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You Are Not What You Think You Are — The False Self, The Ego, and The True Self

Or, to be free, free yourself from your Self.

Michael Burkhardt
Jan 9 · 6 min read

I traveled to more than 40 countries, meditated more than 300 hours this year, fell in love, broke up, and work on an uncertain startup business.

In all of these endeavors, I thought a lot about the self.

And how it creates suffering in our lives.

Or in other words, how we create suffering.

A big realization I had during my meditation practices is that we are the creators of our life experiences. It is never the outside situation or person, which is responsible for our mental and emotional state.

It is always our way of reacting to the situation.

We choose to be angry, sad, or to be forgiving, and joyful.

Our self, our sense of I, is the conscious or unconscious dirigent of our thoughts and emotions.

The less aware we are about this, the less in control we are in our lives.

How can we change this?

By taking responsibility to learn about the concept of self, by closely examining our thoughts and emotions to break the false self, and eventually by finding our true self.

Once you get to this point, you’ll harmonize with life rather than fighting it!

The false self: The delusionist

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Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash

According to the twentieth century’s influential English psychoanalyst and child psychiatrist Donald Winnicott:

The false self is an artificial persona that people create very early in life to protect themselves from re-experiencing developmental trauma, shock, and stress in close relationships.

Meaning, our delusionary self-creation process starts early in our childhood.

Often, we had to be unnaturally attuned to the demands of our parents, sensing we had to comply in order to be loved and tolerated; we had to be false before we had the chance to feel properly alive.

And this continues in our educational systems and careers.

Most of the time, we are putting on a mask, complying with our teachers, our bosses, our colleagues, our partners, our friends…

I remember in one of my jobs I had to wear a suit every day, communicate in a specific tone, do things the way they were supposed to be done. Every day, I talked to people that I shall become.

Not only did I lose my joy, but also I almost forgot who I was…

But I didn’t!

I connected back to my inner voice and cut through the false self.

I redefined my “I”, which brings us to the next concept.

The ego

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Photo by Anto Fredric on Unsplash

Your ego is a cup full of opinions and speculations that you have been filling over the years about who you think you are, most often the false self.

Technically, the ego is a survival mechanism to protect ourselves.

Luckily, in more and more places in today’s world survival is not an issue anymore.

However, now the problem with the ego are insecurities and self-doubts.

And the fuel is external validation.

Now, this can go in two directions.

The weak ego

Here we think very low about our own self-worth and beat ourselves up with self-destructive thoughts.

On the other side of the spectrum…

The big ego

Often the result of a lot of external validation covering up insecurities.

We think very highly of ourselves accompanied by a lot of self-confidence, pride, and “self-worth”.

Now, for both scenarios, the weak and the big ego, the ego is based on a very shaky foundation and is constantly looking for ways to reassure itself and cover up insecurities.

Is there an alternative?

The true self — Dropping the mask

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The true self has two perspectives; a psychological one and a spiritual perspective.

The psychological perspective

If you are looking for your true self from a pure psychological side, you are on a journey to discover your own truth — a truth that may create discomfort before giving you a new sense of freedom.

Because it will involve uncovering your delusionary thoughts.

Acknowledging both your unsolved sides, insecurities, fears, as well as your strengths.

As a result, you’ll connect back to your inner voice, which knows and always has known what is best for you and the people around you.

Discovering your true self from a psychological standpoint can also be described as developing a healthy ego.

Neither big nor weak, but a quiet ego, which indicates healthy self-esteem, one that acknowledges one’s own limitations and is not afraid to show vulnerability and thus doesn’t need to constantly resort to defensiveness whenever it is threatened, and yet has a firm sense of self-competence.

Qualities of such an ego are being less judgmental, less illusionary, with fewer boundaries between you and the rest of the world.

If this is not enough for you, let us go deeper!

A spiritual perspective

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From a spiritual standpoint, the self or ego is an artificial construction of informational bits and pieces that you have gathered.

Since it is an artificial construction, if you don’t protect it, it will break.

And this is exactly the purpose of the spiritual process — everything that can break shall break.

The question is to you want to protect it.

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An argument for not protecting it is that it creates all the suffering.

Almost every waking moment, and many sleeping moments, you are consumed with “I”. “I” am hungry, tired, afraid, excited, satisfied, busy, bored. And so on.

As Umair Haque writes,

All we’re ever really ever fighting for is it — the self. But, as you’ve proven to yourself, it has no reality, to begin with. In this sense, many of us live false lives, built atop false selves. We’re fighting for an illusion that we think will lead us to happiness. But it only leads us further into the desert.

Now, the true self from a spiritual point is often referred to as just awareness. Pure and unbiased.

Sometimes called the “Seer” or “Observer”, looking at your thoughts and emotions, and the world, from an outsider’s view.

The false self, the thing we call a self, is a fiction, a thought, an idea, a mental construction. It has no reality at all.

Your choice

Whatever you choose, the psychological or spiritual path.

Break with your false self.

Break with your limiting beliefs.

Find your own truth.

Follow your path!

Live life joyfully, inclusively, and with full responsibility.

Thank you for reading.

Truthful regards,


The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Michael Burkhardt

Written by

Community Builder | Founding Member @Omdena | Writing about doing nothing well

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 138,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Michael Burkhardt

Written by

Community Builder | Founding Member @Omdena | Writing about doing nothing well

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 138,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

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