Saturday, December 27, 2008

A comparison of true Self and "false self" behavioral traits


Break the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and guard your descendents

Comparison: Typical Behavioral
Traits of True and False Selves

Signs of who controls someone's life

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW


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The Web address of this article is

        Clicking links below will open a full window or an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site.

        This is one of over 150 articles focused on healing psychological wounds,  building high-nur-turance family relationships, breaking the [wounds + unawareness] cycle, and preventing divorce. This introduction describes the Web site's purpose and the best ways to use its resources. Each article is part of a mosaic of ideas, so the more you read, the more sense they'll all make.

        These articles augment, vs. replace, other qualified professional help. Before continuing, re-flect: why are you reading this - what do you need? 


        Many philosophers and everyday people propose that we each have a self. There has been rich and raucous debate across centuries and cultures about what that is. After 16 years' study I propose there are two types of self which regulate your personality and behaviors every day.

        If our early-childhood nurturing is wholistically-healthy enough, we seem to automatically develop a  personality subself which acts like a naturally-talented orchestra leader, athletic coach, or chairperson. This subself has clear, realistic wide-angle, long-range vision. S/He consistently makes healthy, balanced minor and major decisions based on the dynamic input of our five or six senses and vocal other subselves.

        In this best case, our evolving brain and body is directed and coordinated each moment by this highly-skilled true Self (capital "S"). When that happens, kids and adults report feeling a mix of grounded, calm, purposeful, focused, optimistic, strong, "up," content, alert, aware, alive, resilient, centered, resilient, secure, potent, and compassionate. Remember the last time you felt a blend of these?

Enter the Protective "False" (Pseudo) Self

        But... if very young kids experience significant lack of wholistic nurturance, their personalities (brains) seem to develop a different kind of self (small "s"). Their true Self seems overwhelmed or blocked from developing and directing their actions by other well-meaning but limited, impulsive Vulnerable and Guardian personality subselves who want to "run the show."

        False-self formation and dominance is normal, widespread, and promotes survival vs. growth. It's like a distrustful, disgruntled violinist, tuba player, and lead tenor pushing their talented conductor off the podium and fighting over who will lead the orchestra. False-self dominance promotes up to five psycho-logical 'wounds.'

        We kids and adults range between "a little wounded" or "very wounded," depending on (a) our social environment and situation, (b) how many subselves are vying to control us, and (c) how often they disable our true Self.

        These squabbling subselves become our false or pseudo self. People who are used to being con-trolled by a false self experience that as normal. The idea that there is another subself in them that - if allowed to - can consistently make wiser, healthier life decisions is unbelievable. Do you relate?

reminder.gif (128 bytes) Note: A common first-reaction to "personality subselves" is anxiety about being crazy or having a "multiple personality." Since about 1980, psychiatrists and sociologists have guesstimated that about 5% of  Americans seems to have extreme personality fragmenting.

        That was called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), and is now dubbed "Dissociative Identity Disorder" (DID) by psychiatrists. The common clinical term for "personality splitting" (false-self formation and dominance) is dissociation

      Research repeatedly suggests that such massively fragmented people survived extreme abuse and psycho-spiritual neglect as young children. The great majority of us, probably including you, do not have anywhere close to this DID degree of personality fragmenting - but we do have some.

       In this site, a Grown Wounded Child (GWC) is an adult who's personality is "significantly" ruled by a false self, according to someone. Before wound-reduction, we're usually unaware of false-self dominance and its impacts - though we're adept at spotting false-self symptoms in other people! 

        The bad news: Being significantly controlled by a false self has powerful person-al, marital, parental, and social implications. In my experience, the high majority of troubled, divorcing, and re/married Americans (and others?) are GWCs in major denial.

        The good news: Once identified, false-self dominance and wounds can be sig-nificantly reduced over time (and true Selves empowered), via self-motivated personal recovery.

        Family Project 1 in this site is devoted to assessing for, and healing, significant false-self dominance. See the Project 1 guidebook Who's Really Running Your Life? by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW (, 2002, 2nd ed.).

 Trait Comparison

        Here's a way to sense who's leading someone's personality (like yours) situationally or chronically. For more detail on behavioral symptoms on each of the six common false-self wounds, follow these links.

