Personality and the Illusion of a Separate SelfThe attempt to maintain a permanent sense of self is empty of substance and is merely a habitual pattern of thinking, feeling and acting in predictable ways. It exists only in our mind. It is, in a sense, a hallucination or a dream-like trance. The reality of our own body–mind and the world around us is constantly changing. The problem is this dreamed up sense of self is living in a separate reality from what is actually happening. This separation is described in Buddhism as a type of affliction. There are three afflictions that perpetuate this separation and cause suffering: ignorance, attachment and aversion.

Ignorance is another way of describing the failure to recognize things as they are. We are ignorant because we ignore reality. We ignore reality in favor of believing in myths. The myths are encoded in trance-like internal processes. It is the way we maintain our subjective reality. These myths are the maps we follow hoping to find happiness and protect us from misery. We believe if we can hold onto the things that bring us pleasure and avoid those things that bring us pain, we will be happy. Difficulty arises, however, when pleasurable and painful things come and go, whether we want them to or not.

Trying to be the kind of person that can keep the good, while avoiding the bad, requires that we ignore the truth of how things actually are. Instead of managing the pleasurable and painful things of life skillfully, we resist letting go of the pleasure and indulge in or become addicted to them. At the same time, we avoid painful things, which invariably mean they build up and become unmanageable.

Judgment and love are opposites. From one comes all the sorrows of the world. From the other comes the peace of God. Judgment will bind my eyes and make me blind. The ego cannot survive without judgment. A Course in Miracles

The myth of a separate self starts with judgments of what is good and bad. This leads to feelings of anger about what is judged as bad in the world, or guilt about what is judged as bad in us. If we believe anger is bad, we end up feeling guilty about that too. With guilt there is a sense of indebtedness, usually towards our parents, and we begin trying to earn love and happiness. If we don’t feel our parents love us the way we are, we often try and to create an image of what we think will be loved. As we inherently know we are presenting a false front, we feel inadequate and try to find something in our story, or the way we present it, that makes it seem more unique and authentic.

Feeling inadequate and separate from our true nature is painful; therefore, we dissociate from our feelings. We create beliefs and concepts to explain different aspects of ourselves that allows us to compartmentalize our experiences. In the attempt to find some sense of certainty, we begin following a set of rules based on our beliefs and assumptions. Disconnected from direct experience, we feel uncertain and begin looking for others to validate our beliefs. Based on those assumptions, we then seek what we think will make us happy and avoid what we think will make us unhappy.

This endless seeking and avoiding leaves us feeling empty, and consquently we become more determined to attain and protect what we desire, and defend against whatever threatens our fragile veneer of happiness. To whatever degree we succeed, we do our best to identify with what we have been able to manifest and dis-identify with whatever we have been able to avoid. At this point, we have become asleep to our true nature and tend to go into an automatic set of routines that minimize our chances of noticing how false, empty and meaningless our lives have become. We fall asleep; we fall into the dream of who we think we are within a world that we are convinced is predictable and under our control. Coincidently, people with the different Enneagram personality types tend to identify more strongly with the associated steps leading into this sense of a solid separate self, unconscious of its true nature.

  • enneagram personalit typesPeople with type ONE personality identify with judging that leads to feeling anger or guilt.
  • People with type TWO personality identify with feeling guilty and the sense of indebtedness, which leads to trying to earn love and happiness.
  • People with type THREE personality identify with ’never good enough’ and the self-created image of what they think will be admired and loved.
  • People with type FOUR personality identify with feeling inauthentic and inadequate and thus try to present themselves in a more unique and authentic manner.
  • People with type FIVE personality identify with dissociation from whatever might cause pain and the beliefs and concepts that keep their experience of life compartmentalized.
  • People with type SIX personality identify with seeking a sense of certainty by following a set of rules and looking for others to validate their beliefs.
  • People with type SEVEN personality identify with seeking for what they think will make them happy and avoiding what they perceive will make them unhappy.
  • People with type EIGHT personality identify with being determined to attain and protect what they desire to possess.
  • People with type NINE personality identify with the automatic routines that minimize their awareness of how empty and meaningless their lives are and the false security of thinking life is predictable and under their control.

This article is an excerpt from the book Essential Wholeness by Eric Lyleson.