Eating Disorder Recovery - False Self vs True Self

Eating Disorder Recovery – False Self vs True Self

Hungry Wolves: False Self vs True Self in Eating Disorder Recovery

You may have heard the Cherokee story, about two wolves who are fighting. One wolf is evil, and the other wolf is good. The legend states that both wolves are within each of us, and the wolf that wins the fight is the one we feed. 

The wolves could also be considered “selves” – one “false self,” and the other “true self.” Well-known psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott is credited with coining these terms in the 1960s. The true self is the original sense of self at the time of birth, which continues to be “fed” throughout healthy development. The false self is “born” in an attempt to compensate for inadequate nurturing, and is “fed” by adhering to other people’s opinions and demands. 

Psychotherapist Stephen Cope explains, “The false self is born when the environment does not welcome the self to be as it is… When we are separated from our capacity to be with life the way it is, especially in our early development, our capacity to self-soothe is severely impaired. Our need for soothing and confirmation from external sources will be chronic and insatiable.”

Eating disorders are an example of this false self, obsessively seeking to self-soothe. The wolf of this false self has an insatiable hunger, which binge eating cannot satisfy, nor starvation deny. The wolf is “fed” through eating disorder behaviors, but it’s never enough. Amidst the false self’s obsession, the other wolf is forgotten. It’s as if there is no true self. The false self – eating disorder – becomes one’s identity. 

Cope continues, “The false self, though initially an effective adaptive strategy, can eventually become a learning disability. It requires us to shut down our connection with the direct feedback from our bodies, our biocomputers… Our ideas about who we should be can be so powerful that they deeply impair our capacity to see who and how we really are. Over time, the ego becomes so invested in the false self that it begins to believe in its reality. Any threat to the false self, then, or any obstacle to the manifestation of its demands, becomes a threat to life itself. We will defend, to the death, whatever we consider to be ‘me.’ ”

No wonder our clients often resist treatment – and sometimes die as a result of their eating disorders. If their eating disorder is who they are, then who would they be without it? Having forgotten about their true self, the fear is that without their false self, there would be no self. They cling to their eating disorder like their life depends on it, even though their eating disorder is taking their life away. 

It is essential to guide clients to realize that their eating disorders are not who they are. It is equally essential to assist clients to discover their True Self, hidden beneath the false self of their eating disorder (note that I deliberately capitalize “T” and “S” for emphasis). Recovery is about remembering and “re-feeding” one’s True Self. 


BLOG ARTICLE – is an excerpt from a full article published on the Gürze/Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue website, at this link:

PRESENTATION – on this topic which offers 1 CE (through NBCC), learn more and register  on the Gürze/Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue website, at this link:

DOWNLOAD HANDOUT – which goes with the presentation here:

©2019 by Dr. Dorie McCubbrey. Dr. Dorie is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and Licensed Addiction Counselor who is passionate about training professionals to effectively guide clients in recovery from eating disorders, through her Eating Disorder Intuitive Therapy (EDIT)™ Certified program. She also meets with clients at her treatment center, Positive Pathways PLLC, located in Evergreen Colorado. Learn more at:


Want more that this “taste” of EDIT™? Dr. Dorie is passionate about her method of Eating Disorder Intuitive Therapy (EDIT)™ to help people overcome eating disorders and addictions.  She provides customized counseling for eating disorders and alcohol / drug addiction at her Positive Pathways treatment center in Evergreen, Colorado – and EDIT™ eating disorder training and certification for coaches and clinicians worldwide. CALL 303-494-1975 – EMAIL DR. DORIE – GET CERTIFIED