Can having an alter ego help reveal your true self?


British actor Rowan Atkinson was born with a stutter. Shy as a child, he was constantly bullied at school because of his speech impediment. Interestingly though, whenever Atkinson went on stage, he was able to take on a new persona. He could immerse himself into the role of his character and his stuttering would magically disappear. In an interview with the Time magazine, he is known to have said, “I find when I play a character other than myself, the stammering disappears. That may have been some of the inspiration for pursuing the career I did.”

Beyonce Knowles who is ladylike in her personal life wanted to showcase a different persona of herself on stage. She hence created Sasha Fierce who was sensual, bold, and aggressive. In an interview, Beyonce revealed that Sasha was born during the making of her hit single Crazy in Love. Strictly a stage persona, Sasha helped Knowles experience a different version of herself. However, as Beyonce herself is known to have said, “I’m not like her in real life at all. I’m not flirtatious and super-confident and fearless like her.”

Like Knowles and Atkinson, several successful people—be it in the field of entertainment or sports or business—are known to have consciously created alter egos. For instance, according to the author Walter Isaacson, the persona of Steve Jobs as Apple’s founder was nothing like the persona of Steve Jobs when around his family. And it is not just the top performers—we too have different facets to our personality. Only, we seldom take note of them and create our own alter egos. For instance, our persona when we’re alone or with family members is often different from our persona when around friends or at our workplace.

So, why create an alter ego? Why consciously magnify certain personality traits? Performance advisor Todd Herman, the author of The Alter Ego Effect, gives us a compelling reason. In his podcast, he explains: “Alter egos help us get out of our own way. Many a time, we carry within us insecurities and judgements that make us play it small in life. Most of us are born to be a superman or superwomen but we deliberately take on the role of Clark Kent so that we’d fit in with society, and not get ostracised.” So essentially, his theory is that by taking preferred traits from our own personality, creating an avatar with them, and distancing ourselves from it, we’d no longer worry about being judged or criticised. We’d thereby lose our inhibitions and come one step closer to experience our true selves.

Here’s the catch, though—often, the term alter ego is misunderstood. When we think of alter egos, we tend to think of the novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or remember the scenes from the movie Fight Club. We often confuse having an alter ego with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Incidentally, the two are very different. While DID is a medical condition wherein the person has no recollection of his multiple personalities, having an alter ego is a conscious choice. It is a mere tool to magnify one or more personality traits which are already present within us. To further clarify, as Herman insists, the alter ego we create for ourselves should bring out the core of who we are. But creating an alter ego to impress or deceive someone, can lead to our own entrapment if we create a second self which is fake and inauthentic, not in sync with who we truly want to be.

I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until, finally, I became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point along the way

Having said that, having an alter ego is not a walk in the park. It can be uncomfortable at first. To consciously shift to our alter ego mode, or to seamlessly transition between our personas every now and then can be downright tedious. However, with enough practice, we’ll eventually outgrow the need for an alter ego someday. After all, several experts concede that our personality traits are not set in stone. They are, instead, surprisingly malleable. And so, over time, we’d automatically begin to embody the traits that were once dormant within us and our alter ego would become a natural part of who we are. Perhaps, it is as the American actor Cary Grant once said: “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until, finally, I became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point along the way.”

So how do we create an alter ego for ourselves? How do we come one step closer to who we truly are? Herman suggests a five-step process:

Personal limiter diagnostic

We often live a limited life owing to our own limited beliefs. And so, before we go on to create an alter ego, it is better to introspect, make a list of our limiting beliefs along with the reason why we’ve nurtured them in the first place. The more honest our evaluation, the more insights we’d get about our own conditioned psyche—the very things we need to overcome by creating an alter ego.

Talent magnifier

Once we have a list of limiters, the next step is to identify key traits which could help us overcome these limiters. This step hence requires us to evaluate our own quirks, talents, and oddities which could help us overcome them, showcase our unique persona and thereby make us who we truly are.

Bringing your alter ego to life

Whilst breathing life into an alter ego, it is better to give it a background story. By giving our avatar a storyline and a context, we develop an emotional connect and hence find it easier to relate to our alter ego better.

Triggers to get into the alter ego mode

To transition into our alter ego, initially, we may require help. This is where props can come in handy. Props can be something we wear, something we hold on to, or something in the external environment. These essentially act as a trigger which gives us a cue to enter the alter ego mode.

Immersion experience

This final step is where we immerse ourselves in the life of the alter ego and experience how it feels. For a moment, we get to live the true version of who we are. Then on, the more we practice going in and out of the alter ego mode, the more we get comfortable with our new avatar and become it ourselves.


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