This post is actually Chapter One of my book Liberation from the Lie: Cutting the Roots of Fear Once and for All. This book has been ranked third by the Enlightenment Dudes among all of the philo-spiritual books they have reviewed.
I was inspired to post this key chapter on account of a comment that I received today from a reader. This person said,
Been reading your book since you sent it. Brilliant! Spiritualist, pleaser, rebel, ha ha ha ! tons of images from the past as a child as a teenager as a parent. Images of my parents and my children. There is a sense of sadness, relief and indescribable joy! This hits me right is the solar plexus. Thank you for this gem Eric.
As you read this chapter reflect on your own nature. Which Fear-Selves resonate with your own personal history? Do you have a dominant Fear-Self? Do you have more than one Fear-Self. Often our dominant Fear-Self is evident is special situations. The Fear-Self is the compensating personality construct perfectly designed to shield us from the pain, turmoil, and outright suffering of its underlying Wound. There are usually more than one Fear-Self, but there is only one Wound. We’ll get to that later.
What follows is Chapter One …
1 – Portraits of the Fear-Self
Before we explore the roots of the Wound and its compensating personality overlays, let’s take a look at some of the common Fear-Selves. Remember that the Fear-Self is an identity we create to shield us from the pain of the separation trauma. Fear-Selves are also molded by the social institutions that make up our society and culture, particularly our families of origin and schools.
The examples below are intentionally simplified. No one is a single, pure type; rather, we are combinations of many Fear-Selves, some of them very subtle but quite powerful in their impact. In fact, the subtler Fear-Selves are likely to be more important, in the long run, to identify. Often we are so closely identified with our Fear-Selves that we need the help of others to recognize them.
For clarity’s sake, the “Fear-Self” label is predicated on four conditions:
- The person becomes attached to the identity in order to counter the negative feelings of the Wound;
- The person has an irresistible need to be identified in this way, and the resulting thoughts, feelings, and actions are compulsive;
- The person seeks validation through this identity; and
- The person believes that being identified in this way will result in enduring happiness.
Each Fear-Self type is listed by name, common social roles represented by the type, predominant characteristics, underlying Wound, the resulting life view, and common personality variants.
Common social roles: Salesman; physician; attorney; executive/manager; politician.
Predominant characteristics: Driven to succeed, achievements must be visible, always preparing for what’s next. He is addicted to others identifying him as a powerful person, one to be reckoned with.
Fears/Insecurities: Fear of failure; resentment of competitors, especially those in the same field whose achievements have outshone his own. Any event in which success is threatened may result in high levels of anxiety. May become isolated, bitter, and self-critical if failure is experienced.
Wound: I am incompetent, worthless, and powerless.
Life view: The story of his successes and the brilliant way he has addressed challenges dominates his view of life. Believes that increased achievement will lead to a stable sense of fulfillment. Often unaware of his own need for adulation. Often a conspicuous spender.
Variations: The Patriarch, often seen in bosses and political leaders. This type can be prone to violence when challenged and depression when not validated. In extreme form, The Achiever can become a sociopath (Hitler, Stalin).
Common social roles: Housewife; not-for-profit or volunteer worker; social worker.
Predominant characteristics: Perfectionism, needs to do everything “just right,” keeps tastes and activities neutral to avoid offending others.
Fears/Insecurities: Fear of isolation, broken family, ache of inner emptiness when the party’s over, haunted by fear of not pulling off her social persona properly. Without social accolade, she is nothing. Fear of not being liked, of losing social status, of being ostracized.
Wound: I am unlovable.
Life view: Her personal history tends to be inconsequential, but she is proud of her orderly way of living (well-maintained home, manicured lawn, loving, “normal” family). Likes to host social events, but only if the conversation remains polite and generally insincere; she is embarrassed by loudness or raucousness. Sexual expression is reticent, highly controlled. Can’t say “no” to any request, and will manufacture reasons to help people even when help is not requested. Addicted to compliments and acknowledgment. Hypersensitive to others’ opinions, interpreting others’ “looks” and comments as innuendo and criticism. Responds to others’ failure to express appreciation for her efforts with covert or overt hostility.
Variations: The “Do-Gooder,” who loves to be associated with helping the “less fortunate,” but whose underlying motivation is public accolade.
The Body Person
Common social roles: Found across all classes and work positions, but especially among actors and other performers.
Predominant characteristics: Compulsive focus on the body, face, diet, and health.
