Sally Ann Miller

True Self Versus False Self

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Today’s episode is the second in the True Self Series. The series is about building a heart-centered business – one that feels true to you.

There’s a well-known story called The Tale Of The Two Wolves Inside You. It goes like this:

  • One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
  • “My dear one, the battle between two ‘wolves’ is inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.
  • The other is good. It is: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
  • The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
  • The old Cherokee replied, “The one you feed.”

In this episode, I explore the difference between the true and false self. Recognizing this difference allows you to choose which wolf you want to feed.

Do you want to create a business from joy and peace or from envy and ego?

What you’ll learn on today’s episode:

  • Why making business decisions from your ego creates shame and dissatisfaction.
  • The differences between the false self and true self.
  • How the true self will help you find more joy and peace in your business.

Featured on this episode:

Episode 19: The Problem With Today’s Success Culture

Get more information about my group program, Business Growth Lab, here:

Download the related workbook for this episode HERE


Welcome to Introverts Thriving in Business, the podcast for introverts who enjoy the comfort of her, hate the idea of selling, and want to create a thriving business on their terms. If you’re ready to go from overwhelmed and anxious, to feeling calm and accomplished in your business, then keep listening. I’m your host, Sally Miller.

Okay, welcome back to the podcast. So this week, I’m calling the true self versus the false self. This is actually the second in a special series I’m doing on the podcast, which I’m calling “The True Self” series, which is really all about building a heart based business, a business that feels good, that feels natural, that feels true to you. We kicked off last week on the podcast, with an episode about the problem with today’s success culture. And I really talked around how today’s success culture feeds into this idea of a false self and creates kind of a lot of false desires.

So we’re going to dive a lot more deeper into that idea today, not just about today’s success culture, really, we’re just going to get familiar with exactly what do I mean, when I say false self? And what do I mean by true self? It’s my goal through this series to do a few things. Firstly, I want to help resolve the tension that many of us feel—I know I do—between this idea of what we should be doing in our business, versus what it is our true self wishes for us. And then secondly, the more that we move towards our true self, what I know is that we experience a lot more peace, calm, joy in our businesses, and that’s what I want for all of us. So let’s just dig it.

What do I mean by the false self? So this is a term that’s used in psychology and in spirituality. There are multiple definitions out there, very loosely, it’s similar or the same as what people mean, when they talk about the ego or the ego self. One definition I found, which is a definition from psychology is, it’s the artificial persona, developed consciously or unconsciously? Now, that doesn’t really tell us a lot. So I am going to be going a lot deeper into this. But the idea is, it’s artificial, it is false, this isn’t really who you are. And it’s usually developed, for the most part, I would say unconsciously. Though, a lot of people these days consciously develop a false self, in order to reinvent themselves in the world. So it is something you can do consciously. But it’s putting on a mask, putting on an identity, that isn’t true to you.

And I want to just dwell a little bit, but I’m not going to go deep into this. I’m not a scientist or a psychologist or a therapist, but on the unconscious element of the false self. What we mean by that is, largely the ego or the false self, is formed in early childhood. It also is, I believe, and understand formed through genetics and human evolution. But for the most part, it’s something that we put on or develop, it’s a series of patterns and behaviors and identities that we develop through childhood, in short, in order to cope with the world.

Now, I do want to put one kind of caution or word or flag out there to say, I am not a psychologist and therapist, and this series is not about dismantling the false self. That is not something I want to attempt to do. Basically, I think therapy is the best place to do that, to explore how and why your false self exists. But it is helpful to see how we all have this concept of identity and identities. And it actually isn’t true. It isn’t real. It isn’t what you were born with as a baby necessarily.

So what this series about is it’s not about dismantling the false self, which may or may not be a good thing, but it’s something I don’t feel qualified to guide people on. What is it about? Well, it’s really about understanding the difference between the false self and true self, and gently moving towards the true self in our businesses, it’s making business decisions that align more with what our true self wishes for us, rather than our false self. I hope that makes sense.

