When Nice Ain't So Nice

Back in 1985 or 1986 I read an essay in BYU Magazine by Elouise Bell titled, "When Nice Ain't So Nice." It took me several tries before I could get through it.  It was hitting me very close to home, and made me very uncomfortable. You see, I prided myself in being a Nice Guy. You can read a later version at the link above. But there are parts I want to point out which I missed all those years ago:

"Niceness begins in the home; it is taught as a prime doctrine of the “poisonous pedagogy” Alice Miller exposes. Miller, a brilliant Swiss psychologist whose work is assuming major proportions in the field, has traced much neurosis to the philosophy, dominant throughout most of this century, that the role of the child is to be docile, obedient, and subservient to the parent, whose word is law. The “poisonous pedagogy” teaches children, in other words, to be “nice.” It demands that children not resist the status quo, not take any direct action against whatever injustices are going down. Thus it indirectly but inevitably encourages covert action, manipulation, passive-aggression, duplicity, and denial. (My mother used to say in so many words: “Be nice. Don’t argue with your father. Agree with him, and then slip out the back door and do what you want, like your brothers do.” She also said to me with a simper: “Your father is the head of the home, remember that. And I’m the neck that moves the head!” My response to such advice was often a single, very un-nice word.)"

I was struck by the similarity of the cause and effect between Niceness and the emergence, as I understand it, of the False Self.

The author goes on:

You’ve heard of the Nicene Creed, the Christian confession of faith first adopted in 325? Now hear the Nice Creed:

We believe in being Nice,
in speaking softly at all times,
even when loud objection may be
more logical;in saying nothing in
response to minor
inconveniences such as
being jostled on a bus,
or relegated to a back seat,
or not being allowed to ride at all,
or being run over by the bus;
and in saying even the most
appalling things in soft,
non-committal tones, even,
if worst comes to the worst,
in whispers.

We guard against silence as against
speaking out, for in silence is
Thought born; therefore, we
cultivate and foster small talk,
which says naught yet smothers

We believe that pleasantries are
better than truths, friendliness
better than honor, jocularity
better than Justice.

We believe that neatness is the end
of logic and cleanliness the
epitome of order.

And we most devoutly believe in
seeing nothing that is
or unpleasant.

We believe in turning the other head,
closing the other eye,
stopping the other ear,
and biting the other tongue.

On Being Shy

I'm writing this to shy people. I want to help you understand what's happening in your head. I am informed mostly by my own experience. And I hope that the non-shy people reading this can understand shy people better. This is not a part of the False Self series, but it is greatly informed by it.

Being shy is painful. I can be with someone, and have a lot I want to say, but it just doesn't come out, and it's frustrating. At the moment it happens I get confused, because I don't understand why it's happening. Afterward I rehearse over and over what I could have said, and how awesome I would have sounded, but when I'm with a person, particularly someone in authority, or a potential date, I just can't get the words out. I search for a way to say what I feel, try maybe a dozen approaches, but none of them work. And I get frustrated, blame it on myself for being so poor with people, and that causes pain. Eventually, I find it's just easier to avoid people, or to keep conversation on a very surface level, where I can process the conversation and take part. But even then, the conversation is about things mostly, and not very satisfying.

I have a theory explaining our shy behavior. It comes from Donald Winnicott. Back when we were a baby, just becoming aware of the world, we realized that we were us. At the same time we realized just how completely dependent we were on mom and dad. Mom fed us. If she didn't we knew we didn't feel good. They cleaned this mess that kept showing up. They held us, which felt wonderful, and touched us, which felt so good we'd stop asking for comfort the only way we knew how. 

Then one day, expressing some discomfort, we figured something out. We became aware that mom, and even dad, were telling us stuff. Sometimes they didn't seem to like us. They would try to make us be quiet. And then we got this bright idea, using our minds for the first time: if we are compliant to what these big people want, they will continue to feed, clean, and hold us. Sure, we still wanted to cry, and to do whatever we liked, but getting food was really important. Over the days, weeks and months we learned to read their faces, to learn when they were happy, and when they were frustrated or angry or unhappy. And when they were, we did our best to not express what we wanted, and to be "good."

This is a different experience from other babies. When they learned that parents were there to help them, they found that when they cried they were comforted. Mom just sort of knew what they needed or figured it out eventually, and they were allowed to explore being a baby in a strange new world. Sometimes they tried things that upset mom, but she forgot about it pretty quickly and still wanted to feed them and hold them.


Shy kids are taught to be shy as babies. Shy kids were taught by a frustrated mom to be compliant. To be compliant is an intellectual exercise of suppressing feelings, then using the intellect to determine what behaviors will make mom the happiest so that she will continue to provide our needs.

We who are shy are now experts at reading the emotions of others and making them happy by suppressing our feelings so that we appear nice, and happy, and genial. We won't fight, we won't argue, we will give in rather than risk alienating anyone. We are afraid of our feelings, because of the disaster that would follow the accidental and completely selfish expression of how we feel. 


