False Self and Personality

Q: I read the other day about a study of the prophets in the Old Testament, where one of the conclusions was that in their contact with God, they never gave up their personal ability for morality, reflectiveness of thought, personal judgment and way of reason. And that is one of the reasons why they never got hooked on dreams and illusions, and telling the kings “all is well, all is well”, like the false prophets did. So God never asked of them to give up their unique personality, so to speak. This made me think of the false self, and our ways of describing it. What is the relation between the unique personality and the false self? I often think one should be careful just to say “Oh, never mind, it is just the false self”, because everything in us is so intertwined, so made up of endless connections – the person is neither a concept, nor a category of a distinguishable false and true.

A: You are right – each of us is completely unique and thus has a unique way of engaging life. This uniqueness is precious and valued by God; Jesus never asked his apostles to change who they were, and as you know, they were an interesting group.

In general, the false self includes those aspects of our lives where we have a disproportionate need to be a certain way; you might think of the false self as a manifestation of exaggerated energies reflecting a fixed point of reference. These energies are usually reflected in disproportionate desires for power and control, affection and esteem and safety and security.

We might imagine the various false selves of the apostles – the qualities that interfered in receiving who Jesus was and the teachings he presented. For example, you might say Thomas questioned too much, Peter over estimated his courage, Judas was too greedy and business-like. These were manifestation of their false self that they had to let go off as they dedicated themselves to following Jesus.

– Fr. Carl.