“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” –Genesis 3: 7
“When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.’” –John 1: 47
“This matter arose, because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” –Galatians 2: 4
“As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message.” –Galatians 2: 6
From the time of the Fall in the Garden of Eden, mankind has no longer been clothed or covered by God’s glory. Conscious now of our nakedness before the Lord and others, we have, more or less, found it necessary to conceal our true identities. We call these cover-ups “fig leaves” after Adam and Eve’s choice.
Each of us finds and constructs his own fig leaves to obscure various vulnerable parts of his natural self. A complete fig leaf construct becomes a false identity, or fixed role we regularly assume in certain situations and circumstances.
Of course, it is natural to adapt our social behaviors, for the purpose of fitting in or getting by. This is not necessarily dishonest. However, when self-protective changes in outward identity are pervasive and definitive, hiding us even from Christ and ourselves, the resultant fig leaves make us hypocrites, actors posing as authentic people.
Though the origins and processes for development are similar, fig leaf formations can range from relatively innocuous to life-threateningly severe. A fig leaf may cover a tiny part of my heart, or it may conceal my true being altogether. In the case of dissociative disorders, false identities created as protection from facing childhood wounding may be totally separated from the consciousness of the core person.
The Greek word hypocrite means actor, one who wears masks to indicate his roles. Today the profession of acting requires the ability to empathize and believably transmit emotional truth. This is accomplished when the artist fashions an intact false identity that can communicate universal human experience through characterization. An actor must look inside his own heart to design a believable portrayal.
Acting ability has saved many children from personality disintegration, even physical death, when trapped in situations of severe abuse. In Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), previously called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), a child may create full-blown personalities for the purpose of incorporating feelings and experiences too agonizingly traumatic to hold in consciousness.
Biblically based sanctification can be thought of as the process of surrendering fig leaves to the Lord, trusting ever more in His protection and comfort, rather than our own. Paradoxically, as we “take off” our assumed roles and defensive “clothing” and Jesus Christ becomes our covering (Galatians 3: 27), we are freed to spontaneously and un-self-consciously become the persons God created us to be. This is daily a walk of leaning on Him alone, acknowledging the fruitlessness of trying to form ourselves in any particular way through acts of will.
In an image-obsessed culture like the USA of the 21st century, we learn very early to protect ourselves by hiding in roles. Children are rigorously socialized through peer pressure and the media to perform and play-act for safety from ridicule and rejection. Innocence–which was once carefully guarded in children by keeping them refreshingly honest, open, trusting, and naively curious—too often has been violated by constant exposure to a culture of violence, sexual obsession, perversion and blatant evil. Media imprinting and peer pressure harden hearts and encourage young people to build social walls of conformity.
Certain adaptive roles are so typical they can easily be recognized, identified, and reproduced. Indeed, the youth subculture rigorously reinforces rigid outward conformity, to ensure belonging and herd security. Consequently, in school-and-media-acculturated children, genuine unaffectedly tender and trusting behavior such as Jesus described when He said we must enter the Kingdom of God as little children can be hard to find.
The nature of the role is also influenced by temperament tendencies. When the childhood environment has been greatly deficient or unhealthy in areas of specific temperament need for the individual, that can have a direct bearing on the traits of the false identity created by her.
It may be helpful to explore temperament as measured on an assessment, such as the Arno Profile System or one based on the Briggs-Myers typology, at some point in the counseling process. This can enhance a person’s awareness and appreciation for his own unique constellation of character and personality traits. After several heart-healing sessions, we have seen individuals change from being characterized by obsessive drivenness to exhibiting balanced peace in the expression of inborn temperament strengths and weaknesses. We watch them begin to relax, with God helping them be in His love just as He created them.
Sometimes when dealing with DID, a false identity or façade can be mistaken for a demonic stronghold or alter. We are addressing neither devils nor alternate personalities in this article—rather we are talking about personal social roles, often deeply ingrained, which have been used over time for adjustment. For the injured one, it can be frightening to come present to the truth of his social artifice; we always try to exercise care when walls are coming down. Following is a list of some common “fig leaf roles.”
- The Clown—The plan here is to gain approval and keep people at a safe distance by joking and causing others to laugh. The Clown is uncomfortable relaxing and being himself, fearing rejection and ridicule if he is serious or vulnerable. He “holds the pain at bay” by bringing on the jokes.
- The Pharisee—The Pharisee is driven to do good things for others, craving the approval of men to stave off internal self-hatred. The Pharisee tries perfectly to meet his own holiness standards, inwardly comparing himself to others, and often feeling defensive and inadequate.
- The Addict—The Addict is constantly seeking a high or euphoric experience to avoid facing his pain in the here and now. The Addict hides behind “my addictive personality” to tell himself he doesn’t have the ability to stop mentally running away.
- The Party Animal—Everything is a good excuse to go have fun for the Party Animal. If you get too close to the real person, the Party Animal tells you to “chill out”, and makes it your problem because you are too “intense”.
- The Controller—This person avoids rejection and feelings of shame by attempting to control all aspects of her immediate environment. Letting go the compulsive need to be in control is feared, because the pain of shame may leak through into consciousness.
- The Angry One—Anger is the ritual pattern of choice to keep others distant for the Angry One. It serves as a shield of protection for the vulnerable, shamed self.
- The Martyr—This person must see herself as the suffering victim, to keep deep-seated feelings of inferiority from surfacing.
- The Super-spiritual One—By holding God responsible for every choice and circumstance in her life, this individual’s role becomes a clever façade used for avoiding responsibility and keeping her from feeling neediness, confusion, and loss.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive or definitive. Probably many other examples can be devised from the reader’s experience. Our goal is simply to offer a way of looking at behavioral roles, adapted from an early age, that protect from feelings of underlying shame. Finding the roots of these roles or false identities in a sufferer’s life allows one to let go of them and become more transparent before God and others.