And our feelings, which often remain buried deep, go unfulfilled. This is where the pain comes from. We are assisted by a culture which tells us that the meek will inherit the earth, and that the natural man is an enemy to God, which helps us think we're doing it right. But we know in the edge of awareness that there is something very painful lurking inside us. We have fantasies to help us. Lots of fantasies where we are accepted, where people listen to us and pay attention to the smallest things we do. We don't have fantasies where we are better than anyone else, just listed to by a lot of people.


And we have hope. We hope that someone will come along who understands us, and will accept the inside of us, where all the stuff inside us will be cherished, even if we don't cherish those feeling ourselves.

It's a hard life, being shy.

And it's hard to get to know someone who is shy. It takes a lot of work and patience to like or love someone whose life experience has taught them not to share their feelings. You need to tread carefully around a few emotions. Shame is probably the biggest one. You can't even get close to shaming anyone who is shy. For example, telling us our car needs a good wash can make us think we have let you down and you are disappointed. That shame threatens our very survival, because we are still operating on the feeling we developed as little babies. Getting to know us takes patience, care, understanding, and lots of one-way love.

We don't love ourselves. The mind can't love, and we have centered our identity in our minds. Without love for ourselves, we have little to spare on others. But we know that to get love you need to give love, so we do the best we can in faking love for you. This love will look mostly okay, but it gets peculiar at times, because it's mostly fake. There will be times when the love we feel is genuine, but when things become stressful, the love will be fake. And we will behave sometimes very oddly because of the difficulty the mind has in both suppressing our inner feelings and pretending to have different, more compliant feelings instead.

What shy people need more than anything is unconditional love. We need love that can see past the weirdness we do in a intimate relationship. We need acceptance. Eventually we will start to express things which have been inside us for a very long time which we aren't proud of. You will need to listen to us, accept that it is part of us, and find a way to love that, too.

If you are shy I want you to know two things:

You are worthy of happiness. Happiness is your right. It's your birthright, because it comes to you because you were born.

You are shy for reasons which don't exist any more. If you can read this, you are now in a position to express your feelings, and be cherished for having them. Try it out: find someone you don't know well, a stranger who hasn't any notion of who you are, and share a deep feeling with them. I've found almost universally that if you chose someone who isn't shy they will adore you for it. Only other shy people will have trouble expressing how delighted they are in finding someone who can be emotionally open.

If you are shy you are not broken. You don't need to be fixed. You just need to be listened to. Then you will learn over the next few days that you can express feelings and, instead of offending, you will be loved.

If you are with a shy person, listen to them, accept what they say as being genuinely part of them, and love them for it. And here is the payoff: shy people are deep. When they come to trust you they will become an unending font of love, interest and delight. They will love you deeper and better than anyone else you know. They will be loyal, will be willing to work hard for the relationship, harder than you, if you don't abuse their trust. It takes more effort at first, but the payoff is huge.

Why you should never believe anything which includes the phrase, "science tells us...."

I've become more aware of late of news articles, mainstream, NPR, all of them, using the phrase, "Science says..." or "Science tells us..." followed by a point the author wants to make. I want to tell you why you should never believe what follows that phrase. Ever.

Here's why:

Appeal to Authority One very common logical fallacy is an appeal to authority as a means of proving that what you said is correct. An example: "Einstein said that matter and energy of interconvertible, so he backs up my idea of harnessing dark energy." No, he didn't. Einstein had a mathematical equation to explain the energy produced in a nuclear reaction. Period. He never knew of your "dark energy harness" and thus is silent on the matter. Unless a scientist said exactly what you mean, he didn't say it, and your claim is then a lie. If you want to use a scientist as your authority, it has to be a real quote, in context, saying something pertinent, and you must include your citation.


Appeals to authority usually happen when the author is too weak or lazy to find out what a scientist actually said, and instead attribute the information to a nebulous and undefined group of ideas called "Science." This is an astounding body of knowledge, providing fully-tested theories on any topic an author chooses, and always in agreement with the author's ideas.

But here is where it gets really bad.

Personification of a Method Science is mute on all subjects always. "Science" can't say anything. Science is a method of finding things out, and it's never finished. Here is the short version of what scientists should do:

  1. make an observation which has no explanation using known theories
  2. postulate a possible explanation
  3. test the hypothesis formed above in a way that exposes its weaknesses
  4. go back to step one and refine your hypothesis
  5. eventually you will have enough evidence to be believed. It takes many different groups and a lot of published papers, but in time you can say, "Congratulations hypothesis, now you're a theory!"
  6. All it takes is one counter-observation to nullify the theory. They just don't last all that long before a new theory is needed.

That's science. Nowhere in that process is there a place for science to speak. Only scientists can speak, and then it should be only about what they can prove. So you can quote a scientists, but never "science." 


