5 Self-Alienation and the Way Back to the Real Self

Our struggle to find ourselves is blessed. Then there’s the pushback: if we’re so blessed, why doesn’t God end this struggle? Perhaps it would help if we better understand the struggle.

This state we’re in—the state of human existence—is a problem. This is due to the very fact that we’re in an in-between state. We’ve woken up from a lower state—a plant or animal where we were in harmony, but not with awareness. And we haven’t yet reached that higher state on top of the mountain where we will be in harmony withawareness. So where are we now? Somewhere in the middle, in the upward struggle.

It’s a struggle for everyone, whether we know we are on a spiritual path or not. But it does make a difference to bring the reality of this journey toward harmony and awareness into our consciousness. It helps us find a state of being while we’re in the hunt for awareness. It helps us to find the right blend of activity and passivity, action and inaction. We get so very confused about all this.

Suffering is what we produce in the struggle between the spirit world of truth and the material world, or matter. Because what makes us suffer is untruth. And another word for untruth is unawareness. And matter is what results from unawareness.

When we attempt to master our life by mastering matter, what we are really hoping for is mastery over untruth. This is more than a general life-thing. It exists in each one of us—in the makeup of our being that has led to us becoming matter. So where must we search for untruth? In ourselves.

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When we are not in truth, we are not in reality. So our work is to find our own unique brand of unreality buried in our wrong conclusions, unnecessary defenses and evasions. That’s how we must go to find the core of our being. Eventually, we’ll start living from our core rather than from our erroneous thinking. It is then, when we act and react from our core, that we can reach and affect the core of other people. And it won’t matter if they know they are on a path or not.

Along the way, a challenge we’ll need to face is that we have come to believe our own stories—hook, line and sinker. We don’t even see that this is the water we are swimming in any more. And so we search in vain. Maybe we see how we have become destructive. Or where we are fake as all get-out. But does that stop us from being this way? Heck no. We still have no real sense of our real selves.

This is the struggle—to come out of the distorted ways we see the world. To change, to grow, to become happy and lead fruitful, rich lives. To do that, we have to become whole again—we must become undivided. Our real self is one whole nugget, waiting for us to find it. It is logical that we must climb this mountain on our own, if we want what’s at the top. Paradoxically, that is where we’ll find our core.

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This state of self-alienation we are in—where we are truly not our real selves—is so pervasive, we don’t see the symptoms of it. We think we’re just being “normal.” Well, it may be normal but it’s certainly not natural to find ourselves feeling trapped in situations that are outside our control. This state of helplessness is a red flag that there’s an underground conflict—a problem in our soul.

Naturally, you might say, anyone would feel self-alienated if they had my kind of problems. We can cut this deck however we like, but what’s true is that if we experience helplessness, powerlessness or paralysis in our lives, self-alienation is nearby along with personal problems based on error.

As you may know from other Guide teachings, humans each choose one of three ways to cope with our struggles: submission, aggression or withdrawal. For those who turn to aggression, or power, it may be particularly easy to twist the Guide’s teaching here, believing that not being helpless or frustrated is the way to always win. Wearing our power mask, we will demand that things must always go according to ideal plans.

The sad truth is that adopting this strategy for winning makes us more dependent on others than most. Because we always have to win. If not, we feel weak and humiliated. Since our constant winning cannot possibly depend on us alone, we are dependent. All our energy then goes into forcing others to do our bidding. By putting all our strength outside ourselves, we direct our personal resources at others rather than using them for ourselves. How self-alienating! In this way, the aggressive person is as helpless as the outright submissive—and supposedly weak—one. Good grief.

So saying that we want to become the masters of our own lives does not mean a power-driven compulsion to always win and never do without. No, when our real self masters our lives, our forces work in harmony, constructively and productively. Our inner management gets all its committees working together. We will find strength and resources to create good choices. This is how we become our own solution.

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Your true you is endowed with a plethora of fabulous forces: reason, love, understanding, insight, strength, resourcefulness, resiliency, flexibility, adaptability, self-assertion, creativity. Once free of bad wiring like fear and anxiety, we will express these qualities as we express ourselves—and be understood.

We will make proper and mature choices because we will be able to distinguish between what’s real and valid and constructive, and what’s not. With that kind of clarity, we can work our way out of any difficulty. In fact, difficulties will turn into our stepping stones. Rock on.

But yeah, there’s always a catch. And here it is: you can only reach this stage when not having fulfillment no longer kills you. Talk about tough love. Why, though, does it seem as though it will kill us?

