The nature of the “true” self

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By Catherine Julianne

I want to deal here with some questions about the nature of the “true self”. What does this mean and why do we need a self?

Well, there is an implication that a purity of self is desirable as a bastion against the multitude of outside influence.

No matter what happens, the self is a reliable constant, remaining long after you’ve left that job, split up with that partner, or abandoned those plans for self-improvement…!

In a slightly more negative way, there is an innate desire to “find” ourselves, to connect with something transcendent that allows us to escape the drudgery of mundane existence.

We are on a search to uncover our authenticity, to make sure that we don’t waste a drop of finite, fragile life.

Google defines it as:

a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action.

Some synonyms Google provides are: ego, I, oneself, persona, person, identity, character, personality,psyche, soul, spirit, mind, intellect, inner man/woman/person, inner self, one’s innermost feelings, one’s heart of hearts.

So, there are a lot of options here for locating the “true” self: within a kind of metaphysical soup of mind, ego and spirit, containing dashes of thoughts, feelings and impulses – as distinct from the physical body.

This all sounds rather ephemeral so far. I would venture to say that Google is not really sure what the true self is. 

What we’ve done is establish that to have a “true” self, we must go beyond “thinking man”, from self-aware to self-reflexive.

The self as mind

Having established this, perhaps we are to equate the self with the mind: that collection of thoughts, emotions and memories that makes each of us unique.

Being material creatures, we are often tempted to think of abstract concepts spatially, as though the self is lurking somewhere in the dark depths of our organs, lodged perhaps between the lungs and the heart.

In reality, we are conceptually removed from the weight of flesh and bone.

My mind can be floating in a country far away from my physical location, conversing with people I no longer know or will never meet, or simply raking through abstract ideas that have no visual form.

It also changes so much over time: I am not the same person I was last year, last week, probably not even yesterday. So much can happen in a day.

Why should we even bother looking for it?

Why would we even want to have a true self at all? Why not have a false self, or live with multiple selves (as long as that didn’t warrant us labelled with a mental health disorder)?

It could be rooted in a need to have an anchor, an enduring essence within the constant sea of uncertainty.

Perhaps it is part of becoming an adult and individuating away from one’s parents, background, friends, inherited traditions and behaviours.

However, some say that the self is already here, comfortably hiding inside until one should only look properly.

So does this mean that we are born with a core self that has been obscured by the influence of others and the environment, and we must find it again? Or, that the self we were given by others is false and inauthentic, and therefore we must find a new one?

Probably a bit of both.

We take what we like, and leave behind what we don’t like. What we have left is an adult self, a “true” self, something self-created and original. And it is not so much to do with the nature of the self we choose as the fact that we have made the choice. 

Defined by the social self

Having found our true selves, some would say that the true self is who we are when no one is watching. I disagree with this fundamentally because the idea that we consist of our purest essence when alone implies that we are somehow muddied by the presence of others, who distract and tempt us away from our true path of authenticity.

If the self is so easily influenced, then it makes for a rather flimsy and insubstantial anchor. I would argue that we only really become fully human in the presence of others, not just with those who are physically with us but also as part of the social web.

Many studies have shown how babies raised in orphanages where their physical needs were cared for, but never touched or held, suffer a much higher than average rate of death in infancy.

This is because the self, the “personality”, is not a static object but a dynamic process that requires the presence of others to find expression.

Is having a true self illusory?

Perhaps it’s not so much a case of finding our way back to ourselves as seeing past all the trappings of our individual identity to something beyond our own selves.

We might think of what we want as a “true” self, but really we want to step outside ourselves and connect with some deeper purpose.

It’s not very common to openly talk about a longing for a deeper purpose, but I don’t know anyone that this wouldn’t secretly resonate with.

Each person wants some unique aspect of their identity to become known and make a difference, whether that’s bringing joy to others through becoming an entertainer, or a fantastical ability to design bridges that help people get from one place to another.

