Really Getting to Know Ourselves & Others: Separating the Pseudo-Self from the Solid Self, the False Self from Our True Self


People are rarely up front about who they really are, what they’re really about, and what they really want from others.

This applies to more than just dating relationships: it applies to all relationships and it applies to everyone.

And it applies even more so—and more importantly—to ourselves.

How well do we know ourselves?  How well do we really know what, in a moment of crisis, we’re made of and what we’re actually capable of—the good, the bad, even possibly the ugly?  And how well do we or can we really know another person?

And how can we come to better know ourselves and others—especially those closest to us?

In the beginning of most relationships—especially dating relationships—most people enter into those relationships pretending to be someone they’re really not—or really not yet.  They try to give off the impression that they are a better and more intact and more interesting and less flawed (and when it comes to dating, a more sexually open and interesting) version of themselves. They enter into a relationship displaying an inflated version of themselves, over-promising on who they are and what they’re bringing to the table.  (See especially minute 2:10 – 2:45 of the following clip)

“Relationships, easy to get into, hard to maintain. Why are they so hard to maintain? Because it’s hard to keep up the lie! ‘Cause you can’t get nobody being you. You got to lie to get somebody. You can’t get nobody looking like you look, acting like you act, sounding like you sound. When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them. You’re meeting their representative.”

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In the beginning of a dating relationship, the deception (including what is omitted and left out) is almost always deliberate. We tidy ourselves up. The unsightly stuff about ourselves is swept away, broomed under the carpet, stuffed into the closet, etc. That’s just the way the dating game is played. We hide the negatives, accentuate the positives, give ourselves as much sheen and curb appeal as possible, airbrushing and PhotoShopping all parts of ourselves and our life—our place in life, our social status, our hopes and dreams, our interests, our past, our past relationships (—it’s always the other person’s fault that the last relationship we were in didn’t work out, same with the relationship before that and the relationship before that, et cetera. but the reality is that it’s rarely ever just mostly one person’s fault that a relationship doesn’t work out).  All parts of ourselves are open for revising, retouching, and cosmetic enhancement.

In the beginning of a relationship, women typically try to oversell (or misrepresent) themselves by being more sexual and more willing to sexually try new things than they actually are and will be down the road.

Women may also initially appear to be more interested in watching football and NASCAR as well.

Men, on the other hand—the majority of them—tend to falsify themselves by initially showing up to a relationship being more interested in a woman as a human being and a person and in what she has to say than they actually are.

Men also tend to downplay their interest in sports (especially football and basketball), as well as action movies. In fact, many a man has subjected himself to a chick-flick or a romantic-comedy in order to get in bed with a woman.

And both men and women initially tend to do a very good job of concealing their temper and neediness and the various ways in which they tend to be uncivil (meaning that while on a date most people try to be very polite to cashiers, wait staff, et cetera—the little men and women. The logic being, “Look how nice and polite I am to strangers while I’m trying to impress you and get you to sleep with me”).

Of course, it’s not all a put on. Women sometimes are more sexual in the beginning because the sex is new, plus it’s heightened and more intense because of all of the attraction and novelty.

And most men actually are better listeners in the beginning because the material (the stories, the info) that they’re hearing is in fact new (reruns haven’t yet begun; patterns aren’t yet obvious, questions of character and victimizing oneself aren’t prominent). Plus their ability to listen is indeed better because of how sexually motivated they are. Their desire to have sex with a new and attractive partner is a very motivating. A guy will listen like a therapist when the possibility of sex is hanging in the balance.

That’s the typical dating game—two people trying to get as much sex and affection and fun and emotional titillation/fueling as possible while trying to get a sense of who the other person really is beneath all the spin, curb appeal, glossing over, missing information, character flaws, bad things they might have done, et cetera, and of what life might be like  6 months, 2 years, 10 years, et cetera, down the road with this person—i.e., how much of what the other person is doing that seems novel and or cute now will be irritating and irksome in the future?  Each person is trying to work out for themselves how trustworthy the other person really is, and how much the other person—and all his or her oddities and peccadilloes—is ultimately going to get on their nerves.