Basically, our experience of ourselves and others is so distorted, we take any frustration as a personal rejection—and that means proof that we are inadequate after all. We can give up this painful attitude only when we discover that our worth and lovability have nothing to do with whether or not we are fulfilled. Sure, nonfulfillment may not feel good—we may take a hit. But we only got shot down because of our errors, not because of the truth of who we are. It has never had anything to do with our real being.

The pain of not having what we want is way less than this added factor that seemingly proves our worthlessness, inadequacy and unlovability—in short, our being nothing. Of course, we’re not going around consciously thinking this. Quite the contrary, we’re going to great pains to notbe aware of this conclusion. We’ll use opposite opinions, feelings and attitudes to cover our tracks. But that doesn’t make any of this not true. Or less painful.

When we feel overly affected by a failure, a rejection or a lack of success, this hidden scenario may be what’s really going on. Which doesn’t mean we don’t have a really terrific rationalization for what just happened. Our stories will even seem to hold a lot of water. But below the surface, our worth has gotten snagged on an outer situation. Only by seeing what’s really lurking in our depths can we alter our connection to ourselves and then also to the outer situation.

By gaining insight into our own distorted sense of reality, our sense of actual reality automatically improves. The scales shift and we no longer ascribe so much power to outer circumstances as before. We will feel less helpless and more able to mobilize our inner strength.

We will see how our fear of failure isn’t about the failure, per se, but about what it implies—that we’re inferior. Our fear of responsibility isn’t about being lazy, it’s about being what? Discovered to be inferior. Getting this? Fear of frustration of pleasure isn’t about not being able to live without pleasure, it’s that not having it implies we’re inferior.

Once we get this, we can grow out of it. The upside will be that things like success, responsibility and pleasure—in their reality—will increase. The gravy? We’ll have access to our real self. We won’t have to live these lies that alienate us from our core. We will more fully realize our own potential. All this can only happen if we stop living on the periphery of who we are and return the center of ourselves.

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As long as we’re living on the periphery, we’re putting our powers outside ourselves. The alternative? We experience our own power. We trust ourselves because we can give up something and it doesn’t kill us. This frees us from compulsion and anxiety. We relate to ourselves, so we can relate to others. But we don’t overestimate ourselves. We don’t need to be perfect—to have all the glory—so we are much better at using the infinite resources of our very being.

Here’s what we are essentially saying to ourselves: “I am strong and my possibilities are many. If problems pop up, so be it. I can deal with it. I can cope with them truthfully, not just superficially or for the sake of how it looks. I don’t have to be great. I don’t have to be special. I’m a simple human being—just like everybody else. As such, I have great powers that I haven’t even realized yet. But they can’t surface through my distorted views. The more I come into truth, the more great powers will manifest.”

That’s how people who aren’t alienated from themselves see themselves. They’re equipped to handle what life brings. And they are in reality in their relationship with the world and the people in it.

Alienated people, on the other hand, tend to be too big or too small, bouncing back and forth between these two extremes. Others make them feel worthless and dependent, or they inflate their egos. We may think, Hey, I’m smart, so that doesn’t happen to me. But on an emotional level, this is the way others often affect us. We may need to keep a close tally on our behaviors to see this in action. It goes on all the time.

Once we start operating from our real selves, we won’t keep experiencing ourselves as better than or less than. We’ll see others’ shortcomings but this won’t make us feel superior to them. We might even see something in them that we lack ourselves, but this won’t make us feel inferior to them. It’s this tendency to feel worthless—good for nothing—in some hidden crevice of our personality, that makes us tend to overinflate our egos. If our ego wasn’t so impaired, we wouldn’t feel this need to pump it up. And if our relationship with ourselves wasn’t so impaired, we wouldn’t perceive others in such wonky ways.

For example, when someone seems powerful, strong and invulnerable to us, and we particularly want their acceptance, they take on an aura of awe that doesn’t match reality. We then become anxious and tense around such a person, and perceive them in a very distorted way. Our brains may be saying fairly accurate things, but our emotions tell another story as they are colored by our fears and desires about this person—which may be only that we want to use them to elevate ourselves, to pull us up out of the inferiority that engulfs us.

When we suffer from self-alienation, we don’t experience others in the reality of who they are. We experience them according to our own problems. But we can’t possibly communicate cleanly with them in this position. Yet that’s what needs to happen to come out of this mess. In a crass sort of way, the other has become our enemy—even our slave—and by the same token, we are alternately enemies or slaves then too.

