Religious views on the self

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Religious views on the self vary widely. The self is a complex and core subject in many forms of spirituality. In Western psychology, the concept of self comes from Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Carl Rogers where the self is the inner critic. Two types of self are commonly considered - the self that is the ego, also called the learned, superficial self of mind and body, "false self", an egoic creation, and the Self which is sometimes called the "True Self", the "Observing Self", or the "Witness".[1]

Eastern philosophy rejects the self as a delusion.[2] In Buddhist psychology, the attachment to self is an illusion that serves as the main cause of suffering and unhappiness.[3]


Human beings have a self—that is, they are able to look back on themselves as both subjects and objects in the universe. Ultimately, this brings questions about who we are and the nature of our own importance.[4]

Christianity sees the self negatively, distorted through sin: 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?' (Jeremiah 17:9) Alternately, each human self or spirit is a unique creation by God. The "desperately wicked self" is the sinful self that has chosen to be "curved back upon itself", but ever with the potential of changing and (by God's grace) turning toward "'new life', opened out to love of God and neighbor" See Albert Outler as quoted in "Outler on the Holy Spirit" by George Aikinson, Bristol House, 2004 p. 54. and p. 87.

According to Marcia, identity comes from both political and religious views. He also identified exploration and commitmAlternaent as interactive parts of identity formation, which includes religious identity. Erik Erikson compared faith with doubt and found that healthy adults take heed to their spiritual side.[5]

One description of spirituality is the self's search for "ultimate meaning" through an independent comprehension of the sacred. Spiritual identity appears when the symbolic religious and spiritual of a culture is found by individuals in the setting of their own life. There can be different types of spiritual self because it is determined on one's life and experiences. Another definition of spiritual identity is " a persistent sense of self that addresses ultimate questions about the nature, purpose, and meaning of life, resulting in behaviors that are consonant with the individual’s core values." [5] Another description of Mind, body, soul, and spirit is a holism of one inner self being of one whole. It all combines together as one whole instead of different parts. Individuals one thoughts, one feeling, one breathing is all completed and occurs as one whole. GT </truth knowledge of one self, and the universe.

Maslow's theory

According to Abraham Maslow's theory of "self-actualization needs: to find self fulfillment and realize one's potential."[6] He thought that once a person realizes what they are capable of it gives them a motivation to do whatever they intend.


Albert Bandura believed in "self-efficacy, which refers to a person's learned expectations of success."[7] This theory states that people are bound to complete a task more effectively if they think they will succeed. If a person is more negative about their abilities the chances of them completing the task accordingly are less.


D. W. Winnicott was of the opinion that psychopathology was in large part generated by an overvaluation of the false self, at the expense of the true self which was linked to the individual's own creativity.[8]

Rogers on self and self-concept

Carl Rogers' theory is that "people use the term self concept to refer to all the information and beliefs you have as an individual regarding your own nature, unique qualities, and typical behaviors." [9] Rogers thought that people develop through relationships with others and also in relation to themselves. An encouraging environment helps people towards this development.

Commenting on his clients' search for a real self, Rogers quoted with approval Kierkegaard's statement that "the most common despair is to be in despair at not choosing, or willing, to be oneself; but that the deepest form of despair is to choose 'to be another than himself'. On the other hand, 'to will to be that self which one truly is, is indeed the opposite of despair'".[10]

The observing self

The "Visible" self is mainly dependent on a subjective view, that is, as viewed from the specific self. For example: looking in the mirror, we perceive the reflection to be our true "self"....

The witnessing self

Ken Wilber describes the Witnessing (or Observing) Self in the following terms:

"This observing Self is usually called the Self with a capital S, or the Witness, or pure Presence, or pure Awareness, or Consciousness as such, and this Self as transparent Witness is a direct ray of the living Divine. The ultimate "I AM" is Christ, is Buddha, is Emptiness itself: such is the startling testimony of the world's great mystics and sages." [11]

He adds that the Self is not an Emergent, but an aspect present from the start as the basic form of awareness, but which becomes increasingly obvious and self-aware "as growth and transcendence matures." As Depth increases, consciousness shines forth more noticeably, until:

"shed[ding] its lesser identification with both the body and the mind ... in each case from matter to body to mind to Spirit... consciousness or the observing Self sheds an exclusive identity with a lesser and shallower dimension, and opens up to deeper and higher and wider occasions, until it opens up to its own ultimate ground in Spirit itself. And the stages of transpersonal growth and development are basically the stages of following this Observing Self to its ultimate abode, which is pure Spirit or pure Emptiness, the ground, path and fruition of the entire display." [11]

In a similar vein, Evelyn Underhill[12] states:

"It is clear that under ordinary conditions, and save for sudden gusts of "Transcendental Feeling" induced by some saving madness such as Religion, Art, or Love, the superficial self knows nothing of the attitude of this silent watcher—this "Dweller in the Innermost"—towards the incoming messages of the external world: nor of the activities which they awake in it. Concentrated on the sense-world, and the messages she receives from it, she knows nothing of the relations which exist between this subject and the unattainable Object of all thought. But by a deliberate inattention to the messages of the senses, such as that which is induced by contemplation, the mystic can bring the ground of the soul, the seat of "Transcendental Feeling," within the area of consciousness: making it amenable to the activity of the will. Thus becoming unaware of his usual and largely fictitious "external world," another and more substantial set of perceptions, which never have their chance under normal conditions, rise to the surface. Sometimes these unite with the normal reasoning faculties. More often, they supersede them. Some such exchange, such "losing to find," appears to be necessary, if man's transcendental powers are to have their full chance."

See also


  1. Hall, Manly P. Self Unfoldment by Disciplines of Realization. Los Angeles, California: The Philosophical Research Society, Inc. 1942. page 115 "On rare occasions we glimpse for an instant the tremendous implication of the Self, and we become aware that the personality is indeed merely a shadow of the real."
  2. "Conceptions of the Self in Western and Eastern Psychology". Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "The concept "self" and "person" in buddhism and in western psychology". NY:Columbia University Press. 2001. Retrieved 2001. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Charon, Joel M. Ten Questions: A Sociological Perspective. 5th edition. Thomson & Wadsworth. pg. 260
  5. 5.0 5.1 Kiesling, Chris; Montgomery, Marylin; Sorell, Gwendolyn; Colwell, Ronald. "Identity and Spirituality: A Psychosocial Exploration of the Sense of Spiritual Self"
  6. Huffman, Karen. Psychology In Action. 8th ed. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pg.478
  7. Huffman, Karen. Psychology In Action. 8th ed. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pg 478
  8. Jeff Greenberg et al, Handbook of Experimental Existential Psychotherapy (2004) p. 454
  9. Huffman, Karen. Psychology In Action. 8th ed. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pg. 478
  10. Carl Rogers, On Becoming A Person (1961) p. 110
  11. 11.0 11.1 Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, ch. 12, p.197-199
  12. Evelyn Underhill, "Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, Section III, P. 55.