And it’s not just in the dating game where people conceal and retouch themselves in order to mislead others or at least try to control others’ impressions of them.  People (we) also do it on job applications and job interviews, social settings—anywhere where making a good first impression counts.

Sending out our representative—or wearing a mask and putting on a false self—is part of life and it’s something that we as human being learn to do—and do well—fairly early on in life. We learn to conceal this and feign this. And not because of any deep understanding, but because it’s just how the social game of life is played—we don’t to let too much of our real self out for fear of it being held against us or used against us.  If people knew who we really were and what we stood for, they would reject us, not trust us, be suspicious of us.  So we hedge our bets and play it safe and hide the controversial and or abrasive and or bad (even ugly) parts of ourselves—and our past.

The problem with this is that after doing this long enough and becoming adept enough at doing all of this—donning masks, pretending to be someone we’re not, accommodating others, compromising our principles in order to avoid conflict or cause waves, rewriting and revising our own personal histories, concealing the unsavory parts of our character—we begin to lose ourselves, we begin to get lost in the acting and the roles and the performances we’re always giving and the all the insincere talk that’s part of those performances.

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one is true.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

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“We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.” – Andre Berthiaume

But facing ourselves and getting rid of our masks is something we have to do (or ought to do) if we want to lead a deeper and more meaningful and more examined life. We will need to separate our false self (selves) from our real self. And we will likely have layers and layers of false selves to unmask and discard.

In “Passionate Marriage” Schnarch talks about “borrowed functioning.” Borrowed functioning is also known as emotional and psychological support—it’s the fueling and stability and boost we get from others, including our support system. We all borrow functioning from others. Unless we’re living alone in the middle of nowhere and cutting our own lumber and firewood, hunting our own food, sewing our own stitches, and taking out our own appendix Rambo-style, then we’re borrowing functioning. So there’s nothing inherently wrong about borrowing functioning. What’s wrong with it is the way most of us tend to do it—unconsciously, without trying to be mutual or interdependent and fair about it. Borrowed functioning in the sense that Schnarch is using it takes the form of emotional and psychological support (and perhaps even financial support and even enhanced social standing/status) that we get from others. It’s all of the validation, affirmations, psychological mirroring, reflected sense of self that we get from those around us and that makes us function better, live with less anxiety and more stability, more comfort, et cetera. And this borrowed functioning is what our performances, our masks, our false self/selves thrive on—it fuels them and is intended to gain us more emotional fueling.

And this fuel (or functioning) is “borrowed” or owed to others because it is externally derived; it doesn’t come from within us because it is dependent on others, hence it’s “borrowed,” as is the increase in functioning that it gives us. Which means that those parts of our “self” that exist in response to this and even in order to attract this fueling are not really our own. They’re not really us either, because if you take away that fueling or the need for it, then those parts of ourselves will decrease or slough off.  In one sense, we are the actors we are in order to conceal all of the unsightly things about us and our past that would lead others to reject us.  And on the other hand, we are the actors that we are, in order to try and get what we want and to have an easier and less isolated and less independent life.

The concept of “borrowed functioning” is essentially an idea of Murray Bowen that Schnarch has re-framed and elaborated on. Bowen concluded that each of our selves is made up of two parts—a core or solid self, on the one hand, and a pseudo- chameleon-like actor/impostor self, on the other hand. Our pseudo-self is composed of all of the ideas and values we’ve adopted uncritically and that we adopt or use just to fit in and or to get us what we want and need. Thus the pseudo-self is the chameleon within us that adapts, accommodates, blends in, plays down, even manipulates.  In relationships, it’s the part or parts of ourselves that we’re willing to trade with others in order to get us what we want—sex, friendship, companionship, support, validation, comfort. It’s the social climber part of ourselves—the gold-digging part or the part that wants the trophy wife.

And in some (many?) people this pseudo-self or false self or superficial self comprises the vast majority of their self—of who they are. They (that is to say, we, or at least many of us) spend most of their (our) time and energy and life direction is the service of maintaining this self—this persona (or these personas), this façade, this posturing, this imposter. It can be rightly thought of in a way as our “ego”—our false or inflated sense of self.

