Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Transpersonal Psychology: Integral · Esoteric · Meditation

Self & identity
Brain animated color nevit.gif


Other articles

The Self is a complex and core subject in many forms of spirituality. Two types of self are commonly considered - the self that is the ego, also called the learned, superficial self of mind and body, an egoic creation, and the Self which is sometimes called the "True Self", the "Observing Self", or the "Witness". [1]

The Self is pure consciousness or Being in Self-awareness. Whereas, the I am principle is individuality made manifest. They are separate and distinguishable. Even the I-sense eventually dissolves.


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.[2] Traditions such as Buddhism see the apparent self (our identification as souls, minds, bodies and egos) as a "grasping-after" self—i.e., inasmuch as one has a "self," one has it only through a deluded attempt to shore it up. Christianity also sees the true self negatively, distorted through sin: 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?' (Jeremiah 17:9)

According to Marcia, identity comes from both political and religious views. He also identified exploration and commitment as interactive parts of identity formation, which includes religious identity. Erikson compared faith with doubt and found that healthy adults take heed to their spiritual side.[3]

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." [4]

Maslow's theory

According to Abraham Maslow's theory of "self-actualization needs: to find self fulfillment and realize one's potential."[5] 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."[6] 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.

Rogers' Theory on 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." [7] Rogers thought that people develop through relationships with others and also in relation to themselves. An encouraging environment helps people towards this development.

Descriptions of 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".

Descriptions of the Witnessing Self

Further information: Ego (spirituality)

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." [8]

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." [8]

In a similar vein, Evelyn Underhill[9] 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

Similar concepts to the Observing Self:


  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 persoanlity is indeed merely a shadow of the real."
  2. Charon, Joel M. Ten Questions: A Sociological Perspective. 5th edition. Thomson & Wadsworth. pg. 260
  3. Kiesling, Chris; Montgomery, Marylin; Sorell, Gwendolyn; Colwell, Ronald. "Identity and Spirituality: A Psychosocial Exploration of the Sense of Spiritual Self"
  4. Kiesling, Chris; Montgomery, Marylin; Sorell, Gwendolyn; Colwell, Ronald. "Identity and Spirituality: A Psychosocial Exploration of the Sense of Spiritual Self"
  5. Huffman, Karen. Psychology In Action. 8th ed. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pg.478
  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. 8.0 8.1 Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, ch. 12, p.197-199
  9. Evelyn Underhill, "Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, Section III, P. 55.

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).