Fears/Insecurities: Fear of physical decline, disease/sickness, death, social rejection on a physical basis, and time.
Wound: I am ugly, I am unwell, I am fragile.
Life view: I must look and feel good. Time, as expressed in aging, is a constant enemy. Frequent obsessive fear of germs (see the Terrified One), excessively self-conscious with respect to body image. Feels superior to people not focused on their physical appearance and/or strength/flexibility. This type will often focus on accessories, make-up, perfumes, and other items that enhance their physical attractiveness. Likely to be uncritical of cosmetic surgery or other modification of body parts. Self-appraisal is often highly unrealistic (in either direction – positive or negative).
Variations: The Body Person shares many characteristics with The Terrified One (below).
Common social roles: Professor; physician; attorney; engineer; mechanic; geek.
Predominant characteristics: Utterly knowledgeable on all subjects, full of information and expertise and eager to share them with anyone and everyone.
Fears/Insecurities: Fear of being seen by others as incompetent, irrelevant, inconsequential; fear of being ignored. Can’t tolerate being trumped by a “superior” intellect or expert.
Wound: I am stupid/incompetent; I am not worth being seen or heard.
Life view: Loves to pontificate, always assuming a tone of authority. Sees other people as stupid and seeks every opportunity to demonstrate his authority through knowledge. Belittles others’ intellects and becomes indignant when confronted by an adversary. Believes that the acquisition of knowledge can ultimately fulfill his desire for happiness and contentment, which manifests in the acknowledgment of his knowledge and authority by respected others.
Variations: The Critic and Competitor, who loudly proclaims that he knows the best restaurants, films, vacation spots, sports tips; The Cynic, who covertly assumes superiority over others and sees most people as dumb and naïve.
Common social roles: Student; academic; artist; social activist.
Predominant characteristics: Perennially seeking higher truth, enlightenment; tending toward elitism in spiritual matters.
Fears/Insecurities: Fear that he will never reach his goal, will never be among the chosen ones; over time, he sinks into existential despair as the knowledge that he will never attain his goal becomes increasingly apparent to him.
Wound: I am ordinary; I am not special.
Life view: Is very vested in the story of his “holy journey.” Amasses mountains of books focusing on spiritual issues; endlessly attends workshops, satsangs, retreats. His sense of well-being is dependent on seeking. Tends to reject the world around him, which is seen as pervasively crass, as well as his perceived self, which he believes to be an illusion.
Variations: The Self-Help Fanatic, prone to melancholy and hopelessness as the answers perpetually elude him.
The Tough Guy
Common social roles: Police/military officer; prison guard; bartender; executive/manager; construction worker; tradesperson (electrician, plumber, etc.).
Predominant characteristics: Stoic yet easily angered, domineering, emotionally distant, adheres to traditional/patriarchal values (either gender).
Fears/insecurities: Fear of being seen as soft or weak, effeminate, self- conscious.
Wound: I am weak, vulnerable, unprotected.
Life view: Nobody is going to push me around; I can protect and stand up for myself. Not willing to allow others to get to close to him emotionally, although he cultivates mutually validating, usually same-sex friendships with similar types. Enjoys confrontation because it gives him the opportunity to demonstrate his toughness. In its milder form, The Tough Guy can simply be prim and proper and know what’s best for everyone else.
Special comment: The Tough Guy’s Wound lies just beneath the surface. If his defenses ever fail him, tears and weakness surge forth with heart-rending intensity. This is a scenario often favored in movies. For example, in the film “On the Waterfront,” when Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) tells his brother (Rod Steiger) that he “could have been somebody,” the audience is deeply touched by his immense sadness.
Variations: The Loner, who similarly needs to protect himself but who generally retreats from confrontation (see below).
Common social roles: Any position that accommodates his preference for low visibility, such as low-level office worker, writer, artist, specialized consultant.
Predominant characteristics: Needs to stay separate, removed from others, both emotionally and physically; feels safest when emotionally unconnected with others.
Fears/insecurities: Fear of intimacy and commitment; expends a lot of energy on avoiding relationships and maintaining a life alone.
Wound: Generalized pain from separation; “I was hurt too badly to risk being hurt by others again.”
Life view: Getting involved with others can only lead to disappointment and heartache, so he remains apart. Other people are the source of trauma, and anyone who gets close to him has the potential to hurt him. As people become close to The Loner, they are projected as mother substitutes. The Loner will inevitably have difficulties with issues of intimacy and commitment. He pays for his isolation with loneliness, but this is typically a cost he is willing to pay.
