Synopsis of the Theory

In early childhood many people are deprived of the support necessary for the development of a clear, strong, healthy Natural Sense of Self. This is indeed a disaster for their future lives, because such a Sense of Self is necessary for their development into an independent, autonomous human being.

When a child is deprived of this necessary support, their system, naturally and automatically compensates by developing an (other) artificial and not healthy psycho-emotional ‘structure’ which serves as a very inferior and highly problem-creating substitute: a Substitute Sense of Self.

The Substitute Sense of Self has multiple functions. Like a Natural, healthy Sense of Self, it forms an anchor in a person’s being, serving as a place of reference which sources the person’s decision-making. Like a Naturally-developed normal Sense of Self, it also serves as the only inner ‘home’ a person experiences mentally and emotionally, the inner sense of where ‘they’ are ‘located,’ where (their) ‘I’ and ‘me’ ‘live’ and what (their) ‘I’ and ