(N.B.C.) Is growing up a betrayal of the self?

By Toru Watanabe

I’ve just finished reading an autobiography in which the author quotes a letter which he wrote to himself aged 15, to be read when he was 25. In this missive, he told his older self that the person he was at 15 was his true self and that every day that passed after then was one more step in betrayal of himself.


“Well I tell you now that everything I feel now, everything I am now is truer and better than anything I shall ever be. Ever. This is me now, the real me. Every day that I grow away from the me that is writing this now is a betrayal and a defeat.”


This struck me because I felt the sentiment was one which I had to some degree shared at some point. Perhaps 15, that angry age where everyone else is wrong and no-one understands, is the last true vestige before one’s life is subsumed by compromise. Beyond that year, we are forced to take part, to fit in, and to follow the stream slowly to the sea. That was his belief anyway.


I remember the fierce self-pride of that age, the sense of I will not change, the belief that I already understood everything that was important and that those later lessons learned by those older than me were simply delusions they had created to console themselves in the wake of their own sell-outs.


One of the questions that the autobiography posed but did not seek to answer was that of whether or not the 15 year-old’s letter was right. Was he his real self at 15 and is the adult writing the 15 year-old’s story merely a picture of defeat?


I like the thought but I think the question it asks is the wrong question. The pride, passion and fear of self-betrayal that burn so strongly in the letter represent a deep truth and self-honesty that many people lose by training themselves to become an “adult”. The tides of misery, dissatisfaction and creeping mental illness that are slowly flooding our worlds are, I think, largely a result of people’s failure to be true to themselves, their fear-driven conformity.


This 15 year-old’s feelings were true in a way that the beliefs he tried to attach to them were not. Honest passion contains a truth that no manner of factual construction can ever hold. It is not the act of changing that constitutes a defeat and a betrayal of these feelings; only ceasing to permit yourself to feel so strongly and so honestly is such a transgression.

A real self is not an entity that exists in a particular time and place. True selfhood is more like an attitude that one takes to the world. Such an attitude is resistant to change because it is a passionate attitude and not a sum of facts.


3 responses to “(N.B.C.) Is growing up a betrayal of the self?

  1. My perspective on the concept of ‘self’ is that it’s something constructed by human beings to allow them to practically interact with their world at the level they interact with it.

    Ultimately of course the notion of self seems to fall apart (not that this is necessarily bad… even the notion falls apart if examined enough, not that it makes the concept of solidity any less important in our constructed reality), never mind a 15 year old telling their older self that they are them self, we can have arguments within our greater notion of self where we question our own thoughts.

    So when you say true “self hood” is not a sum of facts I definitely agree, it’s nothing more than idea we have that is constantly evolving/changing and often ignoring the more contentious parts of its own conception.

  2. Chadd. I do not think you have understood my point.

    I do not think that the self is an idea, nor that it is something we construct ie. “invent” in order to interact with the world. I believe more that the self is an attitude we take in interacting.

  3. I too am currently reading a book that delves into questions of the ‘true’ self, so to speak, and agree that it is a really intriguing topic. In the book I’m reading, The unbearable lightness of being – Milan Kundera, one of the protagonists questions the relation between soul, ‘true’ self, and body: “if various parts of her body began to grow and shrink and Tereza no longer looked like herself, would she still be herself, would she still be Tereza?…had her body the right to call itself Tereza? …what did the name refer to? Merely something incorporeal, intangible?”

    Although this idea goes a little off topic, I find it a really interesting one and it does relate, to your idea of ‘true’ self being “an attitude…resistant to change”, by insinuating that the ‘true’ self, the soul, remains relatively static against the changing body.

    But the main topic I wanted to broach was the rather pessimistic opinion you give about true self hood giving in to societal pressure and becoming “subsumed by compromise”. You say when we become adults we cease to permit ourselves “to feel so strongly and so honestly”. Really? Perhaps it may coincide that someone may feel less strongly about things as they become older but I do not believe this has anything to do with becoming an adult. From my own experience I have found that every minute I get older I become stronger within myself and more confident to be true to myself. I think adulthood is a state of mind, not an age bracket. I believe to get anywhere near achieving this state of mind you must be true to yourself. It is a part of growing up, maturing and becoming confident within oneself.

    Consequently I don’t believe you are truly an adult if you neglect to be true to yourself – in fact I’m saying that’s a large part of what being an adult is – living for yourself. You say “many people lose [self honesty] by training themselves to become an ‘adult’. The tides of misery, dissatisfaction and creeping mental illness that are slowly flooding our worlds are, I think, largely a result of people’s failure to be true to themselves, their fear-driven conformity.” For one I don’t think you ‘train’ yourself to become an adult, I think it is part of the natural process of maturing, and two, exactly who are you referring to when you say ‘many people’? I am certainly not miserable, nor dissatisfied, as I have said the closer I come to ‘adulthood’ the closer I feel I am to realising my true self. I understand what you are saying about society placing a lot of pressure on people to act a certain way etc. but I do not feel this has anything to do with becoming an adult, I feel as an adult you finally have the strength to resist these social constraints. I also see to a certain degree what you are saying about losing our ‘true’ self through compromises as we become adults but I don’t believe we compromise any major part of our selfhood. I more see it that as we mature and become sure of ourselves we become more tolerant and accepting of other people. I don’t think it is a matter of ‘selling-out’ more just showing maturity in tolerating or giving up certain superficial factors of our lives to allow a more accepting society and consequently to allow more people to be true their selves in becoming adults.
    If someone feels society isn’t allowing them to be true to themselves than I don’t think this person has matured yet to be strong enough to be their own person no matter what society may think. These people aren’t adults of mind only physicality…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s