Scientists are Humans And there's something more here: not all scientists can use the scientific method. There are entire fields, the "soft sciences" (biology, cosmology, astrochemistry, social science, political science, economics, baseball stats, etc.), which deal with observations which can't be tested and thus can't be proven. What they are trying to do is explain a mechanism (how something happened in the past) and no mechanism is testable. One-shot events (non-repeatable and non-testable observations), remote observations which limit the amount of data needed to fully understand what was observed, complex systems poorly understood, which all prevent the testing of the hypothesis. And the soft scientists naturally get used to speaking of the untested hypothesis as though it were tested, imparting more significance to their work than it deserves under the stricter application of the scientific method. In short, some scientists talk out of the sides of their mouths. "We know that the active site of acetyl-CoA synthase contains nickel and iron atoms" is something I heard for years in my PhD work in bioinorganic chemistry. And then the crystal structure showed, pretty clearly, that copper and zinc were there as well. Oops. We should have been saying, "EPR, Mossbauer, and some good metal extraction chemistry lead us to think that only nickel and iron are in the active site," but that would have been too many words. So we simplified, and spoke with greater surety than we possessed. And you non-scientists need to know something, every scientist does this. We're only human. We all overstate, in conversation, what we think as though it were what we had proven.

The Untestable Hypothesis as Science. The "Soft Sciences" are the realm of the untestable hypothesis. Social science, political science, economics (mostly), history, paleontology, cosmic physics, all try to explain what happened, but really all they can do is make a guess which is hard to challenge, because the data is thin, and the hypothesis is utterly untestable. All arguments are those of opinion. The phrase, "All science is physics. The rest is stamp collecting," applies very much to the soft science. The hard sciences, physics, chemistry, some biology, very little geology, can be examined in detail in a lab, and experiments constructed to eliminate bad hypothesis and refine the theory. No controversy.

P-hacking. The "p" value is a statistical variable which is supposed to represent how likely the result came from chance. A value of 0.05 (5%) is considered by many to the the value you must attain before the data you measured is a real effect. I'm happy at p=0.00, but I'm in a hard science, and I can afford the certainty. The thing about a p-value: it continually changes as you gather data. For a real effect you measure, it should get smaller as you gather more data. But what if the effect isn't real? The p-value bounces around. Gather enough data,and the value will, by chance, drop below 0.05. That's when the "scientist" stops collecting data and publishes. A "scientist" can also lower the value by simply cheating in some way that's difficult to detect, like selecting the test group and the control group to emphasize the effect being examined. Or setting data rules after examining the data to eliminate extreme data which point the wrong way.

The Press Conference. This is my surest method: any time a "scientific discovery" is trumpeted in a press conference before it has been through peer review and published, it's fake. Or it's so overblown that reality doesn't match at all. What has happened is that a university PR flunky got his grubby, depraved hands and the discovery is blown all out of proportion, and the poor scientist is dragged along and later has all kinds of cause to regret every starting the work.

The Science Reporter. I've only twice read a news report on a scientific discovery that got it right. Philip Ball wrote them both. All the rest have things wrong, things which tell me they don't understand what was going on. You can safely ignore them. "Science" isn't telling this to you, an English Major is.

Family (false self part 6)

No one has greater ability to help you or to hurt you than your family. They know you, and they shaped you. This makes family a tricky thing for people like me dealing with a dominant False Self. This is because families are the greatest cause of dominant False Selves:

  1. A child grows up in a setting from which a dominant False Self emerges...
  2. ...and marries a spouse who also has a dominant False Self because that's all they know of love...
  3. ...and raise their own children as they were raised...
  4. ...so that the children also experience a dominant False Self.
  5. Goto 1.

This is a cycle, repeating generation-to-generation. Peter Gerkach, a family therapist, put together a huge, deep and all-inclusive website to help families break this cycle, with a lot of great information, and also a lot of noise and a confusing layout.

Alain de Botton also recognized the importance of how a child is raised, in what he calls a Good Childhood and a Bad Childhood (YouTube), and the difficulty, or impossibility, of dealing with our childhoods (YouTube).


Overcoming a dominant False Self, as I am doing, makes dealing with family very tricky. My False Self is very comfortable with family. It's the only Self my family knows. And no one knows me as well as my family. They have all had decades to learn just what to say to induce shame. And I'll tell you, shame is a very effective tool to cause emotional pain, and always causes my False Self to jump into action. Always. Your family may be the same.

And here's the real kick in the crotch: once the False Self is completely dominant and you are socially compliant, you'll think that staying close to your family is your best hope for affection, love, and happiness.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If you are in this situation, move out! Get away from them, and give your True Self a chance to come out. If you suspect you have a dominant False Self the most important thing you can do is to get out on your own. I honestly don't think that it's possible to bring your True Self to the fore in the presence of the family which caused it to recede to the background as a child.

Just a reminder here, what I'm saying is that your home situation as a child made you protect your feelings (your True Self) by using intellectual justifications and mental excuses (your False Self) to survive; as a child you needed to switch from living with your heart, feeling free to say what you felt, and feeling that you were valued and accepted, to living in your mind in an effort to mute your emotional pain. You need to get to a physical place where you can return to, and practice living with, your heart and feelings again. You need to relearn how to listen to all your feelings, and to relearn how to express exactly what you feel. You need to be surrounded by people who accept you as you are, right now. You must relearn how to stop censoring your feelings.

