This episode wraps up our mini-series with Dr. Dean Robb all about Next Stage Recovery, and the topic today is the final step in recovery called Individuation and Relinquishing the False Self. Unfortunately, a lot of people, if not most people, never fully complete this stage of recovery. It involves completely “taking off the mask”, removing all the barriers holding you back, and operating in total alignment with who you are (think self-actualization).
Here’s the interview:
Q&A with Dr. Robb
Question: Can you give us a refresher on the false self and where it comes from?
In a nutshell, the false self is an adaption that helped us to survive in atmosphere’s growing up that were highly dysfunctional, abusive, traumatic, or all three. Basically, in a healthy, loving environment, when we’re children, our parents or caregivers affirm who we are. They help us discover who we really are, they love and affirm who we really are, and they mirror back to us who we really are because we really don’t know who we are when we’re first born. If they’re healthy and loving, our parents help us discover and affirm that, and help us develop lives that are in accordance with who we really are, so we can grow up and have a healthy, fulfilling life.
But unfortunately, that is not what happens in an unhealthy, dysfunctional, abusive, traumatic environment, our parents are unable to do that. They themselves are emotionally damaged. Sometimes they are emotionally children, and they are unable to love us as we are, or mirror back to us who we are. Strangely, instead of them taking care of us, the reverse happens; they need us as children to take care of them, emotionally. They need us to become what they need us to be so that they feel secure and safe. And so, we become who they need us to be.
For instance, my father could not tolerate me having a difference of opinion with him about anything, and I mean anything; like “what’s your favorite color?” He needed me to be a carbon copy of him. I suspect it’s because he was so wounded that any differences were threatening to his identity. So he needed me to mirror back to him who he was. Because of this and many related things, I grew up not knowing who I really am, and I became in many ways what he needed me to be. This is true for everyone who grows up in a dysfunctional or abusive family. We construct identities according to our parent’s needs and specifications, not according to who we really are. That process is often extended for some of us depending on our circumstances. We may need to adopt the mores of our neighborhood in order to survive. We may need to adopt a way of being that Is taught to us in school, or a religion, or through our national origin. All kinds of demands are placed on use to become something that fits in with the larger system. So we do that to survive but we lose touch with who we really are, and we become that false self.
Question: I think a lot of people wonder, “what do we do to let go of that false self?” I remember reading on your blog some examples of things of what one might do in the process of letting go of the false self. You mention letting of life strategies or certain people that are holding you back, giving up the idea of substitute parents, withdrawing projections, stop using and running, etc. Can you talk more about what it looks like to let that go?
One of the things I think is most important, and it sounds easy but it may not be so easy and may be a bit of a process, but I believe the most important thing, is to begin listening and paying attention to our gut, our inution. The reason I say that is because the information that we receive from our gut and intuition is the voice of the true self. That never goes away. We’re training as kids in dysfunctional families to not pay attention to that, and instead to listen to our elders and everybody else, but as an adult it is time to stop listening to everybody else and start paying attention to our gut. The reason is because our gut tells us whether we’re in an unsafe situation, relationship, job, friendship, or anything else that is not positive for us or suited to who we really are. So my first piece of advice would be to go inside and begin paying attention to the still small voice within our gut. Start listening to what it’s saying, and if it helps, write it down. Start journaling as to what our intuitive voice or gut is telling us.
Step two is to honor it, to pay attention to it. I’ve known people over my life and in recovery who have started to listen to their gut but didn’t pay attention to it because they weren’t ready to make the changes that it seemed to be asking them to make. For instance, it may have been saying, “This relationship isn’t good for you.” But they may not have been ready to let go of it because it had too many “goodies” that it brought them even though ultimately it wasn’t healthy for them.
After you listen to it, the next step is to take it seriously and honor it. That can lead to all kinds of changes in our lives. It can lead to letting go of relationships that don’t work for us, romantic or intimate relationships or even friends. I’ve been through periods of recovery where I had to let go of entire groups of friends because they came to realize that I was outgrowing them, and in some way they were trying to hold me back because they liked the old me better than the new me. So I just had to let them go and look for new friends.
