The False Self

samuel-zeller-336980-unsplashUnless you’re one of the few friends or family members who know the connection between the real me and this page, you most likely don’t know who I truly am. That is by intention, that is by design. I hide behind the mask of a multitude of interconnected devices where information travels at the speed of light. I maintain this facade for two primary reasons: I have a day job where I’m a known and respected leader of others. More critically, I have several family members who have no idea of the stories I share, the stories I simply must give birth to when I can’t hold the truth in any longer, and who would be shocked to find out the fingers pecking at this keyboard belong to me. If they knew the true me behind this mask, they’d surely brand me as worse than the Devil himself. I’m drawing much closer to the day when the infinitesimally small part of me that still cares if there’s even the slimmest of threads connecting myself to those who shun me is going to relent.

Which further exacerbates the problem that continues to nag at me like sand flies on a hot summer beach.

I have a strong desire to be needed. I’ve learned to obtain significant boosts of dopamine from praise for my writing or the endless likes and positive comments on my social media posts. Unfortunately, but purposefully, this attention is being provided to my alter ego, to the persona who wishes to please and serve others. At an early stage in my development, I experienced parents and parental figures who proved to be wildly unpredictable, and at times abusive both physically and mentally. The suffering often washed over me and drowned me, yet I found a path to survival by creating a personality that appeared to have it all together. My teachers, my few friends, and those in my place of worship, knew little if anything about what I endured at home. By the age of nine,  I fancied myself friends with the superheroes of the day, and then ultimately became one in my own right, The Everything Kid, which turned into the Halloween costume I never wore, a story for another day.

The Everything Kid stuck with me, and through the years I became this impressive child, then young adult, and finally a full fledged adult who for all outward appearances seemed to have it all together. Those around me admired this “whiz kid,” as I was often called, buzzing about his tasks with a deftness typical of someone much older or more highly experienced. I could, and would, adopt any costume as my own, like a chameleon who blends in with his surroundings to avoid becoming prey. I studied others intensely, watched their mannerisms closely, and took bits and pieces from everyone along the way in creating and recreating my superhuman, yet supremely false self.

I became so miserably good at fooling others. But I fooled myself as well.

I woke up somewhere in my mid-forties. My soon to be third wife came into my life and pushed a large mirror up to my face. That is what the best partners and bosses do; they allow individuals to see their true reflection in the glorious and hideous bright light of day. They see through your contrived, outward appearance. For some, the mirror may serve as a life-altering day of reckoning, while for others it serves as a welcome and pleasurable relief. Granted, the cognitive therapy I’d participated in for much of the seven years prior to meeting her had already paved the way. It was after I’d fully understood how my parents manipulated me for their own interests that I was ready to do the much harder work of moving myself in alignment with my authentic, true self.

By no means is this work done. I’m not yet ready for the big reveal, for the merger of my two personas, or for the joy of casting aside my superhero costume for the last time. I’m still trying to figure out what the combined selves will look like. Perhaps I should just let the chips fall?  That wouldn’t be like me at all. I’ve mastered the art of being guarded. I need to maintain control over the process. Perhaps this too is something I’ll learn to let go of. I know my weaknesses, but I also know that rushing toward a conclusion doesn’t always provide for the best outcomes. I’ve been down that road countless times.

For further information, please read “How the False Self Gets Created,” on Barry and Janae Weinhold’s interesting site, “Resources for Creating an Authentic Life,” found at

The Twisted Path to the Summit

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_428.jpgAs a former avid hiker, I can attest to the experience of working to get to the top of a mountain. The trail to the summit is never a straight line, nor a constant steady climb. At times you ascend, but almost as often you may find yourself descending, sometimes for so long that you believe you’re going the wrong way. Only when you see the familiar trail marker on a nearby tree ahead of you do you receive the reassurance that you’re still on the right track. As your twisted trail zigzags along the mountainside, dozens of switchbacks propel you onward, while sharp, thorny bushes and tree limbs smack you mercilessly in the face. Deep in the woods, still hundreds of feet from the summit, you don’t even realize how close to the top you are.

Life can often mirror such a journey. Often we feel we’re off track, off the path, unsure if we’re climbing or descending. We wonder if what we’re doing and where we are right now is where we’re supposed to be. Confusion sets in. We don’t recognize where we are and we may feel uneasy, or worse, terrified. We may say we’ve “lost our way” and become highly emotional about our situation, perhaps even depressed. By not realizing that our present situation is only a temporary leg of the journey, we may decide to give up and turn back, not realizing how close we may have been to something truly amazing. Like a climb to a mountain’s summit, life is a process, and like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two paths are alike. It’s best to refrain from beating yourself up. Keep moving forward. Understand that where you are now is just part of your own journey toward your own mountaintop and you may be closer than you realize. Enjoy the climb.

