The secular or false self is the self that is fabricated, as Thomas Merton says, by social compulsions. “Compulsive” is indeed the best adjective for the false self. It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation. Who am I? I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated, or despised. . . . If being busy is a good thing, then I must be busy. If having money is a sign of real freedom, then I must claim my money. If knowing many people proves my importance, I will have to make the necessary contacts. The compulsion manifests itself in the lurking fear of failing and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same—more work, more money, more friends.
These very compulsions are at the basis of the two main enemies of the spiritual life: anger and greed. They are the inner side of the secular life, the sour fruits of our worldly dependences.