The False Self – A Brief Reflection With Thomas Merton


We all do it.

We all hide some significant part of ourselves from strangers, from friends, and even from those with whom we share our lives. But sometimes, it feels as if we are hiding everything from everyone, doesn’t it?

At its root, it’s a natural, ingrained, and even a healthy instinct. Constantly feeling exposed, vulnerable, or weak could easily transform everyday life into an unbearable and unpredictable battle. Our weaknesses – our sins, if you will – would too publicly and too often condemn and paralyze us.

That’s no way to live.

And certainly no way to grow.

But taken to its natural extreme, the mask that we don can and often does accelerate into one huge deception. A deception that not only fakes out others, but also our very own selves.

But we already know this, don’t we?

We already know that we risk becoming that false person that we present to the world, instead of the genuine one that we are; or – with great openness, constant vulnerability, and mature reflection – were meant to become.

Social media has only enhanced this compulsion to show off our best self to the world. To be something more. To create an illusion of family happiness, personal confidence, and great eternal blessings – even as we push away tears of frustration and disappointment and anger and sadness from within.

Ultimately, we may well find that our lives have become not much more than a distorted reflection in someone else’s eyes.

That’s our false self.

That’s a self that leads to a place no one really knows or understands.

Thomas Merton put it, perhaps, more succinctly:

We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish most about ourselves—the ones we are born and raised with and which feed the roots of sin. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to maintaining and expanding this false self, this shadow, is what is called a life of sin.

We will, without doubt, fall short in this life (and, perhaps, the next), if we constantly devote our energy, our talent, and our time to this most wasteful pursuit.

I have no easy answers.

But certainly, I hope and pray that I can become more genuine, more open, more me – and less afraid of feeling vulnerable. Humility, prayer, and silence, I think, will be key if I am to be successful.


Copyright 2016, 2017

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