The Water Below

IMG-0686If we’ve ever lived in homes dependent upon well water, we’re quite aware of the importance of the aquifer, the permeable rock which lays below ground, unseen and invisible, and which  holds the key to existence above the several layers of soil that serve to hide it. Ideally, the aquifer never runs dry, and continues to faithfully and dependently serve fresh, cool waters on demand. While we can’t control the flow of the water below, we can control its flow at the surface, turning it off and on at several junctures along the line.

Our emotions flow freely in much the same fashion as water through the aquifer, although for some, the water isn’t pristine or toxin free. To make matters more troublesome, our emotional “plumbing” may not function as we wish it would, allowing impure and polluted “water” to surface at times in our lives, especially when we are ill-prepared to deal with it. As for me, I always feel the presence of the water flowing underground, and am keenly aware of that which has tainted it. Instead of finding a way to purify it, I continue to let it flow unabated, while doing my best to keep it from flowing at the surface. The energy required to accomplish this can be draining, even exhausting. I remain puzzled at times, unsure if my focus should be on cleaning the water or preventing it from flowing, at times unable to do either well. This may be my life’s work, and I am at peace with that thought.

In the worst of times, I feel imprisoned by the idea of what I have to feel, as allowing myself to feel completely is akin to letting toxic waters flow freely where others can see. I question what I’m afraid of; am I afraid others will see who I really am, and all that I’ve endured? And then what? Will they be afraid of drawing close to me? Then there is the consideration of my professional life. Who I’m expected to be and who I’m known to be. The real me lies just beneath the surface, in those troubled waters I so valiantly struggle to hold back with valves and faucets that are in part damaged or worn out.

I’ve seen and read numerous stories of alcoholics and drug addicts and know what we have in common. We’re searching for something to help us escape the prison of pain that we feel. We at times drown in our own poisonous emotions. Or we may believe we’re strong and beyond the reach of the past we haven’t fully dealt with. Regardless of the lies we may tell ourselves, we desire to be soothed. The drink or the drug cradles us and tells us it will be okay, and whatever love we’ve missed out on as children is replaced by the comfort of addiction, of knowing the bottle will still be on the shelf when we get home or the pills will still be in the drawer the next time we open it. What love we never received as children may cause us to deny our adult selves the love we richly deserve. Round and round we go if we don’t consciously choose to jump off the carousel.

I didn’t write this to make the reader feel bad or to make me feel better. How we respond to what has happened in our lives is up to us. We can seek to purify the water below or let it run its course. If what I’ve written makes you think more clearly about your own circumstances than I’ve done nothing more than hold a mirror up to you. May that same mirror be one you reflect on as you strive to become the best version of yourself.

The Difference

beltIt’s been more years than I care to remember since I found myself on the wrong end of my father’s back hand or the crisp sting of his leather belt. There are no scars anywhere on my body to mark the times he made me bleed. The physical wounds healed quickly. The other wounds, the true wounds whose marks have remained indelible for all the years since, these are the ones that haunt me still, the ones that still manifest today in the decisions and choices I make. I like to think I’ve recovered but the solution isn’t so simple.

In the past two years, I found myself in an abusive situation at work. But why not? My core belief is that work, like anything else, should be painful. If I wasn’t giving blood, if I wasn’t sacrificing who I was in exchange for my paycheck, then that would be too easy. No, to give everything when it wasn’t nearly enough, to be belittled and scolded in front of my peers, that meant I was accomplishing something. So I took it “like a man” as my father would say to my adolescent self over and over again, as they mentally whipped me and humiliated me over and over. The abuse gave me a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. “They can’t break me” became my soul’s mantra. I scoffed at the idea that I should leave my toxic work environment. Why? Why would I allow them to win? If I left it would just mean I wasn’t up to the challenge, I wasn’t “man enough.” I saw my father laughing in what should have been my corner.

I stayed far too long at this job. I worked 60 to 65 hours per week. I ignored my family every weekend while I sat hunched over a laptop for hours at a time. Yet it WAS NOT ENOUGH. The harder I worked the greater the abuse became. And I received no positive reinforcement or coaching which would help me succeed. All I was ever told is what I was doing wrong. Words like “inadequate” and “failure” were used in conversation with me on a weekly basis. The more they threw at me the firmer my resolve became. They would not break me!!