It may require us to get a new job because many of us, especially people who have been abused, will stay far, far longer than they should in jobs that are not good for them; that are even abusive to them, whereas their gut is screaming for them to leave. Start paying attention to that inner voice. It may ask you to stop doing things that tantamount to other addictions, like compulsive shopping, sex, eating, workaholism, internet addiction, all of which are things that (since they’re addictive in nature) are not good for us. They do not affirm who we really are.
Our intuition can ask us to begin to let go of trying to be perfect for everybody, which is very often part of the false self. That doesn’t work and it’s not life affirming. It can ask us to stop seeking substitute parents, that is other people who take care of us but who need us to be dependent on them, which is not healthy. It can call for changes in our religious or spiritual life. It’s a process of shedding things that we’re doing that were all part of living the lie, or the false self, and beginning to find things that are attuned with what our gut, heart, soul, and inner voice are crying out for us to do.
Question: Regarding the inner voice, I wonder about somebody who may have their calibration “messed up,” if you will. If you have a strong inner critic that’s telling you, for example, to be perfect all the time, how do you distinguish that from your inner voice which might be saying, “you don’t need to be perfect, you’re already good enough.”? I can recall times when I literally didn’t know what voice to listen to because I thought my inner critic was my inner voice.
That is an excellent question and a difficult one. The reason it’s difficult is because we’ve lived entire lives listening to one and we’re really good at it. Listening to the “false self” becomes the default setting, the one that continually gets us in trouble, in over our heads and all kinds of other problems. There is no light switch that switches us over to our inner self unfortunately, but I think it’s absolutely necessary to try. It may have been helpful for you to have journaled; to start writing out all the different voices that were coming to you, whether that be the false self or the true self, then start sharing that information with someone or several people that have been doing their own work, and that you trust, and were able to help you sort out which one is which.
There’s a phrase in recovery which is very simple, “Going it alone in spiritual matters is dangerous.” What that’s saying is that it’s very difficult to sort out what voice you’re hearing. There are lots of crazy people on the planet who think they’re listening to God, but they’re actually listening to their ego and setting themselves up as gurus and things like that. In the beginning, I think it’s really important to tune in, start writing down or sharing what you inner voice is saying, and let other people help you sort it out.
Question: Switching gears a little bit, when it comes to letting go of certain people that are holding you back, let’s say there’s a family member that you can’t just kick to the curb; a parent, child, or some other family member. How do you still exist in that relationship without allowing them to affect you as they used to?
The answer to that is not simple. Let me start with a story. I spent about two years early in my “next stage” recovery, where I effectively divorced myself from my family. I had no contact at all with my family for about two years. Not everybody needs to do that, I’m not saying you should, but I did. The reason for me is because I needed to work on myself and start developing my own voice, sense of self, honoring of that self and of my own needs, and also developing some “armor” in order to go back into that environment and not be sucked back into it and be damaged by it. I had to do a lot of work on myself in order for me to get ready to deal with certain parts of my family. Not everybody needs to do that, but it is imperative, especially if there are one or more family members, who are highly toxic, that you minimize your exposure to those people in time. Instead of visiting for several days in a row, make it one day, or make it two or three hours. The reason is that you need to take care of yourself, that is your number one responsibility. Often, unfortunately, that means reducing the amount of time we spend with toxic, dangerous family members.
Another strategy, which takes time, is developing means and strategies for dealing with them so that they do not hook you in the old way, and you’re able to stand up to them. When I was in college I had a bleeding ulcer that I almost died from. It came from incredible levels of stress that I was living with. Many years later, I was home visiting my home, and out of the blue she said she thought the ulcer I had was because I was taking too many aspirins. I just looked at her and I said, “No mom, that’s not why it happened.” And then I stopped talking. She realized she wasn’t going to win that one, and quickly moved on. What I’m saying is, we need to develop these kinds of techniques for stopping these people.
Question: One term we’ve probably all heard about at some point is “affirmations”, a way to create new beliefs. What do you think about affirmations? Are they effective, and is that something you advise people to do?