So this isn’t about taking away your identity, taking away that false self, which does serve our purpose. It is useful. In many ways, we develop these identities, these false selves, these patterns, these ways to protect ourselves. So they are serving a purpose to some degree. It’s just about making decisions that move us more towards our true self. And as a process, as an outcome of doing that, finding a lot more calm and peace in our businesses to get away from this constant striving and dissatisfaction and pushing and basically pretending to be someone we are not.

And in order to do this, well, first, we need to be able to recognize within ourselves, the difference between false self and true self. And by the way, don’t try and apply this to other people. This is work you just want to do within yourself. Let other people be other people. So this episode is going to be just learning to discern that difference, becoming really familiar with, oh, that is coming from my false self, and that is becoming for my true self.

I do want to touch back on to the theme of last week’s episode, which was today’s success culture, because I think it’s also important to keep this front of mind, because although this false self was formed largely in childhood, and probably from other sources as well, it is reinforced by today’s culture, it just is. That’s just the world we live in, and there’s no point fighting it. If you don’t like it, maybe you do like it. But today’s culture does reinforce the false self. So I think it’s really important to be aware of how that works, so we can be on the lookout for it. Be vigilant, be aware.

So how does it do that? One thing is, we all want to fit it, we humans, we want to be part of the tribe, we want to be accepted. You know that feeling back when you were a middle schooler, or you were a young teenager, and you just wanted to fit in with the people around you, and you adopted different identities. We all go through these different phases of these different ways of dressing, these different ways of conforming to different groups that we wanted to fit in, there is a human desire to feel that. So whatever the culture is that surrounds you, you’re going to feel a pull towards it, even if that culture is false, even if that culture doesn’t align with who you are deep down.

So that’s the first reason that today’s culture sort of reinforces these false identities. Another way it does it, is the constant advertising and messaging that is deliberately put out there to increase your desire for stuff. We are a consumer society, we are taught non-stop to desire and consume and buy and be calm and be bigger. There is messaging all around us, whether we’re children, teenagers, adults, whatever stage of life you’re in, to desire things, more stuff, greater success, self-improvement, external recognition. And all this is a desire for something to boost this ego, this false self. It’s hard to get away from. So be aware of it, just accept it’s out there. I honestly don’t think trying to fight the system is the way forward, it’s certainly isn’t for me. It’s more to be aware of it and decide where you want to go and what you want to do with that awareness.

Another reason today’s culture kind of reinforces this, this false identity within us is, it keeps reminding us that we “should” put ourselves at the center of the universe. It’s all about me. The world we live in is all about building yourself up and looking towards what can make you more, what can make you have more, be more, right? It’s all about putting yourself as an individual at the center. There’s a really strong theme in the society we happen to be living in at the current time. Rather than focusing more on others community and all. Now I’m not saying that doesn’t exist. I’m just saying what is a dominant messaging in the society we live in? And all of this creates this kind of conflict between what we should be, what we should want, right? And then it also highlights the fact that very often we fall short. We’re not like the movie star or the image of the model with the perfect body or the highly successful persons in business, or we don’t yet have the six or the seven figure business.

And this constant comparison, whether it’s conscious or subconscious is kind of there in front of us, it’s creating this, “We should be there, and we’re not.” And then that creates a cycle of shame, which is just not helpful. So those are some of the reasons why. Just be aware, the kind of culture, the world that we live in today, is constantly reinforcing the false self. So if you’re not vigilant about this, then it’s just going to keep building and building and building.

And here’s what I see as the problem if you are building your business purely from the false self. Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying this is what I see as a problem. And if you also see as a problem, then this series is really important for you. So if you happen to be building a business, from the false self, all about round desire around what you want around achieving more money around achieving recognition, even around achieving impact. And it’s a little tricky one, I won’t go into that too much right now.