I'm lucky. I don't have a wife. When I want to get away from family, I can come home. To those who are married, and whose marriage was formed because you both recognized in some unknown way how matched you were to each other (you were equally messed-up) but is now the source of the greatest emotional pain, I hope you can find some way of forgiving each other long enough to remind each other of those times when you felt you could say anything to each other, and accept the other's flaws as endearing. It's a first step to regain the ability to express your True Self, your innermost feelings. Your spouse is the perfect person for that, though each of you has become sidelined by all you learned in your families, and your False Selves have emerged.

Find people who you can talk to and tell them what you are going through. I can't express how very grateful I am for those people at church and work who have listened to all these strange things going on inside my head and heart, who accepted what I said as genuinely me and my experience, and who gave gentle advice while realizing that listening and accepting was their role in the conversation. If it is in your ability, try to be that person to anyone who reveals to you they are not happy. I'm trying to be that person. I can't force anyone to express what they really feel around me, but I can model it, I can express my feelings openly, and let them know I'm not nearly as perfect as they might think I am. All strangers, oddly, appear perfect to us. So I'll try not to be a stranger. It's a tricky thing, though. No one expects acquaintances to open up. No one wants to trust someone who isn't a spouse, or family, with their inner feelings, worries, flaws. But I've found that there is a huge amount of love out there. I've never told someone my problems and not found a sympathetic ear. They might not be well-versed in what you are going through, but they never mock or run away.

So for the first time in my life I can say this and I think I can really mean it: I love you all, and I hope to be your friend.

A Few Notes on Having a False Self (part 5)

I've been thinking about behaviors I displayed which can be attributed uniquely to my having a dominant False Self:

The Illusory Superiority Effect (also known as the Lake Wobegone Effect): This is the self-assessment of how competent you are at a task, or of where you stand in a ranking of your peers. Those who are very competent, or of the highest IQ, for example, tend to underestimate their standing. Those who are woefully incompetent, or who are at the bottom of the standings, tend to vastly over-rate their standing, to the point that those at the very bottom of the standing, who have never once successfully completed the task, rate themselves as above average.

This is difficult to explain without the concept of the False Self. The False Self if there to protect the True Self from pain. Well, it's painful to realize that you suck. It's also difficult to believe that you are the best in your group when your False Self has been there from infancy helping assuage the feeling that you have no value. Of as Freudians put it, the ego protects the id, the brain protects the heart.

"Fine." The second thing I want to talk about is, in some cultures, mostly those where everyone is expected to be "good," this damnable thing we all have of answering "Fine," when asked how we are. This much I know: it's never true. Ever. "Fine" is not a state of human existence. It's not even a feeling. It's probably a False Self trying to hide our feelings. Even if we are happy, elated, full of joy, we are still going to answer, "Fine," for fear of offending the other person, who may not at that moment feel good.

What I will try to do, is when I meet someone I care about, to try to engage them in a conversation, so that I can listen to what they are really feeling, beyond what they are saying. I'll use "Fine" as a marker word: when someone says they are fine, it's time to really dig into how they are feeling, because they just lied to me about how they feel, and it takes care and concern and effort to let them know I love them and want to share the pain they feel, and can understand what they are going through, and that I am trustworthy and won't use their hurt to hurt them back.

And sometimes people I care about say "Fine" because they don't know how great I am, and are trying to protect what they feel are my fragile feelings, and I need to let them know that, too. 

So if you are a person at school, or church, or the street passing me as I walk, if you say you are "Fine," expect a long conversation to follow.

Do I Have a False Self? (part 3)

I never encountered the concept of the False Self while my False Self was still in control. I have no idea how I would take this list if I had seen it two years ago, or even a year ago. So I have no idea how you might take this list. I hope you can see what it can tell you. But I know that False Selves are there to protect your heart, and they know how to fight back against anything which will hurt the heart. I hope you don't fight, be on the side of your True Self.


This is edited and augmented from a deep and confusing website on curing the cyclic patterns of parents with False Self producing kids with False Selves, but it's a good list:

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

__ Has a feeling of love when thinking of themselves as they are

__ 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

__ Usually feels lovable just as they are

__ Frequently maintains a two-person "awareness bubble"

__ Seldom gives double messages

__ Able to grieve losses spontaneously

__ Seeks Self-guided people and high-nurturance 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, unable to stay focused

__ Blaming, critical, bigoted

__ Indecisive, worried, cautious, doubtful

__ "Upset," scared, angry, guilty, ashamed

__ Is given to self-agrandizing daydreams

__ Usually has a narrow, short-term focus

__ Usually seeks immediate gratification

__ Often impatient, impulsive, uncommitted

__ Bitter, jealous, resentful, "glass 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 drugs 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

__ Usually feels the need to improve to be loved

__ 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

This is not a list to grade, and you can't get a score from it. These are personality-trait pairs from which you can make a comparison.

You might also notice that many of these traits are being addressed by other ideas. For example, they are addressed by the idea of the Nice Guy Syndrome. They are central to the Branden's method of building self esteem. These are universal aspects of humanity, and all self-help guides will deal with them. I post these here because it's the only one that helped me access what my heart wanted, my True Self. Others worked, but it was always my False Self in control, trying to modify how it protected my heart. For me they were stepping stones to the True Self, but only by realizing the role of the False Self was I able to live.