Affirmations have not worked for me, but I know that they have worked for a lot of other people. I know many people who have used them extensively and find them quite helpful. In my own particular case I actively worked at changing my self-talk, which I suppose is a form of affirmation, but it wasn’t like I was reading something. It was more like I would catch myself saying, “Dean, you’re stupid.” Then I would say, “Well, no you’re not stupid. In fact, you’re an extremely intelligent man, and you just happened to have made mistake (which all people on earth do).” I would basically just start correcting that harsh inner critique. I did a lot of journaling which helped me discover who I really am, my own deepest beliefs, especially about my spiritual beliefs, but also my beliefs about who I am and what I’m about. But if affirmations help you, then most definitely, use them.
Question: Before we wrap up, I always like to end interviews with this question. Given all we’ve talked about so far, what would be your single biggest piece of advice for a codependent person?
My single biggest piece of advice for any codependent person is first to realize that is not a life sentence; it is not who you are. Codependency is only an adaptation that you developed as a child so that you could survive in very difficult circumstances. You learned it, and you can unlearn it. It is not a life sentence. And I would strongly recommend that you deal with it, because if you don’t it could destroy your life. There is so much hope out there; there are 12-Step programs, CoDo, ACoA, Al-Anon Adult Children, and there is so much literature to help you. You can unlearn your codependency and you can relearn how to live a life and have relationships that are loving, healthy, balanced, and life-affirming.
Question: And is there any other area we haven’t discussed along the topic of individuation or relinquishing the false self that you would like to discuss before we go?
I would like to touch on one area a little bit deeper, and that is mining your inner gold which is underneath the shame that we spoke about earlier. My own belief is that God does not make junk. Not only that, but I believe each one of us has treasures inside, abilities, ways of seeing the world or of living, talents, capabilities, and I strongly urge you to look past whatever difficulties you might be having now in your life. Remember or at least understand that those are not all there is to you, and they are temporary, especially if you work for them. I urge you to look past them, and to begin taking a deep positive inventory instead of a negative inventory. Start taking a positive inventory of all of that inner gold, and if you have difficulty with that, enlist the help of other people who know you and see you for who you really are, because that is going to be the foundation for a loving, healthy, balanced, and fulfilling life. And there’s a lot of help out there, that’s what I help people do. If you need help with that, I would absolutely love to help you do that.
Question: Alright, it’s plug time. What can you help people with and what would you like people to know about how you can help them?
My company is Next Stage Recovery. Although I will work with people in early recovery, I tend to work with more people in later recovery who are dealing with these core issues that are related to childhood dysfunction, abuse and trauma. I help them discover those issues, move past those issues, take that positive inventory, and start envisioning the kind of life they really want. Step by step I help them build that new life, one they may not have ever dreamed of before.
Question: If somebody wanted to reach you about that, how would you recommend they do that?
About Dr. Dean Robb
Dr. Dean Robb is a recovery coach who works with people who have a solid handle on their primary addiction, but who feel unfulfilled, who are worried that they might be hitting a new bottom in recovery, who are having serious problems in their relationships or career, who feel spiritually dry or empty, who feel like they might be living someone else’s life instead of their own or just feel like “Is that all there is?”
Dr. Robb helps people with these kinds of problems to create a healthy, fulfilling life that is aligned with the deepest desires of their authentic inner self.
Dr. Robb has a Masters Degree in Human Development and a PhD Degree in Human Development and Organizational Development. He has done extensive academic research into the process of emotional and spiritual reinvention and renewal; that is, of hitting bottom and rebuilding a new life that works from the ashes of the old one. Dr. Robb’s competence and expertise have been forged from over 30 years of personal recovery experience combined with knowledge and insight acquired through extensive academic and clinical training and research. On top of that, he has long-term experience in the world of corporate training, facilitation, organizational development consulting, and performance improvement consulting.
What do YOU think? Have you relinquished your “false self”? What advice do you have for others who are trying to find their inner gold? Comment below!