto the child.
Children who grow up in a home with a mentally disturbed, alcoholic, or otherwise difficult parent, often learn to tip toe around that adult to avoid negative interactions. The child’s needs are often neglected, and it becomes their job to comply with, and serve the parent’s needs. The false self becomes a defense against this environment, and the child accommodates the parent to avoid trouble. The problem with operating from a false self, is that the true self becomes neglected and minimized, thus leaving the individual feeling numb and unaware of their own needs.
Once the child is grown and old enough to leave the parent’s home, the true self does not automatically emerge. The individual continues to operate under the false self, as it is the only self they have known. Those living from a false self may experience depression and anxiety, and often find that they experience difficulties in personal, social, and/or vocational relationships.
Experiencing these or other debilitating symptoms is most likely what brings the individual to therapy. Generally, these clients are aware of having had a difficult childhood, and they are no longer able to cope with living life from the position of a false self. The therapist’s job is to help the individual discover their true self, and to develop the ability to address their own needs so they can live a more authentic and happier life.