The false self is something we create in early childhood to get our attachment needs met. This false-self becomes a defense mechanism to guard against rejection, disapproval, triggers, hurts, and wounds that began during the early phases of our development.
If our authentic self was met with criticism, abuse, or contempt by our caregiver, we learn to ‘react appropriately’ to get our needs met. In other words, we learn that expressing our own authenticity is not safe. In a sense, we betray ourselves for the love and approval of our caregiver. This false persona helps us cope and even survive in our family of origin, but as we get older emotional problems will begin to develop. We will feel empty inside and often not understand why. We can experience anxiety and panic attacks as we try to determine how to act to gain the acceptance we want and need. We can develop addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex, money, and the approval of others to help with the shame we feel deep down. Because our authentic person was met with disapproval, this false self is our ‘security’ against the shame we feel. However, the constant denial of ourselves is what perpetuates the feelings of shame, fear, sadness, emptiness, anxiety and isolation.
Everyone has a bit of a false front they put forward to be liked and approved of. However, the more extreme the emotional abandonment, neglect or abuse early on, the more hidden our real self becomes. The coping patterns we develop later are based on the denial of our true self. In the case of co-dependency, we respond to the cues of others and seek their approval and validation. In the case of narcissism, we attempt to create a perfect all-powerful persona and project any bad feelings outward onto others to avoid feelings of shame.
These ‘inward’ and ‘outward’ projections are two of the common ways people cope with shame and emotional neglect. There are others who have a false self as well, but it is not necessarily based on an emotional need for validation or an avoidance of shame. For instance, a sociopath or psychopath may have many masks or fake personas. They will often use those to fit into society. Since they don’t experience emotions like the rest of us, they must learn the cues in order to function or appear ‘normal’. Or, in some cases they will put on a mask to manipulate others.