The other part of our self is our solid self. It’s not inflated, instead it’s grounded in reality. It can be thought of as our core self or even our authentic self. In a way this self can be thought of as the self we would be or become across conditions and regardless of what culture or society we grew up in if we were to take up the task of becoming who we truly are. It’s our fundamental self. It’s our baseline level of functioning. (Which for most of us means, that in order to function well, we need to borrow functioning—we need a support system, a community—in order to function adequately at all and not be overwhelmed and deteriorate into one form of mental illness or another.)

But this self is also very deeply embedded and derived from the culture live and grow up in because in large part it’s comprised of all of the values, ideals, principles that we have deeply deliberated over and internalized—that have become blood in us, to use Rilke’s phrase—and that we organize our lives around. Our solid self is the part of ourselves that we won’t trade on, negotiate over, or violate. And the hallmark of ideals and values and principles that actually belong to (or comprise) our solid self is that we can freely and fearlessly discuss and debate about them. They’re not based on ignorance, ego, fitting in; they’re not half-thought through; we didn’t adopt these ideals or principles in order to fit into some movement and gain a sense of identity (reflected sense of self) through that movement or get to wear some label (feminist, republican, democrat, conservative, et cetera). The ideals and principles do not exist as rhetoric or as dogma (what John Stuart Mill termed “dead dogma”), but instead they exist as living breathing truths that we have deeply mulled over and reflected on.

Our solid self is also comprised of all of the parts of us that have survived trial by fire or baptism by fire. Our core or solid self is not flimsy, it’s granite; it’s been forged, it’s been tried and tested and survived both.

Our solid self may and does change over time—but only after careful deliberation or some sort of deep and profound revelation, and only by our own choice—not simply by environmental pressure or persuasion.

Our solid self is also the part of us that helps us maintain our cool and stay calm when we get anxious or nervous. The more solid self we have and have developed, then the more solid or consistent and unwavering we will be as persons; the less solid self that we have and have developed, then the more easily swayable and changeable we are as persons (the more chameleon-like we are)—one moment we believe in this cause and we’re all amped up about this, then the next moment or week or month we’re all onboard with this cause while the other cause has completely faded, et cetera. The solid self is also what allows us to keep our wits when tensions get high and not get emotionally hijacked or derailed by stress.

Most people (most of us) are comprised much more of pseudo-self than solid self. Solid self is difficult to develop and gain in—it takes a lot of testing, grit, endurance. Pseudo-self is easier to develop—it’s what we get from taking the path of least resistance again and again. Solid self usually requires that we take the road less traveled.

Our solid self can also be thought of as our level of depth. If we don’t have much solid self, we don’t have much depth, instead we likely flit along the surface of things and life and relationships.

“A decent man will behave decently even if he thinks that he has been treated unjustly or wrongly. But many people in such circumstances show a side of their nature which otherwise they would never show. And at times it is a necessary means for exposing a man’s nature. So long as you are good to a man he is good to you. But what will he be like if you scratch him a little?” – G. I. Gurdjieff

The point of all of this is that it’s very difficult—nah, impossible—for us to truly know ourselves unless we expose ourselves (or allow ourselves to be exposed) to adversity as well as to novel and unknown situations. Most of the time we live in a comfort zone, meaning most of the time we are comfortable because we are doing what we know, engaging with what we know, and dealing with what is more or less familiar and is occurring more or less on our terms. When we step outside our comfort zone (or when we’re forced outside of it), then (and by definition) life is no longer taking place on our terms, instead we’re having to live on life’s terms and deal with life as it is. Life outside the comfort zone is inherently (and again by definition) uncomfortable; it’s uncomfortable because it’s unfamiliar, strange, unknown, stressful, fearful. If we’re doing something new and difficult and it’s not making us uncomfortable, then we’re really not being stretched outside our comfort zone (—either that, or we’ve reach enlightenment!). Generally speaking, whenever we’re really staring down and facing one of our fears, we’re outside our comfort zone. Whenever we’re learning something new and important, we’re outside our comfort zone. Whenever we’re stretching ourselves or our mind or even our emotions, we’re outside our comfort zone. And it’s only to the extent that we go past the boundaries and limits of our own comfort—or allow ourselves to be pushed past some of our own perceived and assumed limits—do/can we as human beings grow and differentiate.