Variations: The Loner is a close relative of The Tough Guy, but is not invested in possessing authority over others.
Common social roles: Found in all walks of life.
Predominant characteristics: Very unassertive, indecisive, prone to following authority without question.
Fears/insecurities: Fear of making the wrong choice, so always deferring to the opinions and choices of others.
Wound: “I’m nobody; I’m nothing.”
Life view: The Imitator distrusts her own being; to get along in the world, she finds models for personality traits and co-opts them for her own use. She is motivated by self-loathing. This type tends to become involved in relationships that result in her abuse and humiliation. In its milder form, The Imitator cannot make decisions until she consults with external “experts.” She has no opinions of her own; books, movies, clothing are selected on the basis of trusted reviewers or friends. The Imitator is uncomfortable with spontaneity; everything is checked and considered. She is very uncomfortable expressing herself in public.
Variations: The Victim, who feels she deserves her suffering.
The Terrified One
Common social roles: Varied, but this type is preponderantly represented by women.
Predominant characteristics: Compulsive need to be safe.
Fears/insecurities: Fear of danger, chaos, violence; fear of becoming a victim.
Wound: “I am helpless; the world is a dangerous place.” This type often grew up in a turbulent, chaotic environment that left her with the belief that she is incapable of providing herself with enough safety.
Life view: The Terrified One must have safe places as havens where she can hide from the ongoing trauma of life. This can come in the form of an unchallenging workplace or a highly controlled relationship. She projects her terror onto those she cares about and often imposes her seemingly well-intended, but usually unwanted, obsession with safety oppressively onto others. Over time, others begin to resent her, and then ignore her. The Terrified One is expert at finding justification for her fears. Whether it be germs, crime, career failure, or historical events, she can point to any number of facts or experiences to justify her terror projections. She tends to view those who do not share her fears as naive. In its milder form, this type often has an air of grave maturity, looking down their noses at those who take “foolish” risks. In its most evolved form, this Fear-Self is smug and self-satisfied, an overbearing caretaker of the others in her life.
Variations: Every False-Self contains an element of the insecurity that underpins The Terrified One. The difference is that this type amplifies and centralizes fear to a far greater extent than others.
The Resilient One
Note: The Resilient One is not really a Fear-Self. She has overcome separation and social wounding. This is can be achieved in three ways that may act together or separately. One, her family of origin was unconditionally loving and consistently validated her innate selfhood. Two, she encountered powerful mentors as a young person who enabled her to be resilient in the face of powerful social pressures to conform and to acquiesce to external authorities. Three, she was born with a more vibrant Original Core, which allowed her to overcome separation traumas and social conformity pressures.
Common social roles: This is a very uncommon type, tending to occupy caretaking roles. They may provide care to people, animals, or the planet (nurse, social worker, veterinarian, ecologist).
Predominant characteristics: Even-tempered, generous, patient.
Fears/insecurities: Very mild.
Wound: The Resilient One experienced the pain of separation in infancy, like the rest of humankind, but does not need to rely on a Fear-Self to compensate for the trauma. Why? First, resiliency may have some inborn or genetic component; and second, the unconditional love expressed for her as a child may have been powerful enough to overcome the separation trauma and provide protection against spirit-defeating social institutions.
Life view: Some people have the resources to give and expect nothing in return; can love unconditionally; do not feel the need to defend themselves; and can address conflict with equanimity. The Resilient One does not escape the trauma of separation, and so even she has a Wound. However, the need to counter its pain with an array of Fear-Selves is greatly reduced.
Variations: Not applicable.
Each of us has an identifiable personality. Even the Buddha, Jesus, and Lao Tzu had Fear-Selves. While I have listed the most obvious, overriding personality types, it is important to remember that most expressions of the Fear-Self are subtle and can easily escape attention. The differentiating feature in individuals such as the Buddha (who said “I am only a man”) is that, over time, these individuals are able to become largely disengaged from their attachment to their Fear-Selves. They have had life experiences that enable them to see through their manufactured, yet real-feeling, identities. By disengaging from their Fear-Selves, they can come into direct contact with their Wounds. This is the decisive step that allows the glow of the Original Core to shine through and, literally, enlighten us.
This is the first leg of our journey towards our final destination: liberation.