Common True Self Behavioral Traits Common False-self Behavioral Traits
  • Alert, awake, aware

  • Generally "up" and "light," (mood)

  • Usually realistically optimistic

  • Focused, clear, and centered

  • Compassionate, kind, forgiving

  • Firm, strong, confidant, purposeful

  • Calm, serene, peaceful

  • Usually has a wide-angle, long-range  focus - accepts delayed gratification

  • Balances long and short-term payoffs

  • Usually patient, persistent, committed

  • Appreciative, grateful, "glass half-full"

  • Empathic, sensitive, genuinely respectful

  • Spiritually open, aware, "connected,"  receptive, growing

  • Consistently self-nurturing without egotism

  • Genuine, honest, open, direct

  • Respectfully assertive

  • Socially engaged and active

  • Physically healthy: balanced diet, exercise, work and rest; gets preventive checkups

  • Spontaneously expressive of all emotions real-time, without major anxiety or guilt

  • Able to form genuine bonds with others

  • Able to judge who to dis/trust with what

  • Realistically self-responsible

  • Usually realistic about life and situations

  • Spontaneously able to exchange love

  • Comfortable receiving merited praise

  • Often able to forgive self and others

  • Frequently includes others in his or her "awareness bubble"

  • Seldom gives double messages

  • Able to grieve losses spontaneously

  • Seeks Self-guided people and high-nurtur-ance settings

  • Evolving and living a clear life-purpose

  • Work, play, and rest are generally balanced

  • Fuzzy, distracted, confused, numb

  • Often "heavy," "down," gloomy, manic

  • Usually pessimistic or idealistic

  • Confused, vague, unfocused

  • Blaming, critical, bigoted

  • indecisive, worried, cautious, doubtful

  • "Upset," scared, angry, guilty, ashamed

  • Usually has a narrow, short-term focus

  • Usually seeks immediate gratification

  • Often impatient, impulsive, uncommitted

  • Bitter, jealous, resentful, "half empty"

  • Selfish, arrogant, disrespectful

  • Spiritually unaware, skeptical, closed, scornful, or uninterested

  • Consistently self-neglectful

  • Dishonest, indirect, sly, controlling

  • Timid and apologetic or aggressive

  • Isolated or compulsively social

  • Physically unhealthy; relies on prescribed or self-medication. 

  • Anxious, guilty, or blocked about feeling and/or expressing some or all emotions

  • Difficulty forming true (vs. pseudo) bonds

  • Difficulty discerning who to trust with what

  • Notably over- or under-responsible

  • Frequent distortions and denials

  • Difficulty giving and/or receiving real love

  • Uncomfortable receiving merited praise

  • Difficulty forgiving self and/or others

  • Often focuses only on her/himself or a conversational partner - 1-person "bubble"

  • Often gives double messages

  • Difficulty grieving on one to three levels

  • Unconsciously prefers wounded people and low-nurturance settings

  • Unclear on or indifferent to a life purpose

  • Work, play, and rest are often unbalanced

        Pause, breathe, and notice your thoughts and feelings. Which column of traits do you identify with? Do you see each of your parents here? Your grandparents? Your partner? A child? A former lover? A hero/ ine or mentor?        

        If you're skeptical about personality subselves, try reading this letter to you. and experiencing this safe, interesting exercise. Option: assess whether you and/or another adult or child are significantly ruled by a false self. For options on preventing  false-self wounds in your family, community, church, state, or nation, see this series.

For more perspective, read this research summary on "bad habits."


        This Project 1 article and nonprofit Web site propose that normal personalities (like yours) are com-posed of talented "subselves," and are controlled by a wise true Self (capital S) or a "false self." Observa-ble behaviors suggest which of these is true, situationally and over time.

        From 16 years' clinical research and observation, the article (a) provides brief background on this premise, and (b) describes common behavioral traits of a typical true Self and false self.

        People often controlled by a false self are usually survivors of major childhood neglect, who don't (want to) know about their resulting psychological wounds and what they usually mean. Assessing whe-ther another person is currently or regularly controlled by a false self can empower you to choose (a) whether to maintain a relationship with them, and (b) the best way to respond to them.

        For more perspective on your true Self and false selves, see...

the  premises underlying this Web site

this introduction to normal personality subselves - slides or text;

these common questions about subselves; and...

the silent [wounds + unawareness] cycle that may harm your family and descendents - slides or text;

this overview of Grown Wounded Children (GWCs) and what it means to be a GWC

this research summary about kids from "risky" (low-nurturance) families

this overview of wound-reduction - slides or text, and...

these options for relating to wounded adults and kids

+ + +

        Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or someone else? Would you answer the poll at the top of the article the same way now?

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Updated  December 24, 2008


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