But this process of truly growing and differentiating is very difficult—and rare. Most human growth is not real growth in terms of goodness, depth, nobility, and courage; most of is faux growth, most of it is not an increase in solid self but in pseudo-self. Which is the point of what Montaigne was saying when he wrote—

“The tranquility and contentment of a well-born spirit and the resolution and assurance of a well-ordered soul should never be attributed to a person until he has been seen to play the last, and beyond a doubt the hardest, act of this comedy. In everything else there may be sham: fine reasonings of philosophy may be mere posturing in us; our trials by not testing us all the way to the quick and pressing us to our last limits, may give us a chance to keep our face composed—and falsely so. But in our last scene, between death and ourselves, there is no more pretending, no more posturing. We must talk plainly, show what is good and clean at the bottom of the pot, if anything:

.        ‘At last true words surge up from deep within our breast,
.         The mask is snatched away, reality is left.’ — Lucretius

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That is why all the other actions of our life must be tried and tested by this act. It is the penultimate and master day, the day that is the judge of all others. ‘It is the day,’ says Seneca, ‘that must judge all my past years.’ And as Cicero says, ‘to philosophize is nothing else but to prepare for death.’ I leave it to death to test the fruit of all of my studies and learning. We shall see then, at that moment, whether my reasonings come from my mouth or from my heart.” (Montaigne, “The Complete Essays of Montaigne,” pg. 55.)

And here’s the Joker’s take on what Montaigne wrote—

In their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way I knew your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?

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Facing our fears, taking on new and difficult challenges, making friends with adversity, and even striking up a relationship with our own mortality—the granddaddy of all fears—is what helps us to pull back the curtains on our own existence and actually get to know ourselves a bit better for who and what we are and see ourselves (and others) more clearly. But only if we’re willing to take the hit to our pride and narcissism. If we’re not willing to be humble, then we’ll just talk tough, posture, be lending weapons to a thief, fooling ourselves even more. None of us is as well-differentiated as we think we are. All of us are borrowing more functioning than we’d care to admit; all of us (likely) have much more pseudo-self than real self. But we likely won’t know the extent of this—how false we are—until we come face to face with our own mortality in some way that we can’t easily wiggle or con our way out of.  Until then, we’ll go through life with a lot of false ideas about ourselves, assuming ourselves to be nicer, kinder, more noble and stable and virtuous than we really are.  We may even think we’re bad in a few ways, but at least we’re not that bad.  And we can assume all of this about ourselves all because we haven’t been tested—or allowed ourselves to be tested.  All because we’ve concluded that who we are in our comfort zone is who we truly are, and who we are outside of our comfort zone is an aberration; it’s not us.

But what if we’re wrong about this?

What if the truest measure of us as person is who we are outside the comfort zone?  What if who we are in difficult times *IS* who we are—it’s who we are stripped of any pretense, posturing, faulty errant ideas we may have about ourselves.

“Sigmund Freud once asserted, “Let one attempt to expose a number of the most diverse people uniformly to hunger. With the increase of the imperative urge of hunger all individual differences will blur, and in their stead will appear the uniform expression of the one unstilled urge.” Thank heaven, Sigmund Freud was spared knowing the concentration camps from the inside. His subjects lay on a couch designed in the plush style of Victorian culture, not in the filth of Auschwitz. There, the “individual differences” did not “blur” but, on the contrary, people became more different; people unmasked themselves, both the swine and the saints.” (Viktor Frankl, from the last pages of “Man’s Search For Meaning”)

And see min 6:33 to 6:53 of the following clip—

“I didn’t make you do anything that wasn’t in you already. . . . People are such hypocrites. They go through their lives thinking they’re innocent till the day they die, but they’re not innocent. I showed you that.” – from the motion picture “Bad Influence”

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Most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place—or the wrong time and wrong place—they’re capable of just about anything—

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“Most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of anything.” – from the motion picture “Chinatown”

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The being of man is situated behind a curtain. . . . What he can know of himself is only what is lent him by circumstance. My ‘I’ is hidden from me (and from others).” – Simone Weil, “Gravity and Grace,” pg. 85

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“Our shortcomings are concealed from us as long as luck helps us.” – Hadrat Ali, “Living and Dying with Grace,” pg. 8.