False Self, or Multiple Personalities? (part 4)

I want to clarify one thing: when I speak of the False Self and the True Self, I am not talking in any way about multiple personalities.  Here is an alternative way to think about it:

True Self: identifying the heart as the center of yourself; finding and giving love as the primary purpose of communicating; accepting, understanding, resilient.

False Self: identifying the brain as the center of yourself; finding and giving information as the primary purpose of communication; critical, judgmental, fragile.

I guess we can add a third: Barbarian Self: identifying your body as the center of yourself. Enjoy your hermit lifestyle, buddy. You won't be reading this.


Or as Freud put it:

True Self centered in the superego, sort of.

False Self centered in the ego and/or the id.

The False Self isn't your enemy. It's your best friend, and has been from infancy. What you need to know is when it's responding in a situation, or your heart. Your goal is to let your heart, your True Self, be in charge and make all your decisions. At times you will definitely need your mind to help choose, but in the end it is your heart that makes all calls.

I hope this helps.

Living with a False Self (part 2)

In my previous blog post, of yesterday, I spoke of my discovery of living with a False Self. Please go read the bottom part of that post to find out what that is.

Here is a brief summary:

A False Self was proposed by Winnicott to explain behaviors in adolescents and adults. He said a False Self emerges in infants and children when they have big, to them, emotional pains to deal with. You can think of a False Self as the set of explanations, distractions, behaviors used to make the pain bearable.

I have a False Self. I want to tell you what it’s like living with one. The feelings I was avoiding was feeling that I wasn’t valuable to those around me, which as a kid were my parents.

The single biggest thing is that it’s very difficult to feel or experience love. This is because the False Self is a completely intellectual thing, and the mind doesn’t feel love. Only the heart can. [I know, I’m speaking of the brain, heart, and body as being separate; transform those into however you understand yourself to exist.] When someone says, “I love you,” two things happen. First, you notice that your heart responded one way, but your mind wants to take over and formulate its own response. This lasts just a moment, and it causes pain. Because you are feeling emotional pain, your False Self will take over to deal with it. It becomes a well-practiced response for the mind, your False Self, to take over. But the pain remains. You can’t express real love, nor feel it. In any context. I can honestly say that until I realized I had a False Self, and spent enough time to learn when it was trying to come forward and stop it, that I never knew what love felt like. I knew only the outward show that I learned from watching others.


Most importantly, I didn’t love myself. This was a small bonus, when I read things like, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Well, that was easy; go watch TV. But the drawbacks are huge: I had no confidence in what I could accomplish. I felt that I had to edit everything I’d say so that no one could see that I had no value. Without a love of yourself, which automatically approves of anything you say as valuable, your brain is left to determine it. Talking to a woman, especially one I wanted to impress, was just impossible; I didn’t have the brain capacity to speak while calculating the totality of all ways she might take what I said, good or bad, so I could reject the ones I thought might reveal my lack of value before it left my mouth. So I’d just go speechless around people. Which causes pain. Which reinforces the False Self. I was jealous of Spock; he didn’t need to deal with any of this. Mostly.

Imagination and fantasy are a big deal. Everyone needs positive support. Your False Self can’t do that. It emerged to handle feeling much more primitive. So I had a massively active imagination. These were long-lived fantasies where I was doing something great. These fantasies were not having the world worship me. They were my doing something important, which influenced the world in very major way, but my response was always humble. Inventing anti-gravity technology to allow personal flight and limitless power—and I still lived at home. Setting up a space station, having convinced Warren Buffett to fund my obviously great idea, to allow school kids to get used to working and playing in zero-G. Being a bass player so good that artists flocked to my little house to play with me. Fantasy. It kept me going for decades.

I also had a HUGE inner dialog. It was my False Self trying to talk with my True Self (or something) and I had inner conversations going all the time. My mind was never silent, except when I was falling asleep.

Spirituality is different. I’m still exploring this, but this I can say: the of spirituality experienced by a False Self can’t possibly match that taught by Jesus. The sort of spirituality I felt always led me to be alone. It never felt like I wanted to go out and be with people, to love them, to be with them. It was like a warm blanket at best. Powerless to follow the example Jesus gave us.

Without love, and feeling a self-centered spirituality, I’m astounded that I stayed in the church. There is no reason I should have. Well, one, I was still trying to please my parents. Obedience is what caused the emergence of my False Self, and my False Self was obedient to the end.

Since the False Self exists to deal with emotional pain, it tends toward very addictive behavior to distract from that pain. I think all addictive behavior exists to hide pain. Alcohol, cigarettes, porn, food, TV, binging, purging, drugs, drugs, drugs, vitamins, looks, exercise, socializing, hermitizing, anger, and probably the rest of all the bad things man does to themselves, are all part of avoiding this deep emotional pain. This is one of the main things I noticed when my True Self began to take dominance: all my addictions disappeared instantly. I won’t say what they were, but the departure surprised me. PTSD’s are probably the response of a False Self. That's just a guess.

