We tend to assume we are the only specie with the capacity to deceive others. Animals are always authentically themselves, we presume. But chimpanzees lie. They sneak off to have sex with partners they aren’t allowed to have sex with, and pretend they don’t know where the tasty treats are so their interest won’t alert all the others to its location.
Animals, it turns out, lie too. At least some of them do.
Deception is something that becomes possible as soon as you can understand someone else’s point of view. And we aren’t the only ones who can.
But we might be the only ones with prohibitions against deception, so we might still be special that way. In fact, we’re so focused on authenticity that we sometimes seem lost in a search for our “true” selves. Our true selves might be wonderful–discover your true self!–or sniveling, frightened, whiny children that we suppress because they’re either so painful or so humiliating. But we are sure they exist.
In addition to his idea of the “good enough” mother, Donald Winnicott brought us the idea of the “true” and “false” self. It wasn’t really anything new, but he seems to have done better at describing it than his predecessors. He describes the “true” self as our internal, felt reality and a “false” self as a compliant image we create to satisfy overly controlling parents.
I don’t believe in any of that. All of our selves are real, even if we construct them mainly to please others. I don’t think he’s entirely wrong. I just don’t think a bifurcated view of reality is helpful.
In fact, because our self-views are formed through several different pathways: our internal, felt experience, our actions, and the views others have of us (Cooley’s looking glass self), incompatible, conflicting views of the self would be the natural result of having wide disparities in those pathways.
In other words, if the people around me constantly see me in distorted ways (say, because they’re psychotic), I would quite naturally develop a sense of self that will feel just as authentic as the sense of self that emerges based on watching what I do. Similarly, if I need to avoid expressing important parts of my real desires and feelings, then the self-view I develop based on my lived experience will probably be substantially different from the one I develop based on how others see me.
When we have to put on too much of a show to survive–or if there is a show going on entirely in our parents’ minds, we develop discontinuous selves.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately. Not any of the million things on my to-do list. Just thinking. And I have several different feelings about this. I’m enjoying it. It also makes me feel trapped, because I don’t really know why I’ve chosen to do that. I don’t seem to be able to choose differently. And it makes me really anxious (because OH MY GOD I HAVE SO MUCH TO DO!!!!)
I don’t think any of those are more real than the others. The feeling that is harder to access isn’t more “authentic” than the feeling on the surface. They are all real, and they are based–I’m guessing–on my own discontinuous selves, that have different memories of the past, different assumptions about what might work and what’s important, and if they were free to choose would all choose different actions.
I just hope the one I’ve settled on is the best one. But I don’t know.
It seems to me that all of my selves are incomplete. It is like looking at the world through a thick screen–some part of your view is always obscured. You hope you’re seeing enough, but it’s hard to know. Maybe you’re missing an elephant out there in the middle of the landscape.
My real self is what I would have if I could see everything at the same time. I guess that’s why I keep thinking.