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I have no doubt whatever that most people live, whether physically, intellectually, or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger. We all have reservoirs of life to draw upon, of which we do not dream.”—William James

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You must realize that each human being has a set repertoire of roles which he plays in ordinary circumstances. He has a role for every kind of circumstance in which he ordinarily finds himself in life.

But put him into even only slightly different circumstances and he is unable to find a suitable role—if only for a short time—and for that short time he becomes completely himself.

The study of the roles of a person plays represents a very necessary part of self-knowledge.

Each person’s repertoire is very limited. And each person is not one “I” or role; each person has at least five or six I’s or roles—one or two for his family, one or two at the office (one for his subordinates, one for his superiors), one for his friends when he’s out on the town with them, and perhaps one who is interested in high-minded ideas and likes intellectual conversations.

And at different times the person is fully identified with one of these I’s and is unable to separate himself from it.

To see the roles, to know one’s repertoire—particularly to know its limitedness—is to know a great deal.

But the more important point is that, outside his repertoire, a person feels very uncomfortable should something push him, if only temporarily, out of his usual routine or accustomed ways, and he tries his hardest to return to any one of his usual roles.

Eventually, and sooner rather than later, he falls back into the rut, everything at once goes smoothly again, and the feeling of awkwardness and tension disappears.

This is how it is in life.

But in order to grow, one must become reconciled to this awkwardness and tension and to the feeling of discomfort and helplessness. Only by allowing oneself to experience this discomfort can a person begin to really observe himself.

And it is clear why this is so. When a person is not playing any of his usual roles, when he cannot find a suitable role in his repertoire, he feels that he is naked, undressed. He is cold and ashamed, vulnerable and exposed, and he wants to run away from everybody. But the question arises: what does he want? A quiet life? Or to work on himself?

If he wants a quiet, comfortable life, it’s clear what he must do: he must certainly first of all never move out of his repertoire. Because in his usual roles he feels comfortable and at peace.

But if he wants to work on himself, he must forsake his own comfort and destroy his own peace. Because to have them both together—a quiet life and to work comfortably on oneself—is in no way possible.

A person must make a choice.

(G. I. Gurdjieff, quoted in P. D. Ouspensky “In Search of the Miraculous,” pp. 239-40.)

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16 thoughts on “Really Getting to Know Ourselves & Others: Separating the Pseudo-Self from the Solid Self, the False Self from Our True Self

  1. Pingback: Daily Leadership Thought #69 – Get Out of Your Comfort Zone « Ed Robinson's Blog

  2. Strolling through your neighborhood, I happened across this gem, John. This phrase in particular caught my attention: “What if who we are in difficult times IS who we are.” If that is the case, I believe that I am in trouble, at least a good-sized chunk of me. This statement and this post provide solid mirrors for us to challenge our thinking and behavior and move through and beyond. Thank you for presenting these insights and invitations to break out of sit-in-your-rocking-chair-and-rock mentalities.

    • Hello Julie!

      Thank you for reading and for commenting. And, yes, we all are in a bit of trouble *if* we want to really get to know ourselves and what we’re actually capable of–the good and the bad and the ugly–instead of just what we would like to think we’re capable of and what is flattering to ourselves (to our ego) to believe we’re capable of. Most people live in their comfort zones because it’s easier, it is more comfortable, and it’s flattering–when we’re living in our comfort zones, we get to think all these good things about ourselves–how nice we are, how together we have it, how we would never do such and such a thing that we see or read about others doing. Reality can’t touch us or refute us as long as we’re living life on our terms–i.e., living life in our comfort zone. But . . . as soon as we are forced from our comfort zone–as soon as life evicts us from it–we get introduced to ourselves, to our real self, to who and what we’re really are and what we’re really like and what we’re really capable of–the good and the bad (and the ugly). It’s said that adversity introduces a man (or woman) to himself (herself).

      Based on my experience, this is definitely true. Until we’ve seen ourselves in difficult times, outside our comfort zone, in a place where we don’t have “the home court advantage,” on unfamiliar ground, on non-solid footing, and with no safety net and no support system, we don’t know ourselves.

