A Coaching Power Tool By Marc Blais, Leadership Coach, CANADA
Learning to Find Your True-Self vs. False-Self
I promise you that the discovery of your True Self will feel like a thousand pounds of weight have fallen from your back. You will no longer have to build, protect, or promote any idealized self-image. Living in the True Self is quite simply a much happier existence. – Richard Rohr
The corporate ecosystem for a licensed professional is an internal tug of war between ethics and profits. With a duty to act in the best interest of the public in addition to contributing to corporate financial success, it can feel as if you are balancing on a tightrope. The stakes are high with the expectation to deliver absolute precision while contributing to economic gains. Survival is a by-product of a competitive personality and perfectionistic mindset. Neglecting the care of the public risks penalty of professional license, while negative financials jeopardize employment stability.
As a licensed professional engineer myself with 15+ years of experience, I have participated in a culture that categorizes people into rank. This inherently creates competition, performance pressure, and a belief that the engineer is right. An environment that fuels a drive to have no limits with always being on, in order to deliver perfection with an attitude to win. There is a human cost, the body keeps score. Forgoing personal care, and ignoring your needs, is the result of the body being the last to act.
An environment that nurtures being the best and being right, translates into pushing the mental, emotional, and physical boundaries of oneself to always be of service. There is a disconnect from what the body is communicating, and a mindset that forces you to keep going. My personal experience stemmed from a fear of rejection that unknowingly empowered my ego (or false self)to operate with no boundaries, suppress inner feelings, and involuntarily burn out (emotional exhaustion). While burnout was a cycle that I experienced before, this time it forced me to swallow my pride and step away from the workplace for an extended period of time. I am not alone as peer professionals suffer chronic workplace stress, leading to burnout with differing outcomes.
How did it get this bad for me? I started with a new company in an unfamiliar role and was eager to make an impact quickly to gain the acceptance of the team. Without knowing the company culture or the team dynamics, I got drawn into proving I can do it (somewhat self-imposed) instead of understanding what should I be doing. Of course, I could do it, I was equipped with a career track record of delivering on promises. My professional journey included being self-sufficient, having the answers, and being accepted by the tribe (belonging to a group).
Through my coaching journey, I have learned and adopted the importance of being present, focusing on interoception (what is the inner sensation telling me), and having the confidence to be my true self; what a liberating feeling. The power of suspending judgment of myself and others shifts from needing to know everything myself, to being open to learning from others. I now recognize there is a health cost to perfectionism, including the risk of compromising relationships. Turns out my daughter’s school teacher had it right “sharing is caring”. By asking for help, a strength not a weakness provides an opportunity to empower others to feel valued and appreciated. Preservation of the relationship with myself, and with others, overcome a desire to be unrealistically flawless. We are in this together.
What Is the Difference Between True-Self vs. False-Self?
What Is False-Self?
How does one define the false self? The late English pediatrician Donald W. Winnicott (1896-1971) described the False Self as:
“An artificial persona that people create very early in life to protect themselves from re-experiencing developmental trauma, shock, and stress in close relationships.”
As early as childhood the false self is actively avoiding being vulnerable to others, shielding against sharing how one truly feels. This version of the self has the belief that it is necessary to emotionally protect oneself in order to gain acceptance, knowing survival is dependent on a connection with others (e.g.caretaker). This early pattern of survival, dependent on others, becomes ingrained as a way of life without being aware of the relationship-forming habit that is guarding against emotional harm from others.
There is much effort, either consciously or subconsciously, exerted to protect and hide the True Self with a fear of not being accepted. This form of hiding can cause mental exhaustion and is compared to wearing a mask to conceal what is real. With a human need to belong, the false self creates relationships that are superficial in nature in order to gain acceptance from social groups (e.g. family, friends, colleagues). It’s like being a superhero that never reveals its real powers, afraid of losing connections with people. The false self is a defensive attitude that is imprisoning to the mind, lonely, and limits the ability to freely experience life.
This artificial persona can be necessary when viewed as a spectrum, healthy versus unhealthy. To act from the false self can be beneficial in navigating the demands of social situations. To be functional in society, it is healthy to refrain from sharing how you really feel as a means of being polite around strangers with no emotional connection. It’s an application of healthy boundaries with people for self-preservation and adaptation. Acting from the false self, in a healthy way, empowers you to navigate unknown social situations that mitigate emotional harm.
On the other side of the spectrum, Donald W. Winnicott defines the unhealthy false self as one that fits into society through forced compliance rather than a desire to adapt. Through our life teachers, we learn to put others ahead of ourselves and to always be of service. These teachings are understood that self-sacrifice is the expectation.