That’s the crux, isn’t it? The true self isn’t lurking somewhere in isolation inside us, but manifests and becomes real when we mature and step outside ourselves.

It doesn’t physically exist as a static object but is a process of growth and expansion, becoming more than we were or thought we could be.

The true self is who we are when we authentically connect with others. We stop thinking about the “I” and starting thinking about “we”. But before we can see clearly we must become aware of ourselves, and therein lies the eternal paradox.

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Images: Unsplash

Coding for girls

Coding

I’m starting a new coding course tomorrow and I thought this next series of blog posts could be about this six-week experience I am about to embark on. I applied for the course because it was free and I wanted to learn how to become a front-end web developer. The course is hosted by CodeFirst:Girls and is aimed at helping women get into the tech industry.

What does this mean?

Well, for those of you who don’t work in “digital” for a living (i.e. web-based communications), front-end web development just refers to being able to make websites look nice and make them easy to use (as opposed to being overly concerned with the technical structure of the website). The tech industry is defined by WikiInvest as:

The technology industry provides the basis for chip production, information and communication systems, and computer systems. These companies serve as the developers and manufacturers of the products which drive the increasing efficiency and production of cell phones, computers, televisions, as well as other communication and information systems.

This definition was surprisingly hard to find on Google, suggesting that not all that many people would be familiar with the tech industry, and it has yet to be culturally validated.

The definition also doesn’t really mean anything to me, and I would probably translate it to: the creative industries relating to information, communication and gaming technologies; e.g. smartphone apps, social media platforms, or e-learning gaming software.

Interestingly, it was included as part of the umbrella of the “Creative Industries” that was defined by the British Council, and from what I could determine through the hail of jargon, it is related to cultural and intellectual capital within the economy that has the ability create jobs and wealth.  

Further, and not surprisingly, all of this “tech” talk can sound pretty terrifying, and I was just sort of wondering why that is.

I think it might be related to the fact that technology is such a pervasive part of our lives now, from miniature touch-screen computers, to contactless payments, to sat nav, and yet very few of us actually understand these technologies.

Crossing boundaries

As a writer first and foremost, I have been accustomed to manipulating words as part of the system of language, to achieve goals such as conveying meaning, creating beauty, inspiring emotions or exorcising emotional ghosts.

All that sounds very human and accessible to me, and to strip way the emotive element and just consider strings of characters for a technical purpose once seemed totally alien. It obviously doesn’t anymore, evidenced by the fact that I applied for this course.

I think this prior mental hurdle relates a lot to being a girl, and the tacit assumption that anything requiring technical understanding necessitates a significant lack of estrogen.

This attitude isn’t just limited to tech, but extends to areas like finance, economics, engineering, science, or anything outside the realm of “the humanities”.

Women are generally socialised to believe that something about the structure of their gender is incompatible with learning anything impersonal, rational, neutral or objective: therefore being cut off from careers in anything to do with technology.

The truth about technology

This is a huge shame because technology is actually very emotive.

For example, the idea that people from every country and section of their society can connect in a global network is amazing. Our concept of time has been warped and sped up, with news spreading in seconds. Space has contracted, and you can befriend someone living thousands of miles away, share their cat’s antics, or read someone’s deepest thoughts on their blog. Communications and media are much more (though not perfectly) democratic, with an internet connection all you need to reach an audience of millions.

Human ingenuity means that we have taken electricity and circuitry, wires and metal, and turned them into something that would have been unfathomable – i.e. a computer – just fifty years ago.

In the same way it used to be almost unthinkable for a woman to work in an office at the turn of the twentieth century, women now find it hard to enter the newly-developed tech industry – for reasons to do with lack of skills and confidence that are simple (and yet often difficult) to rectify.

I’m looking forward to taking this course and being part of something really wonderful.

CatherineCatherine Julianne is a writer and digital communications professional obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Images: Unsplash