I finally left this environment when a better offer with an entirely different work culture presented itself. It’s eerie now; I feel “more than enough” for my new employer, and am told on a daily basis what positive contributions I am providing. I AM THE SAME PERSON. How could this be? I am puzzled that an employer could heap such abuse upon its employees. I am puzzled further about what is going on inside me that would allow me to continue so long in a place I didn’t belong.

The answer is I have always been afraid to stand up for myself. Whether it was the fear of my father’s words or physical punishment, I believed that if I stood up for myself it would just worsen the level of punishment. At some point I learned to manage my actions and reactions in an effort to avoid being abused, OR accept that I was somehow deserving of the abuse. In my adult life I haven’t acted much differently in my relationships with romantic partners and employers. However, I recognize what I’ve been doing and know it is time to break the chain.

To change who I am, to really change how I see the world and my reactions to it, has been an effort that has taken years. I’m still a work in progress. I can tell you that it is never to late to advocate for yourself. I’ve long envied those who could and I understand the internal hurdles which I must navigate. I know now that fear of other’s reactions has made the difference between my path in life and those of others. I’m committed to learn from my past as I make a pact with myself to never go down the same road twice. As I cannot relive my past or undo anything that’s been done, that’s really all any of us can ever do when faced with the lessons of our past.


Fear of Failure

bare feet boy child couch
Photo by Pixabay on

There are well over 500 documented phobias, or irrational fears, that can affect individuals at any given time. Some are merely temporary, while others can be life long. Certain phobias are so severe that individuals may take heavy doses of medication to maintain some level of “normal” function, while some simply prevent them from having household pets. A fear that isn’t frequently discussed as a phobia, but is named as one, is atychiphobia, or “fear of failure.” As it turns out, I’m more than a little familiar with this fear, and have dealt with for most of my life.

As a child, I learned early on what it meant to disappoint my father. His stern, judgmental, and religious orientated parenting methods often left me feeling like I couldn’t do anything right. As the offspring of a devout Jehovah’s Witness, I was taught to strictly observe their customs and beliefs, such as Do NOT celebrate Birthdays, do NOT salute the flag, do NOT have “wordly” (non-Jehovah’s Witness friends). I silently watched other children socialize with each other and enjoy these forbidden celebrations at school, while I either sat in the corner of the classroom, or worse, out in the hallway at a lonely desk all to myself, where for all it was worth I may have just as well been hanging on a cross in front of the school. I wanted so badly to be a member of the group, but feared letting my father down (as well as the fearsome Jehovah God, who watched my EVERY move, EVERY second of the day).

Because I felt so strongly inside that I needed to obey both my father’s and Jehovah’s commands, yet at the same time wanted to fit in, I carried around feelings of tremendous guilt and conflict. On the rare occasion that I’d sneak to some other kid’s house and have a piece of birthday cake, I’d later feel shameful about my actions, and deeply fearful of my father finding out. Unfortunately, it wasn’t only fear of not following my father’s wishes that undermined my healthy emotional growth. He was deeply critical of every move I made. He was constantly following me around, asking me why I did things a certain way. Why did I leave a dish in the sink. Why did I not shut a door. Why did I leave a toilet seat up. On and on. Sometimes he’d remark on something I’d done and call me an “idiot.” I believed I wasn’t ever good enough for him, and felt I couldn’t do anything right.

It was extraordinarily difficult to manage my feelings of frustration and anger. I had no outlet for such emotions; my father certainly wouldn’t hear of it, and I feared his belt if I said too much. Then my parents separated and divorced, and it quickly became a matter of either pleasing my father OR my mother, as my father remained a Jehovah’s Witness, while my mother left the religion and sought to indulge my sister and I in the world my father fought so hard to keep us out of. She celebrated every Holiday, while my father chastised me for participating in these celebrations, going so far as to say I would “die at Armageddon” -the day when Jehovah was going to destroy all those who refused to do his will. It became painfully obvious I couldn’t do anything that was ever going to make BOTH my parents happy at the SAME time. It’s no wonder that by the age of ten I had invented my own superhero-The Everything Kid-who was able to do anything or be anything. As The Everything Kid, I could be well liked, I was perfect (made no mistakes), and was “super human.”

