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Self Representation

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Self Representation

Being Cut Off from the True Self by Identification with Representations

The feeling of identity is, then, an expression of the substructure of self-identity, which develops primarily through the integration of the inner impressions of the body, which include the impression of the Essential Identity. Thus, the original clear and precise feeling of identity, which is characteristic of the Essential Identity, is replaced by the normal sense of identity felt in the conventional dimension of experience. At the end of this development, then, the self is no longer experienced as an ontological presence. One is cut off from the true self by identification with representations. One’s sense of self is now determined by a representation constructed from past object relations, and structured by the development of internalized object relations, just as object relations theory contends. However, our analysis demonstrates that this theory is not the whole story. The feeling of identity in the self-representation is a vague memory of the true feeling of identity, which existed at the beginning as a characteristic of the Essential Identity. The normal sense of identity is a reflection of something real, but this vague feeling is only a pale reflection of the original, precious self-awareness of one’s true nature.

Falsehood in Self-representation Leaves Our Identity Untenable

When the self-representation excludes aspects of the self, this incompleteness will cause the sense of self to be weak, distorted, or both. This is partially due to the pressure of the actual self on the identity. Any real part of ourselves that is excluded by what we take ourselves to be will create conflicts in the sense of identity, since its mere existence threatens the identity. For example, if our identity does not include our anger, or our love, then our identity will be threatened when anger or love arise forcefully in consciousness. Hence, the incompleteness of our self-representation leaves an identity vulnerable to the truth about our actual self, just as the falsehood of the representation leaves our identity in an untenable position in relationship to all of reality.

Organised Compilations of Past Experiences

According to Joseph Sandler, quoted by Greenberg and Mitchell: “Self-representations are not simply perceptions, which are fleeting and imply no enduring impression. Nor are they simply memories of discrete experiences. Representations are organized compilations of past experiences, relatively enduring impressions, constellations of perceptions and images, which the child culls from his various experiences and which in turn provide for the child a kind of cognitive map, a subjective landscape within which he can locate and evoke the cast of characters and events within the drama of his experience.”

Representation can Capture the Forms of Our Past Experience but it Cannot Capture the Field of Essential Presence

Since the self-representation is a content of ordinary knowledge, it is obvious that it is composed only of objects of ordinary knowledge, that is representations. Representation can capture the forms of our past experience, but it cannot capture the field of essential presence in which these forms arise. Therefore, when we experience ourselves and the totality of our perceptual field through the self-representation, we only see the forms included in it, abstracted from the underlying field that manifested them. Not only do we lose contact with our essential ground; but the living and field-like nature of the soul’s experience is also changed, collapsed into the transitory and incidental, at the expense of the fundamental. In other words, our basic knowledge becomes patterned by our ordinary and representational knowledge. Our experience is now conceptual, constituted by isolated objects of perception. We can see here that the positivistic and empirical view of things is due to ego development, and is the result of the patterning of the self-representation.

Self and Self-representation Experienced Together

The normal experience of the self includes the belief that it’s identity is made up of a body, of thoughts, feelings, ambitions, plans, ideals, values, impulses, desires, actions, qualities, and so on. Since the self takes itself to be all these things, integrated and organized in an overall view of itself, it cannot separate from them. This is the experience of the self when it is identified with self- representation. More accurately, it is the self and the self-representation experienced together, as the same reality.

Self-representation Determines Experience

The experience of the self is actually determined by the self-representation. The phenomenology of the self's experience presents itself through this representation, and hence, what the self perceives and experiences as itself, in its present experience, is greatly determined by it. The self-representation actually sculpts the forms that arise as the phenomenological particulars of the self's experience of itself.

Self-representation is the Background to Experience

The overall self-representation is the background of any particular moment-to moment experience, the foreground of which is determined by shifting component self-representations. So the identity locates the individual consciousness both in the particular component self-representation the individual happens to be identifying with in the moment and within the overall self-concept with its representational world.

Self-representations are Memories

It is important to note that the self-representations in psychic structures are memories. The Essential Identity is not present in these structures; what is there is the memory of the feeling of self connected with the Essential Identity. This explains how the self-representations become imbued with the feeling of identity.

Structuring of the Contents of Mind, Heart and Body Experience into a Specific, Stable, Rigid Organization

So the self-representation (ego identity) depends on a particular structuring of all realms of experience into a cohesive whole. This implies the structuring of the contents of the mind, heart, and body experience into a specific, very stable, rigid organization. This, of course, will organize and structure the flow of all energies in the body, because “ultimately structure within the psyche comes down to organization within the central nervous system.” The resultant sense of psychological identity is very much adhered to and defended by the individual as the most precious and absolutely necessary possession and attainment. It is this sense of self, the core of the personality, and the need to preserve and defend it, that is the main reason why we see the realms of mind, heart, and body as if in opposition to essence. The personality, and its sense of self, is the particular structure of these realms. This structure includes only these realms, and if the realm of essence is introduced into it, essence will have a disorganizing and disintegrating influence on it. The personality will have to oppose essence to keep its own coherence and survival.

The Absence of Fundamental Truth in the Normal Sense of Identity

As the student works through his ego identifications (the self-images that compose his self-representation), the structure of self-identity begins to be revealed as a psychic structure patterned by images from past experience. Further experience increasingly reveals the unreality and underlying emptiness of this central self-structure. The emptiness and meaninglessness expose the absence of fundamental truth in his normal sense of identity. He begins to realize that what he has been taking to be himself is actually a shell, devoid of any substantial reality or inherent richness. At this point the student literally experiences himself as a hard shell (of various degrees of hardness depending on how defensive he feels) that contains nothing within it. The empty shell feels impoverished, insubstantial, and false. He feels hollow and vacant, as if his body has become a shell of tension with its insides sucked out of it.

The Self-Representation is the Main Barrier to Spiritual Realization

Our view also shows that what the spiritual teachings call the main barrier to spiritual realization—the ego, or what some traditions simply call the self—is nothing but the self-representation, and not the system ego, per se, or the actual self. Depth psychology has rendered a great service to spiritual teachings by providing a clear definition of the form of the self that is the main barrier in the spiritual path.

Two Kinds of Self-representation

So we see here that the sense of self has in it two kinds of self-image (two kinds of self-representations) and two kinds of body-image, forming the nuclei of the self-images. We have seen that this multiplicity is a result of the body having two sets of boundaries, inner and outer. Another factor leading to this multiplicity or layering of self-representations is the process by which this sense of self is developed. We have seen that the ego-identity develops as a result of the separation-individuation process, and also that this process has two distinct lines of development—separation and individuation. The line of development of separation is mainly related to the external body-image and its corresponding self-image. The line of individuation is connected primarily to the internal body-image and its corresponding self-image. Of course there is no clear-cut distinction between the various images, and no clear linear and causal connection. This whole picture of the personality is general and approximate. It is however, sufficient for our understanding of the various grades of emptiness. To summarize, we have delineated the following parts of the self-boundaries:
i. the external self-image
ii. the internal self-image
iii. the external body-image, which is the nucleus of the external self-image
iv. the internal body-image, which is the nucleus of the internal self-image.

The Void, pg. 145

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