The Face in the Mirror – What is the True Self?

A look at one’s face in the mirror can be an occasion to reflect on the nature of self.

At times when I glance at myself in the mirror I wonder, “Who is that man looking back at me?” I have changed so much physically over the decades but behind the wrinkles and graying hair and a body that betrays me, there I am. But, “Who is that I?” “Who is that self?”

When people are asked this question, they often respond by saying things like: “I am a professor of literature” or “I am a mother” or “I am an adventurer”. However, these are descriptions that reflect our roles, our interests, our activities or, perhaps, our status. If these roles, for example, were suddenly taken away by job loss or death, then who would we be? The fact that we often sink into depression or malaise when losing an important job or career speaks to this strong identification of our “self” with what we do or how we appear to others.

If we choose to look at ourselves in a different light, however, we will discover that the “self” is not these things our culture has taught us to believe we are.

What about us transcends our physical age? Where does our deep value lie? Many make the distinction between the true and the false self. Let’s do this through a series of 10  “I am” statements for each one.

The False Self

1.    I am the sum of my achievements.

2.   I am defined by how well I perform or how I make my significant others look.

3.   I am all my friends on Facebook.

4.   I am the knowledge that I have acquired.

5.   I am the adulation bestowed on me by others.

6.   I am the size of my home.

7.   I am very special and entitled.

8.  I am living in the past or the future

9.   I am very competitive

10.  I am my high intelligence

The True Self

1.   I am kind and true at the center of my being.

2.   I am defined by the content of my character

3.   I am inclined to celebrate the achievement and life of others

4.   I am grateful for all that life brings my way, including the joys and sorrows 

5.   I am looking for the essence of others that I can celebrate 

6.   I am hopeful in the face of loss.

7.   I am living mindfully in the present

8.   I am seeking win-win outcomes in conflict

9.   I am working for the best interests of others

10. I am the person asking the question “Who am I?”

The key consequence of behaviors emanating from the true self is that they enable us to make an authentic connection with others and ourselves. The false self generally serves to alienate.

Finally, the true self is that gold nugget and that diamond of the self caught up in our fragile body. It is that part of us that persists and grows through all the changing scenes of life. It is the vehicle through which we experience the awe of life where every day has its own beauty and adventure to celebrate.

How would you describe your true self?

Your comments are valued.

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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5 Responses to The Face in the Mirror – What is the True Self?

  1. Meredith Moraine says:

    A wonderfully succinct comparison. I’m noticing that the aging process is not what I thought it was going to be, at all. I thought it would be about loss. Instead, it seems to be about relaxing into a radiance that was hidden earlier by all the running around to achieve this and that. The false self was such a cruel taskmaster!

    • cedricj says:

      I love that thought “relaxing into a radiance that was hidden earlier”. That uncovering is a slow process and at times we only seem to get glimpses of that inner true self. But the journey is worth every step.

  2. Pilar Orti says:

    There must be something in the air…
    Only yesterday I was thinking about how different people define themselves; mostly by their jobs but also sometimes by their beliefs.
    It seems like most of the “false selves” you list are influenced by how we are seen by others (or how we want to be seen by others), while the “true selves” seem to reach out more.
    Thanks for the post.

    • cedricj says:

      Yes Pilar. it is difficult not to define ourselves through the eyes of others. But it is so necessary to break free from that identity=perception of others equation and begin to view the goodness and greatness within. To some that quest may seem so esoteric or even self-centered but we cannot truly begin the journey outward until we have made the journey inward.

      Thanks for weighing in on this topic


  3. lustfulmind says:

    I had a blog post about it but I never really moved on and found myself answering the question of who am I. I had your blog bookmarked ever since and when I came back today, it led me to the character strengths quiz and this post. This is very helpful!

    I’ve been digging up these resources since I realized that it’s the third quarter of the year already and it’s a good time to evaluate myself for the year and plan for next year. I feel it’s very important to the planning with a very strong sense of self and one’s values and your posts are very helpful!


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