This is a lovely quote from the Sufi mystic Rumi that encapsulates the feeling of being trapped in one’s own false way of seeing ourselves, the world, and others.
So what do we hide from ourselves?
Sometimes we hide who we really are – our true self and cover this with a false pretend self. Perhaps we have had to do that partly as a way of protecting ourselves. As a baby and as a child we may have learnt to be compliant and fit in with other people’s expectations. We may have learnt to respond in a way that pleased a parent or that protected one parent from another, or that protected us from our parents. Then our true self becomes taken over by a false self. It becomes a pretend self so we always feel a little bit inauthentic – not quite genuine, not quite real, rather self-conscious.
Sometimes we have to hide our real feelings because they are too painful or something too terrible has happened to us. In these sorts of situations we may have been so overcome by fear or distress that part of us just disappeared – slid away to a safe place deep within us. Another part of us managed somehow to get through what was happening and then become a false apparently coping self.
Sometimes we gradually become a false pretend person as a way of dealing with constant undermining, feeling unloved, or criticism or being bullied or got at. Perhaps we become good then at laughing at ourselves, or hurting ourselves before someone else does. Perhaps we become used to being with people who hurt us and make us feel unhappy.
There are lots of reasons for our true self to go into hiding and lots of ways in which our false self takes over.
So why do we hide from each other?
Again lots of reasons, but if we’re expecting a certain response when we meet someone – perhaps we expect them to be critical of us or not to like us or even to hurt us – then we’re going to be a bit on guard putting our false pretend self forward. We take into all our relationships the lessons we learnt as children, and that can mean we don’t really meet each other face to face.
The other thing that happens when we meet each other is that we tend to quickly judge the other person – weigh them up. She or he looks like this or belongs to this or that group or this or that religion – they’re not like the pretend me therefore I don’t like them. We do it all the time. We don’t really see each other as we are and sometimes we do this almost without realising what is happening. Try it next time you meet someone new and see how quickly the prejudging thoughts come into your mind before either person has even spoken.
So why do we hide from a loving God?
Often we hide from the experience of a loving God because we feel bad about ourselves. We don’t feel that we’re loveable let alone likeable. We don’t like our selves so why would God? Perhaps we’re angry about what has happened to us – it’s all been so unfair, we can believe in a punishing severe God but why would we want to believe in a loving God after what has happened to us. Perhaps we’re ashamed or feel guilty. One young woman when asked about going to church replied with incredulity, ‘Why would I want to go to Church I feel bad enough about myself already’.
Sometimes we cannot imagine that there’s a loving God. The whole idea is so far from our life experience that it just can’t be possible. It’s again linked with this idea of the false self. Somewhere deep inside we don’t feel that we’re loveable and likeable because we don’t feel authentic.
So what’s to be done?
The answer is that we need to wake up and come out of hiding. Often we’re woken up to our true self by events. Something happens. A relationship ends, someone we’re close to dies, we have a baby, we become ill, or we lose a job. A gap or space opens up and we start to feel some of the things the false self has kept hidden and kept a lid on. Freud who was the founder of all counselling and psychotherapy wrote about ‘the return of the repressed’. What we’ve spent all those years keeping hidden have a force of its own and re emerges. This happened to me when I became a mother I found all sorts of childhood experiences that I’d more or less managed to keep at bay started to break through into my conscious awareness. That’s what forced me into therapy – and it took a long time to bring it all to the surface and sort out. But now I’m pleased I did it. One of the reasons is that it then made it easier to meet other people without constructing a lot of defences around myself and in time it also allowed me to accept the idea of a loving God.
So sometimes we can come out of the false prison self where we have been hiding through the help of another person. We need a trusting relationship where we dare to reveal our true needs.