Daily Meditations

What Is the False Self?

Your egoic false self is who you think you are, but your thinking does not make it true. Your false self is a social and mental construct to get you started on your life journey. It is a set of agreements between you and your parents, your family, your school chums, your partner or spouse, your culture, and your religion. It is your “container.” It is largely defined in distinction from others, precisely as your separate and unique self. It is probably necessary to get started, but it becomes problematic when you stop there and spend the rest of your life promoting and protecting it.

Jesus would call your false self your “wineskin,” which he points out is only helpful insofar as it can contain some good and new wine. He says that “old wineskins” cannot hold any new wine; in fact, “they burst and both the skins and the wine are lost” (Luke 5:37-38). This is a quite telling and wise metaphor, revealing Jesus’ bias toward growth and change. “The old wine is good enough” (Luke 5:39), says the man or woman set in their ways.

The false self, which we might also call the “small self,” is merely your launching pad: your appearance, your education, your job, your money, your success, and so on. These are the trappings of ego that help you get through an ordinary day. They are what Bill Plotkin wisely calls your “survival dance,” but they are not yet your “sacred dance.” [1]

Please understand that your false self is not bad or inherently deceitful. Your false self is actually quite good and necessary as far as it goes. It just does not go far enough, and it often poses and thus substitutes for the real thing. That is its only problem, and that is why we call it “false.” The false self is bogus more than bad; it pretends to be more than it is. Various false selves (temporary costumes) are necessary to get us all started, but they show their limitations when they stay around too long. If people keep growing, their various false selves usually die in exposure to greater light. That is, if they ever let greater light get in; many do not.

When you are able to move beyond your false self—at the right time and in the right way—it will feel as if you have lost nothing. Of course, if all you know is the false self and you do not know that there is anything “beyond” it, the transition will probably feel like dying. Only after you have fallen into the True Self, will you be able to say with the mystic Rumi, “What have I ever lost by dying?” [2] You have discovered true freedom and liberation. When you are connected to the Whole, you no longer need to protect or defend the part. You are now connected to something inexhaustible.

If you do not let go of your false self at the right time and in the right way, you remain stuck, trapped, and addicted. (The traditional word for that was sin.) Unfortunately, many people reach old age still entrenched in their egoic operating system. Only your True Self lives forever and is truly free in this world.

~Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 27-29, 36.



[1] Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche (New World Library: 2003), 84.

[2] Rumi, “Tell Me, What Have I Lost?” in The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations, trans. Robert Bly (Harper Perennial: 2005), 339.