False Self

Posted by Thomas Gazda, MD, FAPA, FASAM on April 21, 2022 at 1:57 PM

It was the famed British psychoanalyst and pediatrician, Donald Winnicott MD who coined the term "false self" - a universal phenomenon that we all suffer from in a matter of degrees. To function in society we may have to say "please" when we are not pleased and "thank you" when we are not feeling any gratitude. This need to comply with social norms can go way beyond such niceties and can for instance suppress such basic human emotions as anger and sexual desire so that such expressions coming from the "true"self are unable to be processed, digested and made peace with.


A Thai woman developed an odd drooling sensation around her mouth which was extremely embarrassing, disconcerting and made her feel "crazy".  Multiple medical work ups and psychotropic medication trials were minimally effective and tended to worsen her preoccupation with this sensation. She discovered in psychoanalytic treatment that she had little tolerance for anger which was an unacceptable emotion in her family and largely in her culture. Her analyst helped her come to terms with this so that she began to enjoy actually expressing her anger in a constructive manner which set more realistic boundaries for herself. Her somatic sensation of drooling then gradually abated.


An orthodontist grew up in a very rigid but loving Lutheran family and was taught to suppress sexual desire as unacceptable. For instance he felt terrible for kissing a girl at the age of 18 and had not recovered from guilt around this event. As he became increasingly stressed by his sexual impulses, he resorted to opioids to rid himself of these feelings that could not be allowed to prosper and grow from his true self. In treatment he was more able to process such feelings and learn from them which led to a freer sense of self. Opioids were no longer desired as he was so pleased with his newly discovered more "true" self. His marriage improved dramatically as well.


At Sobermans Estate we pride ourselves in not having a cookie cutter answer to each individuals struggles around sobriety. Our modus operandi is to help each individual discover for himself what is most pertinent and so individual psychotherapy aimed at improving understanding is core. In this regard we have sometimes found that Winnicott's concept of the false self is indeed a highly important and useful concept.


Topics: Addiction, Treatment, Recovery, Substance Abuse, Self-Help Groups, Alcoholism, Soberman's Estate

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