The other big thing I noticed was that I love being with people now. I used to only be comfortable in the desert, by myself. Being by myself was the best way I knew to not feel I had no value. Being around people always brought pain. But now, with a dominant True Self, I can honestly say I love being with people. I’m still learning who my True Self is, but the thing I want most now is a close, deep conversation, where important ideas and feelings are expressed, and listened to. I'll add, though, that there was one other place I liked being, where I felt I had value: in front of a class. I loved being a teacher then, and still do, even more.

When Jesus visited the Americas, there is a scene which happened that first day, when the children gathers around Jesus, and angels came down and administered to the children for quite some time. Here is what I think: they were dealing with False Selves. I’m rather firmly of the opinion now that if we properly understood our friends with False Selves, and knew how to talk about it, and help them understand how we will love their True Selves much more than the False Selves, we could have the same society for centuries that the Nephites experienced.

Does it sound as if I am saying that dealing with the False Self is a panacea to all harms and trouble. Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying.

If you have a False Self, dealing with that should be your most important priority in life. If, when you think of yourself, you don’t feel that warm glow of love in your chest, you have a False Self. Try it now. At least half of you have have one. Maybe as many as 70%. Most people in Utah die with theirs.

Layers (False Self part 1)

Self discovery. Each of us survived childhood. Mostly. As several awesome thinkers have pointed out, there is a lot of our personality and character which was determined in childhood, and for most of us, we continue reacting to situations using the same responses we learned as babies.

The Premise

Recently Alain de Botton, a philosopher whom I greatly admire for his ability to describe what it is to be a human, wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times titled "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person." His thesis: No matter how well you understand someone and come to believe you are in love with them, your sense of love was mostly formed as you received unconditional love as a baby. The problem is that as a baby you had no idea what was going on, and as you take those feelings as a child and rely on them in an adult romance, you are going to get almost everything wrong. Plus, your spouse will be doing the same thing by responding to situations using the same feelings set during infanthood, and will appear to you as crazy.

I think he's dead on correct.

The Trigger

So I've been on a personal quest to understand why I'm still single at 54. It started almost two years ago. The sister of a friend of mine visited from Boston. Beautiful, tall, academic, and I went and made a total prat of myself. I mean, total embarrassing display of most every nerd/loser/wuss stereotype known. And so began my quest.

Outer layer: The Nice Guy

Within days I had discovered the "Nice Guy Syndrome." This is an idea put forth by Robert A. Glover. Nice Guys all believe that if they are "good" and do everything "right," they will be loved, get their needs met, and have a problem-free life. They are "good" by trying to eliminate or hide certain things about themselves (mistakes, needs, emotions, fantasy) and become what they think others want them to be (generous, peaceful, helpful). The problem here is that they are denying aspects of themselves, which is never healthy. They also make "covert contracts" with anyone they serve: "when I do this favor for you, you are to love me back" without ever telling the other person, and end up disappointed when love does not come. For me, the idea and the behaviors described matched my situation in life very well. That I was a Nice Guy resonated with me, and I followed the advice as best I could. But to very little effect. I recognized some of what I'd given up in life by being "nice," but nothing really changed.

While the idea of the Nice Guy Syndrome gave me tremendous insight in the way I was behaving, it didn't seem to cure the root of why I was still single.

 Inner layer: Self Esteem

After a few months I realized the Nice Guy idea was informative, but not very useful. I started looking around for something which could explain root causes. I happened across a self-esteem repair ecosystem created by Nathaniel Branden. He wrote many self-esteem self-help books, the greatest being The Six Pillars of Self Esteem. His six pillars are:

  1. The practice of living consciously
  2. The practice of self acceptance
  3. The practice of self responsibility
  4. The practice of self-assertiveness
  5. The practice of living purposefully
  6. The practice of personal integrity

You note these are all practices for us to adopt, not just advice. He is wordy, but has good thoughts in there. It takes a while to put all his content into practice, and a lot of root sentences that you need to finish which will reveal hidden thoughts and ideas to you.

The author's core thesis: to have self esteem you need to believe you are worthy of happiness, and you need to believe that your efforts will bring you to happiness. Now, as the time, I had never in my life believed that I could be happy. That had simply never crossed my mind. I could enjoy moments, I could have fun, I could laugh at movies. But to be happy seemed foreign to me. Utterly.

So I delved into the author's ideas in a big way. And while it helped me understand what was going on, those exercises just didn't seem to be paying off as a change in me. Something was still missing. It's like an arrow that hit at the wrong angle; it stuck, but didn't penetrate very deeply.

Deeper layer: The Book of Life

As I looked into the work of Alain de Botton, author of the op-ed piece I mentioned at the top, I found he had a website packed with what I think is marvelous advice and information. His thinking ranges all over the place, from some of the deepest philosophers to some of the most practical ideas about relationships, self, romance, work. I'll give you an idea:

Romance: de Botton thinks romance and romanticism is the cause of more suffering in love than any other cause in relationships because it tells us that our soul mate can understand us by intuition, not communication.

Self-Love: Loving yourself is the core of most interpersonal relationships; if it is missing almost nothing can happen between you.

Emotional Inheritance: we all inherit most of our emotions from our parents, who modeled them for us in early childhood. This goes on to be repeated by us in our adult lives, but in situations not entirely appropriate, because we were just little kids when we learned them and never understood what was going on when we learned them. 

