why you can't trust yourself

7. ‘You’ Aren’t Who You think You Are

Consider the following for a moment: The way you express and portray yourself on, say, Facebook probably isn’t exactly the same as the way you express and portray yourself when you’re “offline.” The way you act around your grandma is probably pretty different from the way you act around your friends. You have a “work self” and a “home self” and a “family self” and an “I’m all alone self” and many other “selves” that you use to navigate and survive a complex social world.

But which one of these is the “true” you?

You might think that one of these versions of you is more real than the others, but again, all you’re doing is replaying the predominant story of “you” in your head, which, as we just saw, is itself manufactured out of less-than-perfect information.

Over the past couple of decades, social psychologists started to uncover something that’s hard for a lot of us to accept: that the idea of a “core self” — an unchanging, permanent “you” — is all an illusion.11 And new research is beginning to uncover how the brain might construct a sense of self and how psychedelic drugs can temporarily change the brain to dissolve our sense of self, illustrating just how transient and illusory our identities really are.12

The irony of all of this, though, is that these fancy experiments published in fancy books and journals by fancy people with fancy letters behind their names — yeah, they’re basically saying what monks have been saying in Eastern philosophical traditions for a few millennia now, and all they had to do was sit in caves and think about nothing for a few years.13

In the West, the idea of the individual self is so central to so many of our cultural institutions — not to mention the advertising industry — and we’re so caught up in “figuring out” who we are that we rarely stop long enough to consider whether or not it’s even a useful concept to begin with. Perhaps the idea of our “identity” or “finding yourself” hinders us just as much as it helps us. Perhaps it confines us in more ways than it frees us. Of course, it’s useful to know what you want or what you enjoy, but you can still pursue dreams and goals without relying on such a rigid concept of yourself.