But if these will desires to boost, basically the ego, then typically what’s going to happen is you’re going to build a business that’s not fully aligned, is not fully heart centered, is not aligned with who you truly are underneath the layers of false identity. And people can tell. People pick up on that. It affects your marketing, it affects your sales. But the biggest reason of all, and I’ve said this before, but I’m going to keep saying it, is it leads to constant dissatisfaction.

No matter which milestone you achieve in your business, once you get there, there’ll be a temporary boost, a temporary feeling of having made it, and then there’s going to be more desire, there’s going to be desire for something more. It keeps us stuck in this constant state of dissatisfaction. And if we don’t achieve those goals, then it’s also going to keep us in a shame cycle, in this sort of idea of, we’re not good enough. And that’s not where any of us want to be. And that’s not a good place to be building a business from, in my opinion.

So I told you what the false self is. Now I’m going to give you a brief definition of true self. And I’m going to finish up by doing a comparison of both so this becomes really clear. So the true self, it’s lots of definitions out there. I did Google the term again, here’s an interesting one that comes from psychoanalytic theory, and it’s a bit of a mouthful. “It’s the total of an individual’s potentialities that could be developed under ideal social and cultural conditions.”

I pulled that definition out, because when I saw it, I couldn’t help but smile, because it matched up with last week’s episode when I was talking about the problem with today’s success culture. If you go along with this definition of true self, then the implication of this definition, is we can’t live in to our total potential as individuals, unless we have ideal conditions around this ideal social and cultural conditions. And I don’t believe those exist. So today’s culture is kind of playing against this idea of true self.

So that’s an interesting one. But it’s also a little hard to get your head around that definition. So here’s how I like to think about the true self. I simply call it “the quiet voice.” You’ve even heard me mention it on multiple episodes on this podcast, when I’ve said things like, what does that quiet voice inside you truly want you to do? What does that voice think is the best next step in your business? Not the noise, not the external voices, but that quiet internal voice. And like I said, the only way I can think to really show you the difference between true self and false self—and this, listen, this for me is work in progress. Trying to tune in more and more to my true self is difficult, and it’ll be difficult for you as well, I’m sure. But like I said, I think the best way is for me to go through a side by side comparison of true self versus false self. And I think that’s going to make this so much clearer this concept.

So here goes: the true self is heart centered, whereas the false self is ego centered. The true self is joyful and loving, whereas the false self is fearful. The true self is quiet and peaceful, whereas the false self is noisy and disruptive. The true self is in the present. The false self is in the past and the future. I’ll pause there and tell you what I mean by that. To really tap into your true self, you need to be quiet and fully present. What the false self or the ego wants to do all the time is either hold on to the past. It could be a good thing in the past, you’ve built your identity up from, or it could be a negative thing that’s happened, that’s creating shame or bad emotions, you just can’t let them go. Or the false self also wants to grab hold of the future, and just always imagine into the future and be living into the future but not being present.

The true self is always present, the false self is always in the past or the future. The true self is acceptance. It’s all about accepting yourself and others and circumstances. It’s about accepting everything as is. The false self is judging of self and others, and circumstances. The true self is patient and grateful. The false self is desiring, striving, that idea of wanting more and wanting it now. The true self is truth—it says it in the name. Whereas the false self is actually illusion or distortion. It can be just distortion of the truth or complete fabrication, complete illusion. The true self is just what is, so that’s truth, just what is. Whereas the false self is created by the mind, created by your thoughts and feelings.

The true self is ordered; false self is disordered. The true self is simple, and actually humble. Whereas the false self tends to be dramatic, opinionated, egotistical. The true self is open and welcoming. The false self tends to be closed or defensive, because if you think about it, the false self is something very often that we’ve created to protect ourselves in early childhood. And I’ll pause here, I’m nearly to the end of the list. But the false self isn’t all of these things at all times, these are ways the false self shows up. And the same is true for the true self.

