A woman holding a heart, The true-self and the truest self

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This article asks – Is there a difference between our true-self and our truest self? And reviews these two concepts from a philosophical, psychological and spiritual perspective.

The true-self and the truest self

A philosophical question that comes to mind, is, “Is there a difference between our true-self, and our truest self?” The idea being that our truest self is the absolute source of everything, and that idea of our truest self is that we can merge and actually become that oneness. Or if, in some way, our very creation means that we will always have our own personal uniqueness, meaning our true-self can never be the actual one-ness that created us? Explore this idea and compare it to related philosophical thought.

One possible way to explore this idea is to examine the concept of the true self from different perspectives, such as psychology, philosophy, and spirituality. The true-self can be defined as who we really are, our core values, beliefs, and personality (Believeinmind, n.d.). The truest self can be seen as who we aspire to be, our ideal image of ourselves, or our connection to the source of everything (Ilchi, n.d.). However, these definitions are not fixed or universal, and different traditions may have different views on the nature and existence of the true self and the truest self.

There is no true-self

One way to understand the concept of the true-self is to consider how people use it to explain and evaluate themselves and others. For example, some psychologists and philosophers argue that there is no such thing as the true-self, but rather it is a folk belief that people use to make judgments about themselves and others (Strohminger et al., 2017). According to this view, the true-self is not observable or measurable, and it is subjectively constructed by people’s preferences and biases. People tend to see the true-self as moral and good, and they attribute changes in moral character to changes in the true-self more than changes in other aspects of personality (Strohminger & Nichols, 2014). However, this does not mean that the true-self is real or objective; rather, it is a useful psychological concept that helps people make sense of their identity and behaviour.

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To illustrate this point, imagine a person who has been dishonest and selfish for most of his life, but then decides to change his ways and become more honest and generous. Some people might say that he has discovered his true-self, and that his previous behaviour was not reflective of who he really was. Others might say that he has changed his true-self, and that his new behaviour is more authentic and congruent with his core values. In both cases, people are using the notion of the true-self to interpret and evaluate the person’s moral transformation. However, from a scientific perspective, there is no evidence that such a thing as the true-self exists, or that it can be changed or discovered. Rather, the person’s behaviour is influenced by various factors, such as his genes, environment, motivations, emotions, beliefs, etc. The true-self is simply a way of describing and justifying these factors in a coherent and positive way.

Another example of how people use the true-self to make judgments is when they encounter someone who acts differently in different situations or contexts. For instance, a person might be friendly and outgoing at work, but shy and reserved at home. Some people might say that he is hiding his true-self at work, and that he is only being himself at home.

Others might say that he is expressing different aspects of his true-self in different settings, and that he is adaptable and flexible. Again, in both cases, people are using the notion of the true-self to explain and evaluate the person’s behaviour. However, from a scientific perspective, there is no reason to assume that there is one true-self that underlies all the person’s actions. Rather, the person’s behaviour is influenced by various factors, such as his goals, expectations, norms, roles, etc. The true-self is simply a way of simplifying and rationalizing these factors in a consistent and favourable way.

From these observations, it could be concluded that the true-self is not a real or objective entity that can be studied or measured by science. Rather, it is a folk belief that people use to make judgments about themselves and others. People tend to see the true-self as moral and good, and they attribute changes in moral character to changes in the true-self more than changes in other aspects of personality. However, this does not mean that the true-self is real or objective; rather, it is a useful psychological concept that helps people make sense of their identity and behaviour.

The true-self is real

The concept of true-self and truest self is often explored in psychology, especially in the humanistic and analytical traditions. According to Rogers (1959), the true-self is the self that one experiences when one is fully open to one’s own feelings and experiences, and acts in accordance with one’s inner values and potentials. The true-self is also known as the organismic self, which implies a natural authenticity and growth orientation (counselling Tutor, n.d.).

Rogers believed that the true-self can be expressed and realized in an environment that provides genuineness, acceptance, and empathy, which are the core conditions of person-centred therapy. However, many people develop a false or ideal self, which is based on the expectations and evaluations of others, and which often conflicts with the true-self. This leads to incongruence, anxiety, and defensive behaviours. Rogers argued that the goal of therapy is to help clients achieve congruence, or alignment, between their true-self and their actual experience, which would result in greater self-acceptance, self-trust, and Self-actualization.

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Jung (1953), on the other hand, proposed a different view of the true-self and the truest self. He used the term the Self (with a capital S) to refer to the archetype of wholeness and integration of the psyche, which includes both consciousness and unconsciousness. The Self is the centre and totality of the personality, which transcends the ego and encompasses all other archetypes, such as the shadow, the anima/animus, and the persona.

