What is our True Self? That’s a big question—one that we’ll be thinking a lot about as we journey together. As a starting point, however, I want you to know what I mean when I refer to your True Self.
I believe that the True Self, or—put another way—the original self, is present when we come into this world. It is a seed that is planted, ready to grow and flourish. If we’re born into a healthy family system, that seed is nurtured throughout the different developmental stages of childhood. This helps us transition into healthy, functional adults.
If we aren’t born into a healthy family system, that seed isn’t fully nurtured by our caregivers and it lies dormant in a state of self-protection. What emerges in its place is our Adaptive Self*. In order to survive the unhealthy dynamics of our family system we have to adapt to that system as it is (through coping strategies and defense mechanisms, for example). Over the years, layer by layer, these adaptive behaviors accumulate while the True Self remains hidden. While they’re necessary in childhood, these adaptations become maladaptive in adulthood. This doesn’t mean they are bad or wrong – adaptive behaviors were a good part of you that helped you endure difficult experiences. But it does mean that they can get in the way of navigating life and relationships (with self and others) in a healthy way.
What this means is that your True Self is not something that you need to go find. Let me repeat that: your True Self is not something that you need to go find. It’s not something you need to try to achieve. In fact, I don’t actually believe you can—because it’s already there, present in you. It might be buried beneath many layers, but it’s there.
Connecting with your True Self is about identifying what those layers of adaptations represent, what they look like, and where they come from. Only then can you get to work healing the trauma and family-of-origin experiences that created them in the first place. That work allows space for the true part of us, our True Self, to emerge, be seen, and be experienced.
This isn’t a linear process. We can’t quickly dig through all of our layers and expect our True Self to suddenly appear. Elements of our True Self peek out as we start to deal with our adaptations and the family-of-origin experiences that are at the root of them. It’s an organic and continual growth process that takes time.
If our healing journey didn’t take time, it would be overwhelming. It would be too much to process our adaptive layers and what they represent all at once. I also think it would be overwhelming if our full True Self were unearthed in one fell swoop. It takes time to get comfortable living as our full, authentic Self, to shine, to be seen. But as things unfold incrementally, it gives us a chance to adjust to living into our full authentic Self.
I’m 52, and I believe that I’m living from my True Self in a way that I never have. I also think that’s going to keep evolving. I’ve been at this recovery thing for a long time, and I still don’t feel like I’ve arrived. That’s a good thing—it keeps me growing, learning, and seeking my Higher Power. Healing and recovery are lifelong processes. It is a way of being.
There’s a lot that can be said about the True Self, and we’ll continue discussing it here and on our other platforms, but here are a few important takeaways:
- Your True Self is in you. It’s already there. Your true, original, delightful self is already there.
- There is a healing process for it to emerge and it is hard work.
- The hard work of sorting through those layers is worth it.
Peace on the Journey,
*My perspective on the Adapted part of us is informed by Pia Mellody’s developmental trauma model as outlined in her book Facing Codependence.