Owner's manual: The idea, which I love and now have written, of writing an owner's manual for yourself, to give to those who love you most so they can understand right away why you will behave oddly.

He also makes these fun little videos illustrating his points.

Core: The False Self

One of the topics de Botton addresses (Youtube) is the work of child psychotherapist Donald Winnicott. He lived in Britain, and did a series of radio lessons there in the 1950's which have had a big influence on how we rear children. One of Winnicott's most influential ideas involves the emergence in childhood of a "False Self." Here is how I describe it:

Everyone is familiar with a "persona." This is a term Carl Jung used to describe how we "put on a social mask" in some situations to make socializing with particular groups more comfortable. For example, no one speaks with their children the same way as their boss. Each gets a different persona. We are so accustomed to using personas that most of us can see right through one to the authentic person behind.

But sometimes, particularly in childhood and certainly in infancy, a child might receive an emotional wound so painful that they need to find a way to deal with it. One of those ways is to invent a persona for themselves. This persona can explain why they felt the emotional pain, or find ways to distract from feeling the pain, or maybe find ways to forever avoid the pain. For example, one child might try to avoid the emotional pain by being very intellectual and deny emotion in his life. Another might become very aggressive and angry, striking first. Or, as Wittincott himself said, it could be that the parents tried to make the child "be good" before the child had a chance to test out being naughty, thus turning over his independent self to mom and dad's wishes and become a peacemaker and caretaker. When a child creates a persona for himself, and keeps it present most of the time, it becomes a False Self.

The False Self is there to protect the pains felt by an infant. But when the False Self is strong enough, and dominant over the True Self, all kinds of trouble starts. First, the child may never realize there is even a False Self present when the True Self has stepped so far back into the shadows. And this can continue well into adulthood. Second, the False Self can never run the show by himself. The True Self will always get through, bringing pain, to which the False Self will react to avoid. This creates a personality marked by fear, avoidance, self-distracting behaviors, especially addictions, and maybe every other ill of mankind.

And at least half of everyone you know has a significant False Self, some of which are dominant. I'm pretty sure at least four members of my immediate family of nine are dealing with a dominant False Self.

This was describing me. I won't go into all the behaviors I had, but they all fit this one idea. I'd even seen my True and False selves in dreams and didn't realize this is what it was at the time. If you didn't look at the Youtube video above, do so now.


I was a Good Child. And I have a False Self. I realized it after a very long and painful night in my tent at the ward campout last Saturday. Now my task is to learn to recognize when the False Self is trying to protect my True Self, and then find ways of letting myself just feel the emotional pain, knowing as I do as an adult, that the pain won't kill me. I didn't know that when I developed the False Self. I'm happy to report that when I am with people, it is probably my True Self you will meet. I hope you like him. He can be a bit snarky but he's a riot. He'll talk a lot if allowed to. At home, or when I'm alone, the False Self might be there, still trying to serve the purpose of his creation.

Here is a list of what one psychotherapist labeled our "Core Pains." A core pain is the thing felt as an infant or child which the child was not ready to deal with and caused the creation of a False Self to help. Each has a negative core belief, a compensating personality (which is the personality of the False Self), and distractors from the core pain, which are the annoying parts of the False Self. Most people have one core pain, but two or three are possible in some particularly nasty home situations.