Jung believed that the Self is present from birth as a potential, but it needs to be discovered and differentiated through the process of individuation, which involves confronting and integrating various aspects of one’s personality. The Self is often symbolized by images of circles, squares, mandalas, or other figures that represent completeness and harmony. Jung also distinguished between the true self and the false self, which he associated with the persona, or the social mask that one wears to adapt to external expectations. He argued that the persona can become inflated or dissociated from the true-self, leading to alienation, neurosis, or psychosis. Jung suggested that therapy should aim to help clients balance their persona with their true-self, and ultimately achieve a conscious connection with their Self.

Both Rogers and Jung emphasized the importance of finding and expressing one’s true-self as a way of achieving psychological health and fulfilment. However, they had different understandings of what constitutes the true-self and how it relates to other aspects of one’s personality. They also had different methods of facilitating the discovery and realization of one’s true-self or truest self in therapy. Some examples of how they applied their theories in practice are:

Rogers used reflective listening, unconditional positive regard, and congruence to create a therapeutic relationship that would foster the client’s self-exploration and self-acceptance. He also encouraged clients to trust their own feelings and experiences as a guide for action.

Jung used dream analysis, active imagination, art therapy, and other techniques to help clients access and integrate their unconscious material. He also helped clients identify and relate to their archetypal images and symbols as a way of connecting with their Self.

The true-self is infinite

On the other hand, some spiritual traditions hold that there is a true-self that transcends the ego and the false self, and that it can be accessed through meditation, contemplation, or other practices. For example, Winnicott (1960) proposed that everyone has a true-self that is spontaneous, creative, and authentic, and a false self that is conforming, defensive, and inauthentic. The false self develops in response to environmental demands and expectations and the individual’s feelings of inferiority, while the true-self remains hidden and vulnerable. Winnicott suggested that psychotherapy can help people recover their true-self by providing a safe and supportive environment where they can express their feelings and desires.

The idea of the true-self is not unique to Winnicott’s theory, but can be found in various religious and philosophical traditions. For instance, Buddhism teaches that the true-self is the Buddha-nature, which is the potential for enlightenment that exists in every sentient being. The Buddha-nature is obscured by ignorance, attachment, and aversion, which create the illusion of a separate and fixed self. By practising mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom, one can overcome these obstacles and realize the true nature of reality (Thera, 2014).

Similarly, Hinduism posits that the true-self is the Atman, which is the eternal and unchanging essence of one’s being. The Atman is identical to Brahman, which is the supreme reality and source of all existence. However, due to ignorance and karma, one identifies with the body and mind, which are subject to change and suffering. This creates the false self or ego, which is also called the Jiva or individual soul. By following the path of yoga, one can detach from the ego and attain union with Brahman (Easwaran, 2007).

These examples illustrate how different spiritual traditions share a common vision of the true-self as something beyond the ego and the false self. They also suggest that finding one’s true self requires a process of introspection, detachment, and transformation. This process may involve different methods and goals, but ultimately aims at discovering one’s true nature and purpose in life.

The true-self is an objective reality

Another possible way to approach this question is to consider the notion of the true-self as a moral-ideal or a source of conscience. This view can be traced back to Plato, who argued that the true-self is the rational part of the soul that seeks knowledge and virtue, while the appetitive and spirited parts are sources of irrationality and vice (Plato, 1992). From this perspective, the true-self is not a subjective feeling, but an objective standard of goodness and wisdom. The true-self is not something that one does, but something that one is. Therefore, it could be argued that becoming one’s truest self is a matter of cultivating one’s reason and moral character, rather than indulging in one’s passions or emotions.

These views of the true self are not necessarily incompatible, but they highlight different aspects of human nature and human flourishing. Depending on one’s philosophical assumptions and personal values, one might emphasize one view over the other, or try to integrate them in some way.

We can never know our true-self

However, It could be argued that since the true-self is eternal and infinite that our concept of true-self is actually a statement of one’s current understanding along a never-ending journey process of becoming our truest self, and that our true-self may never be fully attained or understood. One possible way to approach it is to consider the distinction between the true-self and the false-self, as proposed by some theorists.

The true-self is the authentic expression of one’s inner nature, values, and potentials, while the false-self is the adaptation to external expectations, pressures, and norms (Winnicott, 1960). The true-self is often hidden or suppressed by the false-self, which acts as a protective mechanism to avoid rejection, conflict, or shame. However, the false-self also prevents one from living a fulfilling and meaningful life, as it disconnects one from one’s core essence and purpose.

