The False Self is an artificial persona that people create very early in life to protect themselves from re-experiencing developmental trauma, shock and stress in close relationships. This False or “public” Self appears polite and well-mannered, and puts on a “show of being real.” Internally, they feel empty, dead or “phoney,” unable to be spontaneous and alive, and to show their True Self in any part of their lives.

The Codependent False Self

Children create a False Self because they do not have enough emotional and social support to become emotionally and psychologically separate from their parents. This adapted Self can be either deflated and co-dependent or inflated and counter-dependent.

The False Self
The codependent, deflated False Self is designed to please parents and maintain their conditional love. The counter-dependent inflated is designed to protect children from feeling their unmet dependency needs by maintaining distance between themselves and their parents. Unfortunately, the True Selfwhich operates from a sense of integrity, personal authenticity and connection to wholenessgets sacrificed in both adaptive processes.

The deflated co-dependent False Self is a protective defense that helps children sustain their need for comforting intimacy and attunement with their mother, and to prolong the feelings of safety associated with the codependent stage of development. This co-dependent behavior also keeps people feeling weak and vulnerable, with strong needs to attach to others who seem stronger and more capable.

The Counterdependent False Self

The inflated counter-dependent False Self helps children block feelings of shame about being loved conditionally and from falling into states of developmental shock and trauma related to experiences involving abandonment and abuse. Those who use this defense typically act strong and capable, even though they do not feel that way inside.

Unfortunately children’s adaptation to their parents needs for them to adapt to lack of emotionally availability also forces them to abandon their inner urge to develop a separate True Self.

As a result, they are likely to grow up recreating these same kind of self-limiting codependent and counter-dependent relationships in their adult lives. They continue to monitor and modulate the expression of their authentic ideas, feelings, and behaviors to make sure they do not threaten the conditional love from those closest to them.

The False Self & Attachment Trauma

The defense mechanisms that children learn during their separation stage of development form the foundation for attachment disorders in early childhood, and can grow into serious personality disorders as people age. Defiant and oppositional behavior that persists beyond the age of 3, for example, indicates that the unrecognized and unhealed effects of developmental shock, trauma, and stress are being hard-wired into children’s brains and personality structures.

A premature separation from the mother during the bonding stage of development because of abandonment or abuse also lays the foundation for addictions that support counterdependent behaviors. Once toddlers begin developing language, they learn to use the fight response to disengage during a trauma to try to protect themselves. They learn to distance themselves from intimacy and closeness by adopting an Im okay and youre not okay stance.

Toddlers & the False Self

Toddlers may develop a whole array of upper defenses that not only help maintain this separateness, but also support the inflated False Self. These upper addictions also help children feel safe by avoiding events and emotions that might trigger traumatic memories related to premature separation.

As the defense system against the need for emotional intimacy solidify over a person’s lifetime, they can turn into a full-blown narcissistic personality. The massive number of narcissistically defended adults, particularly in the US, has become a global problem.

Because so many people did not experience healthy narcissism and go through the developmental process of ego reduction, they still act like entitled, grandiose, euphoric, and omnipotent 2- and 3-year-olds. Adult temper tantrums get played out through child abuse, domestic violence, religious and ethnic wars, and a full range of other protective and revenge-seeking behaviors.

Addictions & The False Self

Furthermore, the addictions associated with separation trauma–upper drugs, work, quick sex, traveling, and over-consuming–serve as inadequate and unsatisfying substitutes for the deep emotional connection and the experience of union with the Divine that people missed with their mother. Unfortunately, it often takes people a long time to discover that unresolved developmental trauma is the cause of many of their problems.

Breaking Free of the False Self

The physical and psychological armoring characteristics of narcissism and other avoidant defense mechanisms can eventually become a prison. Initially created as protective mechanisms, they can become so wired into the brain and personality structures that they require a dramatic, life-altering event to break through them.

These “cosmic two-by-four” events not only shatter the defense system, they often trigger the very early and very dissociated memories that initially caused the individual to build an inflated counterdependent False Self. These wake-up calls shatter the False Self and drop the person into the Black Hole, a place where people feel shattered, alone and in despair.

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5 Responses to How the False Self Gets Created

  1. Anon says:

    This is such a great post. Thank you. It’s clear and easy to read and very helpful.
    Currently recovering from the “cosmic two-by-four” event that shattered the flase self and threw me into that black hole…

  2. Astral says:

    Occasionally one comes across a sympathetic account of how self disorder can be set up in early years. I think this is one.
    Don’t put up with narcissistic abuse! But pathological “narcissism” is about lack of self(-esteem) and loss of self.
    You end with a person who is shattered and in despair when their “false self” collapses. There’s nothing underneath it! What chance for an adult to recover a self from the fragments that were not supported aged one, two, three years (depressed parts, grandiose parts)? There are huge gaps in the self which a”false self” papered over. Now they are present to consciousness. What then?

  3. D says:

    In the Black Hole, so afraid that I could die anytime, or those I love could. I know anyone could, someone died during this very comment. Scary, fear of annihilation. Doing much research, now know that this is basic, real, primitive fear. So I call it the forced self is stripped away, and in day to day functioning, I’m aware of moments when I behave in that forced nice, polite, perfect way. As soon as possible, I stop, no more layers of candy coated shellac. A lot of times, then, I just don’t know what to do with my me muscle being so weak, so, I don’t do anything. Mostly feel lost and unsure.

  4. Tariq says:

    Very interesting article. Thanks for posting.

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