Well how did I turn out? I stayed in my Everything Kid costume for much of my adult life. Easily fulfilling “people-pleasing” roles, I consistently put the happiness of others before my own. I made hasty, and poor decisions. I was constantly anxious and in a rush, often saying to myself “I should be X (fill in the blanks) by now.” My main goal was to prove my value, my worth, and that I could be the “best” at whatever it was I was doing. Anything less than that was failure. Not only was I afraid of failing at something, I was afraid that others would think I was a failure, even if I was successful, as surely they could see through to the real me. I sought out the external rewards and praise that I didn’t get from either of my parents. I’d do anything if it meant validation and something to give me a sense of self-worth, even if that meant settling with partners I was ill-suited for or staying in jobs I was over-qualified for.

Fairly often, I found myself in impossible situations in my home and work life, as well as numerous financial crises. I’d stick with whatever I was doing though, even if it wasn’t the path that made the most sense to outside observers, to show I was capable of overcoming anything. One of my favorite sayings was “throw me in a tank full of piranhas for an hour and I’ll be the only one left.” But alas, staying in tough situations too long caused me to lose time, money and chances at healthy relationships.

I’m sure many of us lived with highly critical or unsupportive parents who sought to undermine us or humiliate us at every turn. What I’ve found is that our parents’ voices become our voices, as the negative thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves persist. This pervasive inner voice can lead to the following:

  • Self-Sabotage: We endure such high levels of anxiety or fear of failure that we become frozen, like deer in the headlights, and aren’t able to complete the tasks in front of us, or don’t do them well.
  • Low Self-Esteem: Our self-confidence ebbs or is at times non-existent. We feel we aren’t “good enough” or “smart enough” for partners or jobs and so “settle” for less than we are suitable for.
  • Perfectionism: We fear failing so deeply that we only attempt or try to do things we are able to do perfectly. We won’t engage in the tougher challenges, or take the risks that are associated with greater rewards.

Not silencing this critical voice within can often lead us to approach life’s challenges by “playing not to lose” instead of “playing to win.” We may become motivated to avoid any chance of failure, so as to avoid any feelings of disappointment, loss or frustration. That would be unfortunate, as failing can actually teach us lessons we can take with us when it’s time to meet the next challenge. I know it is easier said then done, but we can choose to be afraid or we can choose to not be afraid. If you’ve lived your whole life with a fear of failure then it’s time you owned up to it and did something about it. Start by finding a good cognitive therapist. It will be a process that may take years, but once you move from Fear of Failure to Freedom from Fear, you’ll know it was all worth it.

For more on this topic, please read this excellent post by Guy Winch, PhD: “10 Signs That You Might Have Fear of Failure…and 2 ways to overcome it and succeed.”


Deep In The Woods

forest during dawn
Photo by Anton Atanasov on

I’m much too far from home. In too deep to turn back. Unable to find the exit or the clear path forward. Forced to make choices now that I don’t want to make, because I made choices carelessly so long ago.


There is no safety net. There is no one to take me in. I’m on my own. If there was any kind of God watching, he or she left me to my own devices somewhere along the way. I didn’t notice.


I want to give in, give up, give out-but I have nothing left to give. I continue in spite of myself. I don’t even care what path I’m on as long as it is a path and I’m not subjected to the torture of well-hidden rocks and switchbacks. I. Am. All. Alone. It feels good and it hurts all at the same time. There is no pressure now other than what I put upon myself. BUT! I am a motherfucker and I can torture and punish like no one else.

I know better. I have meditated. But the deeper I go inside the more questions I’m driven to ask. Who made me? Can I be unmade? Can the unsettled be quieted? I need a moment of peace. Can I unlearn patterns learned and deeply embedded? Can I re-imagine my approach and change my course?

I walk faster, sun setting, pulse racing, palms sweating. Tightened breath coming in heaving gasps. When the sun has been vanquished I see nothing. I know my hands are in front of my face yet I can’t see them. I can only feel. I feel deeply. That is my curse, that is my gift. No one sees what I feel. No one feels what I see.

There are new sounds all around me. Things that crave the darkness and mock my presence. I’m no longer afraid. Let them take me. I don’t care at all. I’m beyond being afraid of death. This is not what scares me. What scares me is the world moving forward without me. I want to be remembered. I don’t want to be forgotten.

I see a sliver of moonlight through the trees. I make out a bat fluttering above. This is good, I can define shapes once again. I’ve moved from pitch blackness to shadows and stars. There are so many. There is a rock moving around one of those stars, and surely as that rock orbits that foreign sun, there is another like me, at once both lost and at home, deep in the woods.

