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The Codependent False Self: Hiding The True Self

The Codependent False Self

The false self is an artificial personality we create to protect our actual true self. Individuals with a strong stipulation for validation or approval adopt false self-presentation. Developing a false self can be quite soothing as it somehow hides our psychological wounds, but in turn, it also takes away our ability to deal with the challenges that are the non-negligible parts of everyone’s lives.

Codependents don’t realize that they’re living from their false self. Because the false self isn’t real, you might feel anxious trying to be accepted by others or believe that they can see through you or are judging you.

There’s an immediacy and aliveness in living authentically. It requires presence. Hence, depression and feeling disconnected are signs that you may be estranged from your true self, which can be reversed by discovering what you really need and want and then acting to get it. The false self may also manifest as the façade of the pompous narcissist, the brazen or rebellious addict, and the codependent good boy or nice girl.

Most people function from their codependent false self. It has kept them safe, starting in childhood, and for some people, in infancy. The goal of codependency recovery is to uncover and embody our true, authentic selves. At first, people are usually baffled wondering what that means and how to go about finding and reconnecting to their true self.

Read: Unmasking The Ego: How To Take Off The Mask and Be Your True Self

Signs of the false self might be:

  1. Emotional numbness
  2. Feelings of inadequacy, shame, or low self-esteem
  3. Anxiety with other people
  4. Editing your words
  5. Dissociation – watching yourself
  6. Often feeling empty, dead, flat
  7. Imagined superiority
  8. Trouble regulating emotions
  9. Trouble connecting to others
  10. Fear of intimacy
  11. Imposter syndrome
  12. Depression, lack of motivation

English psychoanalyst and child psychiatrist Donald Winnicott first developed the concept of a false self (also referred to as our persona in Codependency for Dummies). It’s formed as an adaptive, learned, defense to the true self. Behind the false persona, people may experience emptiness, but most of the time, they keep distracted from ever feeling that, except, perhaps, when alone.

The False Self
False Self Behavior

Addictions, busyness, and focusing on other people are all ways to avoid it. Some people will accumulate worries, annoyances, and conflicts so that their life is filled with reactions to problems.

The False Self in Childhood

In early childhood due to faulty parenting, we learn to accommodate our caretaker, rather than express our natural and instinctual selves. This may be compounded with feelings of shame due to trauma and emotional abandonment. One example of dysfunctional parenting is when a child of a narcissistic mother withholds anger and the expression of needs not to upset or require anything that might burden her.

This defensive maneuver protects the child from being abandoned and the mother from the child’s anger and disappointment. Far too young for healthy development, some children learn to play quietly, not cry and realize that they have only themselves to rely on.

One client developed inflated ideas about her abilities and invulnerability, believing that she could handle anything, while at the same time feeling helpless and incompetent, just as she had as a child.

Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein proposed that a child must be able to bite the mother’s breast,” meaning that the mother must continue to love and nurture a child in spite of the child’s anger. Similarly, Winnicott believed that true autonomy and self-differentiation are possible only when aggression can be expressed within a relationship and the other can survive it.

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Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and an expert author on relationships and codependency. She's counseled individuals and couples for 30 years and coaches internationally. Her books and other online booksellers and her website.View Author posts