It is a given in the prevailing culture of the West that the ‘self’ — and feeding its notions of self — is the objective of existence: self-aggrandisement. Maslow called it ‘self-actualisation’.

A quick Internet search will produce plenty of evidence of this emphasis on the ‘self’ and its improvement:

  • “42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself”
  • “43 Ways to Improve Yourself in Just 10 Minutes”
  • “How to Improve Yourself: 50 Ways to Kick Ass in All Areas of Life”
  • “How To Improve Yourself In The Next 6 Months With Very Little Effort”
  • “20 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself Every Day”
  • “8 Steps to Improving Your Self-Esteem”
  • “3 Steps to Becoming a Better Version of Yourself”
  • “How to Improve Your Self-Control”

…and so on, and on, each article accompanied usually by a beaming image of a much-improved self. Inherent in all this is the assumption that the self really needs to be improved — which is of course, as stated earlier,
self-aggrandisement. There’s endless opportunities for effort with self-improvement.

Credits: Pixabay

It’s very rare that anyone questions whether the self is actually necessary. When, rarely, the necessity of the self is questioned, it’s usually replaced by a bigger and better version of, well, itself. Such alternative notions that persist include the idea that there is a greater ‘Self’ that one can feed and polish instead. This is self-aggrandisement too – it’s just a different self. Which leads to the question – how many selves are there?

Well, from right here — having lost the central self — it is possible to see that there’s an unlimited number of possible selves. And none of them are that which perceives them.

What is a self?

It’s motion, in motion, that draws stuff around it, creating a centre of the motion around which the rest moves.

The centre and the motion around it creates a perimeter, this being where the motion stops.

The perimeter creates an in-side and an out-side.

The motion, or emotion, that starts the whole thing off also keeps it going by feeding it energy.

A couple of analogies: from air and water.

Have you ever seen a dust-devil?

This is a tiny little whirlwind that sometimes occurs, usually in the summer. There’s a central depression of pressure with air, and dust, and detritus it picks up, all whirling around it for its brief existence. And then it fades, the pressure fills and the detritus is dropped. It never had any real relation to the central drop in pressure, it just was caught up in the motion.

Have you ever hired a small boat or canoe? If so, have you ever noticed the whirls in the water that come off the paddles or oars as you paddle or row?

Edited from source

They spin in place, miniature whirlpools that draw any leaves or twigs or bubbles or foam that is in the water into their movement, spinning it all around, until the energy fades and everything is again still. It was all just caught up in the motion.

In each of these cases the spinning motion is the reaction to a depression of pressure at the centre. Motion towards the centre turns into motion around the centre.


Each of these is somewhat like a self. A self has a central energy that is not still. It’s a point of motion, or commonly emotion. It goes round and round over a point or obsession, like a puppy or kitten chasing its tail. Its motion causes a lowering of ‘pressure’, a gradient in an otherwise still pool. It draws into its low pressure anything that is nearby, and thereby constitutes an apparent reality. It contains what is in it — its contents. The only real relation between the spinning centre and that which it draws in is propinquity, the simple fact of closeness, in this case closeness in psychic space — for that’s the space where self exists.

There’s an abundance of selves. The creation of a core self is the task of childhood and adolescence, only for it to be polished in all its facets by the emerging adult.

Be fortunate enough to get rid of this central self and all the other ones become apparent – they were always there but in the umbra of the central self. Perhaps they were in its thrall, its spin, but when the central self departs or collapses, then they spin off it into their own, lesser, images.

How many?

Once, many years ago while still pursuing self-therapeutic goals, the author enumerated the various ‘selves’ that could be identified operating from time to time within, well, his self. I got to about twenty or so clearly delineated points of focus. They mostly had an emotional core, this of course being a logical point of origin for such things.

They could be assigned to various categories. Some were reactions to emotional pain that had been suffered, not just transient but traumatic pain suffered at a point in time. Although the point in time had passed, the trauma persisted as a scar of sorts, which meant that anything that got near it triggered a response, an aversion, a spin. Other selves were in the class of impressions or aspirations, attempts to create a ‘self’ in emulation of something that had transiently been admired, ingredients to add to the lacking pool of self. They implied an act and so an actor.

Others had come from the parental myth, the parent as god. They were founded in early conformations to parental whim (probably often not even noticed by the parents, something said in a passing comment, yet with a long influence) or based on avoidance of the terrors of the punishing parent.

These mini-selves could be seen manifesting to some degree as automatic responses invoked by the different challenging circumstances that life reliably presents, perhaps for self-elucidation…

Self is self-ish self-ish-ness

Looking at all this a common ground emerges: the self exists to protect the self, is created to protect the self, is self-sustaining. It’s all held up by its own self-importance. It’s entirely false, but completely real – until it is not1.

However, all of this is all just words — until the point is perceived.

  1. Interestingly, neuropsychology has arrived at a similar conclusion, here’s a popular presentation