      Dare I say, we really don’t know a thing about ourselves, until we’ve been put to the test and tried like this.

      So in my experience, this is definitely true–who we are in difficult times IS who we are.

      Julie, back in 1997 I went through a really tough (for me) break-up, and I learned firsthand that part of what happens in a break up is that you don’t just lose your supposed best friend and lover, you’re forcefully evicted from your comfort zone, from a pattern and or way of life that you’ve been accustomed to and comfortable with. Not only was the familiar person and partner in my life gone and no longer my friend and confidant, but now she was an adversary and a stranger all in one. It didn’t matter what I wanted, or how I wanted things to turn out for us; her vote was to bail out and wall up and run. So to my mind I had just lost my best friend of the past 3.5 yrs. And I had to move (as did she) from the apt we shared. And that wasn’t all that happened during that period (late spring and early to mid-summer of ’97). My dog of 15 years died within a couple of weeks of the break-up. And I also had a knee injury at work that had me laid up for a few weeks. And I had no real friends to turn to during that period. My now ex- was always the one I would talk to and turn to. All my eggs had been put in one basket–and not a very reliable or trustworthy or forbearing basket either. And my brother and my mom (both of whom lived in the area) were of no real support to me–my brother seemed more interested in seeing what furniture from my apt I wouldn’t need and that he could use. And my mom, although she tried to be there for me, and I appreciated her attempts, it just wasn’t reaching me where I needed/wanted to be reached; it wasn’t giving me what I needed.

      So in the space of a few days (and weeks), my comfort zone was utterly shattered.

      And it remained so for at least the following 3 months.

      Life during that time–life outside the comfort zone–was for me a life of anxiety, panic, uncertainty. I was a hot mess during that time. Who could I trust? Who, if anyone, actually had my back? Who actually knew what I was going through? Who actually knew what I stood for and what I was about?

      These weren’t questions of self-pity; these were fundamental existential questions about the nature of human relationships: What does it mean for two people to actually love each other? What does loyalty mean and how much loyalty can we expect from another (as well as how much loyalty can we expect from ourselves towards another)? Why are so many human relationships so superficial? Why do people cut and run so easily? Why do (some) people treat others so disposably? Et cetera.

      I realized during that time–I felt during that time and I perceived myself during that time–to be alone. Utterly alone. To have no real support system, no real friends that I could talk to deeply and meaningfully.

      The relationships I had and that previously I thought could be of that nature and that depth, turned out not to be that deep and supportive.

      That was a very humbling (and distressing) realization.

      And that was a big takeaway for me during that period–aloneness. I had met my ground-zero baseline self–the person I was, the level of self that I had, without any real emotional support system. I was on my own.

      And that made me anxious, even panicky, to have to feel that. This is what it’s like to be alone. This is what it’s like to be betrayed–to lose your (supposed) best friend–to have your supposed best friend bail out because what you stand for during a moment of crisis is too much–that it’s easier for her to do the wrong thing than to do the right thing, that “supporting” her family and saying nothing, even though one member of her family was doing something morally wrong and reprehensible, was easier than speaking up and saying what (she said) she believed and taking a stand. Et cetera.

      So that summer (of ’97) is where I first “met” myself–my real self, my “I have to stand all by myself and there’s no one to help me cope with this pain or to offer me support emotionally or psychologically” self.

      And so I got to know myself that summer.

      I got to know better what I stood for, what I believed in, what I thought was important in life, what ultimately matter. I learned about character. I learned about conscience. I learned about how difficult it can be to follow your conscience and do what is right.

      I wrote a lot that summer. I read a lot that summer too.

      And then after about 3 months outside my comfort zone, I got it: I had an “a-ha” moment, an epiphany. Who you are in difficult times *IS* who you are. It’s the truest measure of yourself. It’s who you are free from all the pretense, illusions, false ideas about yourself.

      And I understood this not just intellectually, but in actuality, because I had been living it, immersed in it nonstop for the preceding 3 months. This insight, this formulation, came directly from my life, from my actual experience; and not the other way around.

      And it changed everything.