Enter the professional work world in championing a career and this false self is all-consuming to be of service. The demands within a corporate environment for a professional result in mounting pressures, whereby the false self struggles to survive and jeopardizes burnout. A Deloitte survey found that 77% of professionals have experienced burnout in their current job. The finding also revealed that 87% of these professionals were passionate about what they did. This demonstrates that passion alone is not enough for well-being in the long term and the effects of the false self can be quite negative when left unrestrained. There is a societal cost to societal due to burnout, as outlined in a Harvard Business Review that found that in the United States the financial impact on the healthcare system is~$160billion.
The worldwide COVID-19pandemic has contributed to the great resignation seen largely in the United States and elsewhere in the world, where employees voluntarily quit their jobs. This raises many questions about this workforce exodus. What happened to them? What is the relationship between burnout and false self?
To be conscious of the self and respond to the world around you authentically is to be your true self. This empowers freedom of thought and to be impulsive with expressing your true self. As Donald W. Winnicott summarised:
True self can be spontaneous, creative, and feel real. Spontaneity and real impulse can only come from the true self, and for this to happen someone needs to take over the defensive functions of the false self.
To be real and honest with yourself and others takes courage in the pursuit of living your true self. This is vulnerability set in motion, requiring you to be brave without knowing how people will respond. Brené Brown, an American research professor, studies in great depth shame and vulnerability. In her book Rising Strong she defines it well:
I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time. Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.
To have the courage to be your true self is an unmasking. The freedom of letting the canary out of the cage to fly free is terrifying but a truly liberating experience. You are consciously and respectfully being real with people about what you need, what you can truly offer, and what you are willing to accept. This sets in motion the creation of healthy boundaries, which allows for self-preservation with well-being in the long term.
Uncovering your true self starts with being curious about yourself. Questions that can set in motion self-discovery include:
- Who are you?
- What are you most proud of?
- What truly motivates you?
- What’s important to you?
- What do you fear?
- What do you believe in?
- What are your values?
- What is your life purpose?
- What is your relationship with yourself?
- What happens when you put your needs first?
What Is in It for the Professional?
As a professional, you have a tendency to measure your value and worth by your specialized skills, your achievements, your job title, and by simply being of service for the greater good of society. This social pressure can conceal your true self and give the false self the power of no boundaries with an ability to deplete the body of all that it has to give. The life of a professional becomes a crude cycle of burnout and forced rest. The long-term health impacts are undesirable to the body through disease (diss-ease).
Professionals are expected to exhibit the highest standards of honesty and integrity in protecting the health and well-being of people in society. With the privilege of being trusted to care for others, there is a need to care for yourself. You need a care program that allows you to reflect on who you are, your destiny, and an action plan to get you there.
A 3-step self-care program includes:
- Meditation–resting the mind
- Exercise – physical outlet
- Coaching – personal reflection
When you take care of yourself, you take care of others. When you operate from your true self you feel good about who you are, you have boundaries (and you honor them), and you maintain your wellbeing with sustainability top of mind. The act of asking for help is an opportunity for creative cooperation.
None of us get to the finish line alone – Jeff Adams, Canadian Paralympian & World Champion wheelchair racer
Stephen Covey highlights in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ a transition of three stages through life:
- Dependence – need others to get what you want
- Independence – can get what you want through your own efforts
- Interdependence – combine your efforts with that of others to achieve the greatest success
Each step is vital in exploring and experiencing life and reaching the highest state of being one with others(interdependence). When you are at peace with being your (true self)it is a state of enlightenment. The stage is set to trust others because you trust yourself.
Uncover Your Authentic True-Self vs. False-Self
The art of coaching provides a safe space for people to show up vulnerable, uncover for themselves their mindset, and put words to their thought (name it to tame it). It is a discovery journey into who they truly are, how they show up, and their conscious path forward.
Coaching creates an environment to have the freedom to speak the truth, a truth that may never have been spoken or realized. Taking steps to reveal the true self is a process of self-awareness and, through a trusting relationship with a coach, being challenged on beliefs to learning about who you are and how you want to show up in the world. There is an opportunity to break free from the false self by having the courage to be your true self.
Coaching creates an environment to bring awareness to clients that they are the creators of their life experiences: to be in flow with life rather than combating it. It’s a synchronization of the mind and body. Listening to the true self is being in tune with who you truly are.
There are two states of being: to operate from love or fear. Deep down people are good and unfavorable experiences can lead to misdirection in life. Through a trusting coaching partnership, clients can feel safe enough to operate from love and awaken themselves to release beliefs of fear for a purposeful future.
An incredible thing happens to you: you are able to be whole with life (personal and professional). You are truly engaged.
Psycho-Analytic Explorations, D. W. Winnicott Edited by Clare Winnicott, Ray Shepherd & Madeleine Davis. Published by Routledge.
Rising Strong: How The Ability To Reset Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent, And Lead, by Brené Brown. PublishedRandom House Publishing Group
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. Published by FranklinCovey
Who Am I Really? True Self vs False Self - Growth thru Change
Workplace Burnout Survey | Deloitte US
Employee Burnout Is a Problem with the Company, Not the Person (hbr.org)