And I take comfort in this.

Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow

avian-1853120_1920While visiting with a relative last month, we spotted a tiny baby rabbit eating grass in the wide open meadow behind the relative’s home. Naturally, we were enthralled with the peaceful sight of this young creature blissfully eating its time away on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and couldn’t fathom anything that would interrupt its routine. Every few minutes or so, we’d glance out the window and continue to observe this little bunny going about the business of sustaining itself, all the while mentioning how cute it was, and how lucky our relative was to have such great views of wildlife from her window.

After a while, our conversation deepened and we stopped looking out the window. At some point, I got up to use the restroom, and on my way back, went to look out the window again. This time what grabbed my attention was the giant red tailed hawk standing proudly in the meadow. It would take my brain about ten seconds to make the connection and register what had happened. In a stunning example of the circle of life, the hawk was now enjoying a meal in the meadow–the rabbit was no more.

After the reality of it set in, I asked many questions to myself. In the moment the hawk came down from its likely perch in the treetops at the edge of the meadow, did the rabbit have any idea of its eminent doom? When in fact the hawk’s talons sunk deeply into the supple flesh of the rabbit’s back, did it know that the end of it’s life was near? As the end did come, did it struggle out of a sense of loss of the life it enjoyed, or was it only some primitive, programmed mechanism that caused it to fight against the hawk until it could fight no more?

This rabbit was likely much too young to understand the danger the hawk represented. Perhaps rabbits much older and wiser had witnessed their kin getting carried away by some bird of prey, and equated such birds with danger. I realized that most of the other rabbits in the neighborhood, especially the larger ones, were more likely to be found under bushes or at the edge of the border between forest and grass than out in the open.

In our own lives as humans, there is a healthy fear that motivates us to desire to protect ourselves and those we love. From experience or other ways of learning, we’ve come to know the various threats to our existence. Unlike rabbits and other life forms, we tend to dwell on those threats, and often allow our concern for them to overshadow our enjoyment of our daily routine. Certainly for those diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, like myself, we may see “hawks” wherever we go, imagining one is coming to devour us at any time. This fear can manifest itself in more severe forms of anxiety, such as panic attacks and severe physical ailments. I’ve been there on numerous occasions.

On the ride back from our relative’s home, I discussed with my wife how as humans we are almost “afflicted” with an ability to concern ourselves with suffering or even the idea that we may suffer. This whole notion of the anticipation of suffering, I believe, can get in the way of truly living a full life. Especially when we’ve survived terrible conditions, we know something bad can happen, and so may take necessary and logical precautions to ensure our own survival, but when we get to the point that we consistently believe something bad will happen, we lose perspective and the ability to make good decisions.

I don’t believe the rabbit had any way of anticipating the suffering it would briefly endure at the claws of the hawk. While it likely fought for its own survival, and the process of dying was physically painful, its not likely that it experienced any emotional pain brought on by thoughts of leaving the world it had known. In the end, it was able to fully let go, as it had no attachments to painful thoughts about what its end meant.

I’ve tried to reflect on what I witnessed that day, and apply the lesson in my own life. I need to learn to respond differently to events that trigger the “fight or flight” response in me, such as when my boss unexpectedly calls me into his office for a meeting, with my expecting to be relieved of my job. Or worrying about being unable to pay a bill on time. If I could learn to be like the rabbit, and let go of my attachment to the anticipation of suffering and the painful thoughts that accompany this anticipation, I’d likely have less physical symptoms such as stomach upset, tossing and turning at night, and rapid heart rate.

For now, I accept I have much work to do. When captivated by fear, I know I need to step back and consider what it is I am fearful of and why I am fearful of it. It’s not easy, and I still occasionally experience anxiety at a fever pitch. I’ve learned to forgive myself for feeling this way, knowing that the trauma I endured as a child has interfered with my emotional response in my adult life. I will continue to work toward full acceptance of the impermanence of life and the idea that whatever I am enjoying at the moment, whether it is my job, my home, or even my life, is subject to coming to an end at any time. Through a practice of acceptance of the ever changing nature of life perhaps I can come to a place where I live without anxiety, and fully live in the present. That is my goal.

Thank you little rabbit, and thank you proud hawk. Like so many things that cross our path each day, you both served to teach me a valuable lesson. May we all understand and learn from the lessons that life teaches us each day.