      And it allowed me to start actually parenting myself in a healthy way–to not preemptively avoid certain experiences or interactions just because they were difficult or uncomfortable or unpleasant or not to my immediate taste or liking, and not to be attracted to certain experiences just because they were agreeable, pleasant, comfortable, fun, et cetera. Life was bigger this–bigger than preferences and aversions and first and second impression. To only live in accordance with my preferences and aversions and first and second impressions was to impoverish myself, to make myself poor, to limit myself in a way that wasn’t wise nor growth-oriented nor strength-enhancing.

      That a-ha moment marked the moment I became an adult. I knew at that moment that that’s what it meant to truly be an adult. I was 29 years old, almost thirty, and I felt as if I had just been born, just given birth to my real self. I knew who I was. My thinking was so much clearer. It was so much different than before. It had gone to another and higher level.

      All that you are now doing, thinking, desiring is not yourself. Your real nature lies immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you usually take for yourself.” – Nietzsche

      I had just experienced a major figure-ground reversal of everything I thought I knew about myself and about life. This hothouse comfort-zone self that I had taken (mistaken) myself to be, was no more; I had seen through myself and seen (or at least) glimpsed my “house-builder.” All those things in the background that I had wanted to discount about myself and dismiss as circumstantial or anomalous we’re in fact my real self sneaking out–they were now foreground, front and center. Life, me, who I actually was, was much bigger than my comfort zone. In fact, my comfort zone was a big lie about myself; it was only one of my possible selves–and at that, it was my path of least resistance, lowest common denominator, easy self.

      But it was not my real self–or the person I could be if I lived and read and thought more widely, and did difficult things–if I worked out, applied myself more, took on more challenges, faced more difficulties and uncomfortable situations and interactions, et cetera.

      Archaic Torso of Apollo” – Rilke

      We cannot know his legendary head
      with eyes like ripening fruit. But his torso
      still glows from inside like a lamp, in which
      his gaze, now only slightly turned down, still

      shines in all its power. Otherwise the curve of
      the breast wouldn’t dazzle you so, and from the
      light twist of the hips a smile wouldn’t flow down
      to that dark center where the generative powers

      flared; otherwise this stone would stand defaced
      under the transparent fall of the shoulders,
      and wouldn’t shine like a wild animal’s fur;

      it wouldn’t be breaking out, like a star, on
      all sides. For there is no place on this stone
      that does not see you. You must change your life.

      Thanks for your (thought-provoking) comment, Julie!

      Kindest regards,

      John

      • “…the person I was, the level of self that I had, without any real emotional support system. I was on my own.” I’m just now truly getting there, taking trips away for the weekends alone. I’d rather think of it as cleaning up the part of me that doesn’t work, but you raise very solid points. In that case, I’m kind of at ground zero again, but it’s higher up than my last ground zero. 🙂

      • Here’s the odd and horrifying thing about ground zero, Julie, that I’ve gleamed thus far–it’s a really difficult place to get to all by oneself. It sort of takes divine intervention, but in the opposite sense–to really get there. You almost have to be forced into it. Getting to rock bottom or ground zero all by ourselves on our own really doesn’t happen, because we’ll always try to spare ourselves that last bit of expense. We won’t go far enough; press ourselves all the way to the bottom, hold ourselves under water long enough. When we think we’ve hit ground zero, we’re probably actually still about a good solid 30 or 40 floors up still. But when life clobbers us–when some calamity, when some devastating loss blind-sides us–then we’ve likely been pressed several floors lower than we would have gone all by ourselves. Now we’re at ground zero–or at least closer to it. Now we’ve been pushed closer to the edge. . . .

        I used the phrase “ground zero” above in my post, but in reality there were still a few things left to be taken from me at that point in my life. I still had a few (several? hundreds of?) floors to go. But–but–I did get a very good idea of the concept from the glimpse that life (that that crash and burn of that particular chapter of my life) afforded me.

        And I’m not recommending you do anything foolish or dramatic to get yourself even closer to your real ground zero. Like I wrote above, life will likely do that for each of us. And it will suck. 😦 . . . “there but for the grace of God go I” . . . that type of humbleness. Life will eventually kick down the door to all of palatial little estates of comfort and blow in and kick all our asses with some misfortune / loss / calamity. And it will suck. And it will show us who we are. And the thing is, it won’t just be a weekend type retreat. It will become a round the clock, seven-days a week, immersion in loss and distress and anxiety. And we will have to learn how to keep our head as best we can amidst all this and not lose our soul.

