I recently read The Gift of Being Yourself, by David Benner, for a retreat focused on spiritual transformation. I found it full of wisdom about the journey to your authentic and true self, and it is uncanny to me how often I found myself thinking, this is exactly what Lewis has been communicating to us through Orual in Till We Have Faces. Benner discusses how the hollowness of the false life leads to a life of excessive attachment and a necessity of a radical encounter with truth to cure it.
In The Gift of Being Yourself, Benner warns us of the hollowness of the false life and our propensity to develop excessive attachments.
“Because it is hollow at the core, the life of a false self is a life of excessive attachments. Seeking to avoid implosion and nonbeing, the false-self grasps to anything that appears to have substance and then clings to these things with the tenacity of a drowning man clinging to a life ring. One person might cling to his possession, accomplishments or space. Another may cling to her dreams, memories or friendships. Any of these things can be either a blessing or a curse. They are a blessing when they are held in open hands of gratitude. They become a curse when they are grasped in clenched fists of entitlements and views as “me” or “mine.” - David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself
Not only can many of us relate to this from experience, it also perfectly describes Orual from Till We Have Faces. Orual cannot even fathom the thought that Psyche could be happy without her and thus goes to extreme lengths to convince her sister that she is being deceived. However, it appears that Orual is the one deceived. She tells herself her actions are selfless and in Psyche's best interest. Despite this, as we continue to read, we increasingly get the impression that Orual is the delusional one and that she is filled with possessive love for her sister. She is more concerned about her own happiness rather than Psyche's, willing to risk all of Psyche’s happiness as long as she gets her back. Benner would suggest that Orual is a textbook case of excessive attachment.
Necessity of Truth
How do we overcome excessive attachment? Benner would argue it requires a radical encounter with truth.
“The only hope for unmasking the falsity that resides at the core of our being is a radical encounter with truth. Nothing other than truth is strong enough to dispel illusion.” - David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself
Notice at the end of this quotation, Benner mentions the mask of our false self in terms of an illusion that needs dispelling. Over time, these behaviors and compulsions can become so much a part of our everyday life that we have a hard time even noticing them as anything other than our regular self; they are so deeply ingrained in us that they become the only self that we know. This is evident in Orual’s possessive love toward Psyche; it is an illusion to her that needs dispelling and nothing except the radical truth is strong enough to dispel the illusion.
The radical truth Benner is referring to is the Holy Spirit of Truth from our Heavenly Father. Only the grace from our Heavenly Father can open our eyes to see the truth of our false-self and begin our journey toward our true-self.
Psyche understood the necessity of Orual’s eyes being opened to truth. After failing to get Orual to see the truth of her Palace, and realize that her deepest longings were fulfilled, Psyche makes a comment that she will implore the god of the mountain to open Orual’s eyes to the truth.
We all have a false self that has been developed over our lives in response to feelings of unworthiness and shame. These behaviors and compulsive attachments can become so much a part of our identity that we don’t even recognize them. But we do not need to fear that we will never rid ourselves of them and find our true self. It begins by inviting in the Spirit of our Heavenly Father, the Spirit of Truth, to reveal to us our false-self behaviors.
In The Gift of Being Yourself, Benner offers a few other suggestions in helping to identify our False Self. Apart from inviting our Heavenly Father to reveal the truth of ourselves to us, pay attention to whenever you become defensive, to your pet-peeves, and to your compulsions. Typically, these will be quite telling. If Orual were following the above, she would potentially see the unhealthy compulsion of her love for Psyche.