No surprise, there is no gold at the end of this rainbow. We need to get a ways down the road of self-development before we can even see that this may be what’s going on. But if we dedicate ourselves to this work of self-knowing, we’ll get there, gradually, based on previous progress. Over time, we will sort of sneak up on this new perspective.

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If we’re hoping for a quick fix—an end run—we’ll be disappointed. There’s no skipping steps. That said, the moment we see ourselves in our unreality—how we don’t relate to ourselves or others in truth—we take a giant step forward toward reality. More so than if we tried to force ourselves into it before we’re ready. As always, we have to see the distortion before we can fix it. This is a hard and fast rule.And awareness is the first step. We can’t come in touch with our real self before we truly see how we are out of touch with it.

Look at any current problem from this viewpoint, seeing how you feel victimized by circumstances. See how frustrated you feel when you tell others what it is you want. See how confused you really are about what you really want. Look at where you can change things and where you can’t. Are you open to new solutions? Are you willing to take a new action? Or do you want it handed to you?

This kind of dependency reveals not only self-alienation, but also a desire to stay that way. Do you feel big? Or do you feel small? Do you see the complex, many-faceted nature of others, who have their own vulnerabilities and struggles? Or do they only exist for you where emotionally they make you feel better or worse, or more or less powerful?

We can look at dissatisfaction as a litmus test of whether we are realizing our potential. If the answer is, No we’re not, we are estranged from ourselves. Otherwise, we wouldn’t feel dissatisfied, regardless of temporary storms. We have the power within ourselves to set a different course.

This is a two-step process. In the first phase, we must become aware of the roots of our problems—our errors and unreality. We want to see the full scope, find the causes, their effects and all the links in between. The second phase is about change. This is often so gradual and automatic, occurring organically, that we are not even aware of it—until we are. It happens through the mere seeing of our foibles.

After enough insight and understanding, another kind of change comes about. This one is not so gradual. It involves a very decisive way of taking action when we become determined to stop following old, ingrained behavior patterns. This requires we crank up our will to institute a new pattern, which has to come from within—never to please an outer authority or without being fully convinced of its value.

At this point, a bit of self-discipline comes into play. Don’t misunderstand—we can’t force something that’s not organically ready. We won’t get anywhere with still-unhealthy motives of wanting to obey, appease, or look more perfect than we are. All these will make us anxious and only serve to create new destructive patterns. No one said this wouldn’t be tricky.

Nonetheless, at a certain point, if we don’t apply some self-determination and discipline, we can’t fully uproot rotten habits, no matter how much we wish for this to happen. As long as we doubt that there’s a real upside to this new way, we’re not ready. If we become anxious about giving up our old ways, we’re not ready. Then we need to dig in the dirt some more. “Why do I feel this way?” Ask and the door will be opened.

As long as we feel anxious about the goodness of what we know to be a right course, we’re still under the impression that goodness is not in our best interest. Of course, in reality, this can’t be so. But we need to reach the point where our outer knowledge soaks into the layers that don’t yet realize that goodness means solutions to inner problems.

Regardless of what we may think, real change really can happen. But real growth and happiness can’t happen if change doesn’t take place. The very essence of life is change. It can’t not happen. So why not take the reins and steer the direction it goes? Lack of change then is lack of life. Part of our struggle stems from the fact that part of us grows organically while another remains stuck. It helps to look in a rearview mirror to get a better read on how much change is already taking place.

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Ever look around and wonder why it is that people in an obviously lower state of development live in a certain harmony? Meanwhile, people who have done more inner work are still struggling, disharmonious and unhappy. The reason is that the former have developed more steadily, according to their potential. Their life is on an even keel. There are no big discrepancies.

More highly developed people, by contrast, often miss the boat on realizing their potential. They don’t fulfill their mission by working with their inherent possibilities. Because they are further along, they are capable of more. Yet they focus on aspects of themselves that are already developed and neglect areas that then become quite stagnant. Nothing changes because they don’t will it to be so.

It’s easy to concentrate on what’s already working, but meanwhile the parts that need attention begin to rust. This discrepancy has its own effect, on top of the simple reality that such a person could do more. They could be bringing to life that which is lying there lifeless.

Back to that thing about the human struggle. As we do this work of self-knowing, we will discover that change and growth are pleasurable. The freedom of losing shackles in one area inspires us to ride the constant flux of change. If, however, we resist change and growth, we remain frozen and rigid in that yet-unhealed area. This lopsidedness is worse than if our whole personality were still asleep.

The problem, if you will, is that it is not still asleep. Once we reach a certain stage, the train has left the station and we can’t go back to ignorant slumber. We’re now half-awake and we need to follow the nature of the cosmos, which is to wake up. Now our only hope for reaching real harmony again is through fuller and fuller awareness. We’re in for reality, growth and change, and there’s no turning back.

