A differentiated self is described by Bowen (1976) as a solid self, and a fused self is called a pseudo self. The solid self knows what it needs and desires, while the pseudo self reacts to those around it. In an unhealthy relationship, two pseudo selves come together and fuse into each other, one person losing and the other person gaining self. The solid self, however, maintains its individuality and does not merge. The solid self has beliefs, opinions, convictions and life principles. The pseudo self is a product of emotional pressure. The solid is not. People with weak transparency muscles live within a pseudo self. In plain English, this is a false version of you. It seeks other people’s approval and validation. You live in Pseudo Self because it gives you a sense of security. It allows you to hide and live in disguise. But most importantly, the Pseudo Self straps a muzzle on your gifts. By gifts, I don’t necessarily mean talents. I mean what makes you different than any other person on the planet. In screenwriting, they say what’s most important is your voice. Everyone has a story to tell, but it’s your voice that makes your script stand out from the rest. For example, Quentin Tarantino has a very strong voice. It comes out in his dialogue and his non-linear way of storytelling. Being your solid self gives you a voice.
A writer should have this little voice inside of you saying, tell the truth. Reveal a few secrets here.
• Quentin Tarantino
A good way to remember pseudo versus solid is false versus truth. Pseudo is false. Solid is truth. Everyone has a true and false version of themselves. Many times where we pull from depends on our environment and who we’re around. For example, if we’re surrounded by people we want to impress, we tend to project an idea of what we believe they are looking for or attracted to. Our dial is turned on Take instead of Give. We are seeking something from them, attention, validation, approval. In order to turn that dial back to Give, we must pull from our truth. We must be transparent in voice and self. This adds solidity. What we are giving is our true self. Everything false clouds the picture of our true self and transparency cuts through the clouds.
Another easy way to distinguish pseudo versus solid self is in the movie Fight Club. If you haven’t seen Fight Club, I’ll tell you about it in a second. (Spoiler alert). The film is ultimately about inner conflict. We find out at the end that Edward Norton’s character and Brad Pitt’s character are the same person. Who do you think is pseudo self and who do you think is solid self? When I ask my class this, most people will say the Edward Norton character is solid and Brad Pitt is pseudo. They say this because they think Brad Pitt is the “bad” guy or antagonist. The truth is, Brad is the solid self and Edward is pseudo. Edward Norton is lonely and lost. He has hates his job. He can’t sleep. He feels disconnected with the world. He’s like Ikea furniture. He’s just going through the motions of life, a walking zombie. Then he meets Brad Pitt. Brad challenges him, his fears, and his thinking. Through their interaction, Edward begins to change. He finds his voice and becomes a leader. Edward Norton goes from pseudo self to solid self.
Being transparent allows you to find your voice. Your voice is your gift. Your voice is the true you. What prevents people from exercising their transparency muscle is fear. If you’re afraid, you can’t be honest.
Without truth, nothing can be built.
But the thing is we’re all afraid. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be human. We’re afraid of failure, rejection, public speaking, death, and the list goes on and on. And we can work on those fears and probably will for the rest of our lives. But if we are afraid of ourselves, afraid to be ourselves, we create an instead prison. In this prison, we are not able to share our unique gifts. We are not giving. Life means to give. So we are not living. You must shatter the fear of being your true self or you’ll snap back every time you stretch. Of course, this is a process. It takes time. But you must make a decision to start the process, and hold onto it knowing what’s at stake. Your potential. As a friend, brother, sister, husband, wife, teacher, mother, daughter, father, son, leader, visionary, everything you do. Everything you are.
In order to live your truth, you must be transparent. You must be clear and flow like liquid. Like Bruce Lee said, be like water.
The Power of a Sandwich
Once I bought someone a sandwich.
I was getting a quick dinner at a local deli when I noticed an older gentleman sitting by himself. He was just sitting there, bobbing his head to the Muzak. He didn’t look homeless. He just looked lonely. We made eye contact and he nodded. I quickly turned back to my book, shoved the rest of my sandwich into my mouth, and thought to myself Maybe I should buy him something to eat. That thought was my solid self — my instinct, my gut, my truth-speaking. He had a soft tone. I could barely hear him. Then my pseudo self kicked in, a loud thundering voice that convinced me that the man didn’t need a sandwich. Pseudo came at me like a lawyer, logical and cold. What if he’s just waiting for someone? He would be insulted if I asked him if I could buy him food. Maybe he’s the owner?
But these were just excuses to stay in my comfort zone. I finished my sandwich and was about to leave when I stopped myself and thought, Wait a minute. This isn’t about him. This is about me. If I leave, I am allowing the part of me that was formed by abuse, failed relationships, dysfunctional family dynamics, all the shit that’s happened to me in life that’s lowered my self worth and security, to control me. All this, just because I wouldn’t buy someone a sandwich?
It’s not about the sandwich.
It’s about allowing your voice to be heard, giving yourself permission to be the true version of you, before life slapped on a veneer. If I leave, I add glue to the beautiful fake porcelain smile. If turn back and go with my initial gut, I may crack that veneer. My dial turned, as did I. I bought the man a sandwich. My solid self was happy when the man smiled and nodded at me. The man allowed his solid self voice, when he smiled at a stranger, me. My solid self didn’t want this to be weird. He wanted to acknowledge connection.
By buying a stranger a sandwich, I allowed my solid self to be heard. I drove my stake into the ground and told my pseudo self to fuck off. Fuck off for every time he made me critical of myself, for every doubt in my worth, and for allowing others to define me. I left the deli feeling a little more powerful than when I arrived and it had nothing to do with their flatbread. Many of you reading this may think I’m crazy for trying to squeeze so much meaning out of such a simple act. You may be telling yourself Man, this guy’s really reaching. Make a note of that voice. Recognize it. That is your pseudo self.