Know Thyself: A Journey Inward

behind the facade

The Delphic maxim “know thyself” is inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and has been used by a diverse array of thinkers Socrates, Plato and Aeschylus, among others, to prompt awareness of the self.

 In the Christian tradition the necessity of ‘knowing thyself’ has a strong pedigree.  Calvin, for example, argued in his ‘Institutes of the Christian Religion’ (particularly in 1.1.1) that one cannot truly know and understand God until one is sufficiently self-aware.  St. Augustine is famous for his autobiography ‘Confessions’, a powerful exposition of his spiritual and psychological struggles.

In the world of psychotherapy, it was Carl Jung who famously wrote: “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud drew an important distinction between self-analysis, which he promoted, and introspection, we he viewed as defective.

However we view ourselves and our place in the world, we can all agree that we are intrinsically complicated creatures.  Our inner worlds are often suppressed and hidden behind a facade; we project onto the world what we think the world wants us to see.  The great psychiatrists and psychologists – Freud, Jung, Adler, Frankl – all understood this and incorporated it into their work.

There is one book that I came across recently – ‘Behind the Facade: A Psychiatrist’s View’ – that highlighted the complexity of the human condition wonderfully.  Written by the late Dr. Dennis Friedman, who famously blamed the 2008 banking crisis on banker’s mothers, ‘Behind the Facade’ is a fascinating insight into the subconscious and the secrets it holds.  Friedman does this via a series of stories, or case-studies, based on the myriad patients he has helped throughout his long career.  He lays bare the dynamics and drivers that lead to relationship issues, sexual dysfunction and work problems, particularly stemming from parenting issues and childhood traumas.

Friedman tells each story masterfully, never telling the reader what to think, rather leaving him/her to make their own conclusion.  Some stories, at least in my case, needed to be read more than once to get the full import of the psychological nuances that were presented.

If you are fascinated by people in general and the psyche in particular, this book comes highly recommended.  Friedman’s psychoanalytic approach, presented in this way is illuminating, prompting self-analysis, an endeavour that can only be useful in understanding oneself better.  After all, many of us can surely identify with what Lewis Carroll wrote in ‘Alice in Wonderland’: “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”

2 responses to “Know Thyself: A Journey Inward”

  1. Mike o sullivan Avatar
    Mike o sullivan

    The great puzzle indeed. Great piece.


  2. Of course, by and large, psychiatrists and psychologists are neither interested in finding out who they themselves are nor in encouraging their patients to find out who they are. They want to impose their own stories, world views and categories on their patients. That’s partly because they like to pretend they’re practicing science and a chief measure of science is its supposed objectivity. Subjective inquiry has been on the nose with scientists since the 17th century. It’s also because psychiatry and – to a slightly lesser degree – psychology are intrinsically authoritarian disciplines. They must mold ‘defective’ others, not allow them to mold themselves.


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