        The experience of hitting our ground zero is banishment. It’s not a self-chosen solitude, but a forced stripping away of much of our support system–an ostracizing, a betrayal, a banishment–and a demolition of our comfort zone. . . . To riff on Rilke and paraphrase him–

        It would be as if a person were taken out of his or her room and, almost without preparation or transition, placed on the heights of a great mountain range. It would be dizzying to say the least. All points that our eyes were used to resting on would be taken away from us; there would no longer be anything familiar near us, and everything far away from us would be infinitely far away. An unequaled insecurity, a terrifying abandonment to the nameless, would almost annihilate us. We would feel as if we were falling continuously off a high building or being catapulted out into space or exploded into a thousand pieces. What a colossal lie our brains would be tempted to invent in order to catch up with and explain the situation of our senses. That is how all distances, all measures, all senses, change for the person who suddenly becomes solitary, who suddenly finds himself banished and at his or her own personal ground zero.

        So what is taking you or forcing you to your ground zero, Julie, if I may ask? What part or parts of yourself are you trying to clean up?

        I hope this finds you well. Warmest regards as always,

        John

      • “Retreating” is working beautifully for me. You ask “what is taking you or forcing you to your ground zero, Julie, if I may ask?” and “What part or parts of yourself are you trying to clean up?” Part 1: My love for God and a deep desire to be in integrity with that love. Part 2: Anything that is a lie or not true to my soul or my spirit.

      • Part 1 and part 2 definitely go hand in hand! And was there a life event in particular that prompted this? Or was it more of a slow gradual cumulative building?

      • Couldn’t figure out where to put this response. In answer to your question, John, both: a life event and a cumulative buildup. Life event: my previously-alienated daughter returned to my life and I want and need to be the best person I can be. Buildup: yeah, of years. Turning 50 for me is right around the corner and I’ve gotten tired of making the same mistakes. So now I just let myself make more of them — tons — and work to fix them. My decision a year ago to determine exactly what I wanted to dedicate myself to and my decision to be persistent has made all the difference.

      • I’ve got five or six blogs that I’ve started and post on, some much more than others. I post most often on http://realtruelove.wordpress.com/, and probably second most often on http://fullcatastropheliving.wordpress.com/. I post a bit less frequently on this blog and http://courageandchoice.wordpress.com/.

        Sometimes the topics/subject matter overlaps, but other times the focus is different enough as well that having different blogs seemed like a decent way of honoring and doing justice to the material.

        But in my opinion, the reality is that it all (almost all) of my stuff tends to overlap because it almost always revolves around several key ideas/concepts—Love (what Love really is, not the “feeling” of love); personal responsibility and making good/wise choices; thinking critically and deeply; facing our own mortality (instead of living in denial of it), and encouraging the type of moral courage that allows a person to do the right thing even when the wrong (or less than right) thing would be easier, quicker, seem more instantly gratifying or tension-reliving, etc, and encouraging the type of psychological courage that allows a person to look clearly and honestly and objectively at oneself, and the spiritual courage that allows one to get more comfortable with what is unknown, overwhelming, unprecedented, immense, mysterious, unsettling, even terrifying—basically, the type of courage required to truly “live the questions.”

        And to me, each of these things naturally leads into and lends itself to the others. To make good and wise decisions, we need to begin with the end in mind—we need the clarity that considering our own mortality and wrestling with it brings. And considering our own mortality requires courage. It takes courage to consider our own mortality, and it requires courage not to succumb to fear or nihilism/meaninglessness/despair. And so on.

        I’m glad you found this particular blog of mine, Hiddinsight, and I hope when you have time you’ll explore some of my other blogs as well!

        Warmest regards,

        John

      • I am following the other two now as well. Thank you.

        I totally agree with you that LOVE is and can be at the base of everything. I heard a few minutes of a podcast once on love and I wanted to find it later to hear ALL of them, but I could never find it. I think it was David Jeremiah. It was mind-blowing stuff, but so so so so very simple.

        To grasp this concept is to grab hold of life.

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