  • "I am Imperfect"
    • Negative Core Belief: "There seems to be something wrong with me."
    • Compensating Personality: I must be perfect. I must prove there is not something wrong with me. Seeking internal and/or external perfection, this personality appears as distant but is actually inwardly clingy and controlling - wanting to perfect self or others. "If I do it perfectly, I will be healed."
    • Core Pain Distractors: In order to feel and avoid the intense pain of "I am imperfect" this personality feels resentment, so the False Core does not have to be experienced, known and felt.
  • "I am Worthless"
    • Negative Core Belief: "I have no value."
    • Compensating Personality: I must prove I am not worthless. I must prove that I have worth and value. This personality caretakes and over-gives to get value. This personality also needs flattery from self and others. This personality struggles with dependence and the need to appear overly independent.
    • Core Pain Distractors: This person distracts away from "I am worthless and I have no value" by focusing on feeling dependent, weak willed - or compensating by appearing totally together, independent, valuable, contained and worthy. The distractor emotion is self-pride through imagination and self-flattery so the False Core pain does not have to be experienced, known and felt.
  • "I Cannot Do" or "I Cannot Do Enough"
    • Negative Core Belief: "I cannot do, decide or act." Or, "I cannot do enough." "I must have done something bad and that is why I am separate from love. Therefore it is better not to do - or else something bad will happen."
    • Compensating Personality: I must prove that I can do, decide and act by becoming an over-doer or an overachiever. This personality becomes grandiose about what it can and did do to the point of self-deceit. This personality struggles with over-efficiency and vanity.
    • Core Pain Distractors: In order to avoid the intense pain of "I cannot do - or cannot do enough" this person uses deceit and lies to hide what they have been doing or not doing. This false core and compensating personality exaggerates to themself and others about who they are, and what they do and don't do, so the False Core pain does not have to be experienced, known and felt.
  • "I am Inadequate"
    • Negative Core Belief: I am inadequate.
    • Compensating Personality: I must prove that I am not inadequate. I must prove that I am adequate and smart. This personality struggles between feeling stupid and smart and tries to be overly adequate by being over-analytic and over-reasonable.
    • Core Pain Distractors: In order to avoid the pain of "I am inadequate" this personality's emotional distractors are melancholy, depression, jealousy, envy, abandonment, and betrayal, so the False Core pain does not have to be experienced, known and felt.
  • "I am Non-Existent"
    • Negative Core Belief: "I don't exist. I am nothing. I have nothing." This false core develops earlier than others - often in utero - and is more deeply embedded in the body than any of the other False Core/False Selves. This false core self believes, "I am nothing. I am empty. I don't know." Because of this, this type of person is unsuitable for Buddhist (no-self) and non-dual spiritual practices because they reinforce the False Core assumptions. This False Core can make itself quite invisible but invisibility is a two edged sword because they become invisible to themselves and their own needs.
    • Compensating Personality: "I must prove that I am something, have something, and that I exist." This personality "thinks" feelings and does not feel them. This could be because of rejection from the mother in utero. This personality dissociates from feelings early and become an over-observer as a defense. They can use their capacity for dissociation or blankness towards a spiritual path that reinforces that it does not have a personality and does not exist. This personality contains the structure of rejection and because they assume they will be rejected, they reject first, and begin to isolate and psychologically disappear.
    • Core Pain Distractors: In order to avoid the pain of "I do not exist" this personality accumulates information because they imagine they are nothing and have nothing. If I have "something" (ie., information and ideas) "I exist." This personality also struggles between the polarity of being social and anti-social, so the False Core pain does not have to be experienced, known and felt.
  • "I am Alone"
    • Negative Core Belief: "I am alone. I fear being shunned."
    • Compensating Personality: I must not be alone - I must connect. This personality is the over-connector. At the time of connection there is a "high" and a relief from "I am alone" however, like a drug addict, the False Self Compensator needs more and more connection to get the same "high".
    • Core Pain Distractors: In order to avoid the pain of "I am alone" this personality uses the main distractor of fear, weakness, paranoia, self-doubt, and terror, or the preoccupation with being strong and being able to handle it all, so the False Core pain does not have to be experienced, known and felt.
  • "I am Incomplete"
    • Negative Core Belief: "I am incomplete. There must be something missing. I am not enough."
    • Compensating Personality: "I must get whole, complete, completed or full through having many varied, extraordinary experiences."
    • Core Pain Distractors: In order to avoid the pain of "I am incomplete" this personality uses the distractor identities of false optimism and over-idealism as well as the polarity of super-standards or rules, with no standards or rules, as well as the struggles between feeling superior and inferior, so the False Core pain does not have to be experienced, known and felt.
  • "I am Powerless."
    • Negative Core Belief: "I am powerless." "I am powerless because I have no force, no influence, got screwed over, etc.
    • Compensating Personality: "I must prove I am not powerless by acting "as if" I am overly powerful." This compensating personality has such an unacknowledged powerlessness it can have psychopathic tendencies or can compensate by acting overly blown-up, imagining themselves to be much more powerful than they actually are.
    • Core Pain Distractors: In order to avoid the pain of "I am powerless" this personality is fixated on revenge and range and can also turn love into lust. Love is warm and vulnerable, but for this personality it reactivates the trauma of separation and so they resist love. Consequently, they move from experiencing vulnerable love to having the imagined "power" of lust, so the False Core does not have to be experienced, known and felt.
  • "I am Loveless."
    • Negative Core Belief: "I am loveless. There is no love."
    • Compensating Personality: "I must prove I am not loveless by appearing "as if" I am overly loving and accepting of what is happening." Underneath this loving, accepting mask lies a passive, sometimes aggressive coat of armor that is difficult to penetrate because of the spiritualized insistence on appearing loving. This type seeks spirituality, and seeks to act loving and loveable but with all roles plays, it cannot receive the love that it wants. The "loveless" struggle with passive-aggressive repressed anger for this reason.
    • Core Pain Distractors: In order to avoid the pain of "I am loveless," so the False Core does not have to be experienced, known and felt, this personality has a core of underlying anger which manifests a dual identity that is passive on the outside and aggressive on the inside. This personality acts "passive" and projects "aggressive" onto another, getting the other to "act out" by frustrating it.

I hope as you run through this list that you discover that you have no False Self. But if you do, I hope that you have an experience similar to mine, a feeling of liberation and understanding, though there is work to be done. Already I've seen big payoffs, but that may be because I have spent almost two years peeling away these layers. My core pain is was, "I have no value." Now I know I have value.

So do you.

And I'll add this: if your self-help book does not address Winnicott's False Self, it will never have the insight to change people. Neither will your religion. 

P.P.S. There exists a very informative website called Break the Cycle intended to help families break the cycle of one generations of False Selves raising the next. The problem is too much information, and a wholly chaotic presentation. If you have the hours and weeks and months, and want to really understand and deal with a False Self problem, there is where you should park your browser.