So don’t say change isn’t possible. It’s the only thing that is possible. It’s the way of nature, and it’s the way of people. Our work toward knowing ourselves is forever thawing out the substance of our soul so that we become unstuck—unfrozen. We put these wheels into motion and we will be the ones to benefit greatly when real, noticeable change happens.

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Want another hint for how to find this elusive real self of ours? Let’s look at our needs. Or not. In truth, that’s what we usually do—not consider our needs. We look away so much we are not even aware of what our needs are. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know we have them, physical and otherwise. But specific emotional needs? Things get cloudy.

This unawareness is even true for those who have been consciously on a spiritual path for a while. But getting to the bottom of our list of needs—even a superficial list—takes some time, attention and self-honesty. Plus a whole lot of digging.

First thing we find as we begin to exhume our needs is a fistful of false needs. Then we start to tap into the real ones. Seeing this gives some insight into our state of self-alienation. The deal is, if we were in contact with reality, we would have crystal clear awareness about our real needs, whether they are being filled or not. Until then, we’re in murky waters.

It is during the course of our spiritual journey that our real needs will be revealed. These can be subdivided into groups. First we will come in contact with our need to receive—be it love, understanding, closeness with others or creative fulfillment. All of these we hope to gain by having them given to us. We can have real and false versions of these needs, but in all cases, in our emotions, we seem to need something or someone who can give us what we need.

Next, we’ll find in ourselves a need to give. We realize we may need to give what we need to receive, such as the case is with love. We also find we need to understand others, rather than only be understood by them. In many such areas, we’ll discover that we need an outlet for our giving. If we don’t have one, our need will remain unfulfilled.

So far, all that’s changed is we are now acutely aware of our needs and their unfulfillment. Before, we were just foggy and hazy, feeling the unfulfillment in an indirect way. Such muddled awareness has different roots than the actual unfulfillment of real needs, for the latter doesn’t create anxiety or a feeling of urgency. These uncomfortable signals are telling us that real needs have been subverted into false ones.

Try to really absorb this message: long before we can fulfill our real needs, we will find relief, peace and harmony just by becoming aware of them and consciously realizing they aren’t being fulfilled.

Now here’s a little quiz. Why do you think we run away from knowing what our real needs are? It’s not just that we would have to face the pain of unfulfillment. More so, it’s that unfulfillment would seem to be proof of our…inferiority. There it is again. Sigh.

We need to find the strength, courage, humility and determination to face our real needs—both to give and to receive—and then to tolerate the unavoidable temporary frustration. When we can do this, we will have reached a much bigger part of our real self than we may realize. This, people, is real life—being ourselves, in reality.

The problem of unfulfillment will recede into the background compared with the strength we will gain by finding this treasure: our true home. The stranger—our alienated self—will be able to find a home within the reality of who we are, exactly in this moment.

It’s not a straight shot to get to this point. We’re going to go down many byroads and take a ton of detours to get there. Then once we get there, the pot will hold no gold. At least not for a while. But an empty pot is better than one filled with false illusion. We will have to go through a period of emptiness while we hang out being aware of our unfulfilled need and longing. Now, however, there will be space for truth to emerge.

As we bear this time of waiting with good grace—not in false humility or acting petty and put out—we will continually gain strength from being able to endure this situation, as long as is required. This state is a consequence of patterns we ourselves have set into motion and whose effects have not worn off yet. The good news is that we won’t be suffering the agonies we felt before we had such awareness.

Relax, this unfulfillment will not weaken us. On the contrary, we’ll gain a fuller and deeper insight into ourselves. Best of all, because we’re now actually living in reality, we will slowly begin to set different outcomes into motion. The old garbage doesn’t burn off immediately just because we found the cause that produced it. Nothing happens overnight.

As we are grappling with all of this, eventually partial fulfillment will find its way to us. We’ll see how the old patterns appeared and likely made a bit of a mess. Two steps forward and one step back. These outer relapses and disappointments are necessary for building some spiritual muscle, so to speak. They allow us to own this new way of being, to make it part of who we are becoming, until it’s once again our first nature, as in essence it truly is.

So at least now we’re headed in the right direction—we’re going home. We’ll take tentative steps and occasionally reap the fruit of our labor. But it will take time to be firmly planted in this new ground. Old habits die hard. Until the cause has fully ripened, new effects won’t spring to life. But they will come if we persevere. Be patient. Take your time. But journey on.

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