According to this perspective, the true-self is not a fixed or static entity, but rather a dynamic and evolving process of self-discovery and Self-actualization. The true-self is not something that can be attained or understood once and for all, but rather something that can be approached and approximated through continuous reflection, experimentation, and feedback. The true-self is not a destination, but a direction (Rogers, 1959).

Therefore, it could be argued that our concept of true-self is indeed a statement of one’s current understanding along a never-ending journey process of becoming our truest self. However, this does not mean that our concept of true-self is arbitrary or meaningless. Rather, it means that our concept of true-self is provisional and tentative, subject to revision and refinement as we learn more about ourselves and the world. Our concept of true-self is a hypothesis that guides our actions and choices, but also a question that invites further inquiry and exploration.

As Rumi (2004) said, “Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” Our concept of true-self is both a story and a myth, a narrative that gives coherence and direction to our lives, but also a mystery that challenges and inspires us to grow and transcend.

Therefore, whether there is a difference between our true-self and our truest self may depend on how we define these terms and what perspective we adopt. From a psychological or philosophical point of view, there may be no such thing as the true-self or the truest self; rather, these are subjective constructs that vary across individuals and cultures. From a spiritual point of view, there may be a distinction between our true-self as our authentic expression of ourselves in relation to others, and our truest self as our realization of our oneness with everything. However, these are not mutually exclusive or contradictory; rather, they may represent different levels or aspects of our identity and potential.

Is there a point in personal development, where the individual realizes enough of their true nature, or true-self, to consider themselves enlightened?

Personal development is a lifelong process of learning, growing, and expanding one’s potential. However, is there a point in this journey where the individual realizes enough of their true nature, or true-self, to consider themselves enlightened? Enlightenment is a state of being where one transcends the limitations of the ego and becomes aware of their connection to a greater whole, whether it is humanity, nature, the universe, or the divine (Ackerman, 2018). According to Maslow (1971), enlightenment, or self-transcendence is the highest level of human development, beyond Self-actualization, where one experiences peak experiences of joy, wonder, and fulfilment. To achieve enlightenment, one must embrace their true-self, which is not defined by their thoughts, beliefs, or persona, but by their inner essence that is aligned with their values and purpose (EI Magazine, 2021). Some examples of how individuals have come to that conclusion are:

Ram Dass, a spiritual teacher and author, who described his journey from being a Harvard professor to becoming a seeker of truth in his book Be Here Now. He wrote: “I was awed by the possibilities that lay within each human being. I began to see that there was a place inside me that was far beyond roles and personalities” (Dass, 1971, p. 3).

Albert Einstein, a renowned physicist and Nobel laureate, who expressed his awe and reverence for the mystery of the universe. He said: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed” (Einstein, 1931, p. 11).

Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who devoted her life to serving the poor and suffering in India. She said: “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus” (Teresa, 1995).

These individuals exemplify how self-realization can lead to enlightenment when one transcends their ego identity and embraces their true self that is connected to a greater reality.

The search for true-self as an innate driver towards Self-actualization

Our true-self could be a concept that is a mysterious part of our internal and innate drive towards self-actualisation. And that the closer one perceives themselves to understanding their true-self, then the more they desire to explore this. Which suggests that there is a connection between Self-actualization and self-discovery. Self-actualization is defined as “the act of realizing one’s own potential” (Flâneur Life Team, 2023). Self-discovery, on the other hand, is the process of finding out who we are, what we want, and what makes us happy.

To explore this, we can look at some examples of how individuals have come to similar conclusions. One example is Neale Donald Walsch, who wrote: “The purpose of life is to know yourself, create yourself, experience yourself as Who You Really Are. There is no other reason to do anything” (Walsch, n.d., as cited in A-Z Quotes, n.d.). Walsch implies that Self-actualization is the ultimate goal of life, and that it requires knowing and creating oneself.

Another example is Bruce Lee, who said: “Many people dedicate their lives to actualizing a concept of what they should be like, rather than actualizing themselves. This difference between Self-actualization and self-image actualization is very important. Most people live only for their image” (Lee, n.d., as cited in A-Z Quotes, n.d.). Lee contrasts Self-actualization with self-image actualization, which is the tendency to conform to external expectations rather than one’s own nature. He suggests that Self-actualization is more authentic and fulfilling than living for an image.

These examples illustrate that some individuals have reached the conclusion that Self-actualization and self-discovery are intertwined and essential for happiness and meaning in life. They also show that Self-actualization and self-discovery are not easy or straightforward processes, but rather require courage, honesty, and creativity. As Rumi said: “Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love” (Rumi, n.d., as cited in A-Z Quotes, n.d.).


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