For me, that last part meant several decades of plumbing the depths of my subconscious to uncover the false self-images I concocted as a child to protect myself in what I felt was a lonely, overwhelming and unsafe environment. And I was very good at it. Unfortunately, I think I also had help from some unknowing adults who added their own unwise directives into my innocent and wide-open mind.
Whatever the source of the negative information that was downloaded into my subconscious, I'm finally learning how to recognize and release these defensive and fake barriers so that I can fully live as the Real Me I was born to be.
I'm now able to respond fairly quickly when another layer of a false self-image is seeking my attention. When a life issue pops up that pushes my confidence buttons, I feel the familiar emotion and frustration that tells me here we are again, and it isn't to be ignored.
For example, I was recently introduced to the work of a young man who is on a similar spiritual path, is a highly successful author-writer-speaker, and about five decades younger than I am. I was delighted by his gifts, commitment and obvious success, and saluted him with an honest clarity that resonated with every fiber of my being.
When I thought about his wonderfulness the next morning, however, I was shocked and surprised to find that I had slipped back into an old habit of judging and comparing myself to others, and coming up with the short end of the stick. It seemed he was so much better than I am, at everything. This felt like a mini-emotional earthquake and once again I was a defenseless child, filled with self-doubt, sadness and shame.
I immediately took out my journal and asked for the truth in this situation, and waited. The answer indicated that once I could identify the cause and effect of this specific false self-image, I would realize it was no longer appropriate and consciously do what I was led to do to release it.
I was led to sit quietly, say a prayer and go within. I started the process with a mental and emotional walkabout through my childhood. I saw in my mind's eye that even though I was born into a large family, I felt alone, defenseless and helpless. It was an added benefit to be experiencing this as the highly-sensitive adult I am now. This made it easy to understand why as a highly-sensitive child I felt such a strong need to protect myself. Also, since discipline in my early life was often delivered with anger, I decided that in order to be accepted loved and secure, I would have to be not just super good but perfect. Bingo--my first major false self-image.
This insight really hit home because for the major part of my life I had struggled to be "perfect" in the opinion of others in hopes of receiving good in return. Of course I knew that being without fault isn't possible, but I honestly thought that aspiring to such a state wouldn't hurt anyone and was in some way admirable.
I made a major breakthrough when I learned the undesirable side effects that idealized self-images have on our relationship with ourselves, others and life in general. When we are not our true selves, we don't really know us, and neither does anyone else. This fakery blocks us from fully loving and accepting ourselves, loving others and accepting good into our lives. How could it be otherwise, when we don't allow our real selves to be known?
What also amazed me was that the defensive barriers and false self-images I set up as a child continued on automatic. While as an adult, I became better able to cope with the realities of life, my ego continued these false self-images as the blueprint for my reaction whenever certain buttons were pushed.
Even though I had gradually lost sight of my original decision to be perfect, I still sensed at a deep level that I wasn't good enough and I wouldn't be able to keep it a secret forever. This lifelong under-the-radar fear of being "out-ed" as a fraud instead of a paragon of humanity had ruled my existence. Because I couldn't take the risk of failure, of being found out, this false image determined the experiences and the level of success I would allow myself in every area of my life.
And this, my dear friends, is how these idealized and false self-images can and do affect our self-confidence, our relationship with ourselves, others and the amount of good we allow into our lives.
I pray that by sharing this insight from my life, others may resonate with a need to heal and release their own false self-images, and uncover their true identity. And if they do take on this life lesson, they will learn that the process includes forgiving themselves and any other individuals whose negative actions and words were embedded into their innocent minds.
For this, I use the forgiveness technique I learned from my friend and spiritual teacher, Irene Hunter, author of "The Miracle of Being the Real You." I freely and wholly forgive myself for any real or imagined wrong done by me to me, or to anyone else - past or present. I freely and wholly forgive anyone else for any real or imagined wrong done to me - past or present. I am free. They are free.
I also repeat a daily directed prayer to assist me in continuing to face, feel, heal and release any other idealized false self-images I still hold of myself: I am authentic and real at the core of my being. I radiate joy, love, peace, truth, and am open to receiving all the Good the world offers.
In freeing ourselves from false self-images, we become real and open to all of life's positive possibilities, and can live as our authentic selves. Whether we're consciously on a spiritual path or just trying to make it through our lives with as much good as we can allow, being able to love and accept ourselves as we truly are is the golden key to the most important door we will ever walk through.
Copyright 2013 by Fern Stewart Welch (Repeated by request.)
The author’s books: “Becoming a Spiritual Warrior of the Heart,” (April 2013); “Tea with Elisabeth,” recipient of the 2010 Silver Award for Non-fiction; “You Can Live A Balanced Life In An Unbalanced World,” (Nov. 2008); and “The Heart Knows the Way – How to Follow Your Heart to a Conscious Connection with the Divine Spirit Within,” (Feb. 2008) are available at Amazon.com, other online booksellers, as well as bookstore chains such as Barnes & Noble.