The true self is undemanding, the false self is demanding, noisy, loud, dramatic. The true self is alive and whole. The false self is hiding and fragile. Now, what I mean by that is, the false self is easily broken, cracks appear in the false self very quickly. And the false self, you’re always constantly trying to build up again, because it’s kind of crumbling, it’s kind of dying. The focus of your true self is compassion. It’s basically not self-focused. Whereas the focus of ego is all about justifying self, self-protecting.

If I were to characterize the two, another way I look at it is the true self is characterized by complete acceptance. Whereas the false self is characterized by either attachment, or resistance. This is similar to the point I made earlier about the past and being attached to the past and holding on to things or resisting what is, or being attached to having something in the future. That one shows up a lot in business, is a lot of attachment over signing clients, making money. That is all coming from the false self.

And again, zero judgment here. I have to say this again. I don’t want to label them black and white, good and bad. We are human. And all humans have learned to survive in this world by developing identities. And that is all I’m calling the false self. But just because this is the case, it does not mean we have to ignore the true self, we can still listen to our true selves, and move in that direction and all areas of our lives for that matter, not just our business.

Now, before I finish this podcast, I wanted to share something. You may have well have heard this before, but it beautifully summarizes this concept, and it’s called the tale of the two worlds inside you. There are different sources of this tale and it comes in different words, but I’m going to read a very short version of it that is commonly shared, and it goes like this:

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. “My dear one, the battle between two ‘wolves’ is inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good. It is: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee replied, “The one you feed.”

Now, this has been told many times, but it’s such a simple story, and it resonates. I think the reason this tale is so popular and it’s reproduced on the internet all the time, is it resonates so deeply with every human being, I believe we’re all aware of these two wolves inside us all, is what I’ve been mentioning through this series about feeling these two polar magnets, pulling me in two directions in my business. And I can constantly feel these two forces on me, and it’s always this idea of which should I listen to? The two wolves are just the same as what I’m calling the true self, and the false self.

And if we feed the true self, if we feed the so-called “good wolf” in this tale, then that is the one that wins. That is the one that comes through and creates more of the experience we have in this world: more joy, more peace, more love, more hope, more truth, more compassion. So that’s the lesson for today, it’s all about building a business, not from what your ego wants, your false self wants, which is what most of us do, me included, but from what your true self wants.

If you’d like to explore this further, I’m going to offer you a very quick exercise that you can do on your own. As always, with me, this is a journaling exercise. So after this podcast, if you’ve finished listening, you can grab your journal and just answer your two questions. And please do this without judgment. This isn’t about judging yourself, it’s about gaining awareness, and then deciding what you want to do with that awareness.

So question number one is this: What are all the reasons why you want to build a business? And then another way of putting that is what is your why? That is a question we all get asked so often in your business, what is your why? What is the reason you are doing this? And then question number two is, once you’ve listed out those reasons, and do a good long list, be really honest with yourself. Put down all those reasons that you may say to your friend, you may not say to your friend, you may want to admit out loud, this is just for you. This is between you and your journal. Put down a long list of reasons.

And then question number two, is look at each of those reasons and answer this, which of these do you think are coming from your ego, or your false self, and which are coming from your true self? Because I want to bet there’s going to be a mix of both inside there. And then what we’re going to do next week is we’re going to continue in this series about the true self and building a heart based business. And we’re going to really dive into how practically can you recognize the thoughts, desires, the ideas that are coming from your true versus your false self.

So I’m going to give you some tools and some techniques so you can really tune in and start developing even more awareness around listening to that quiet voice and discerning when something’s coming from that place, versus when it’s coming for yourself stuff. Okay, I’ll see you next week.

If you’re ready to thrive in business, I want to invite you to join Business Growth Lab. This is my group program where I teach you the exact process I and my students have used to grow profitable businesses we love. When you join the lab, you get lifetime access to everything you need to grow a six-figure business, the training, expert coaching, accountability, and community. The approach we take is scientific. We don’t dabble in business, and we don’t waste time. You’ll create your business on a solid foundation, using proven methods. To join, go to We’ll see you inside.


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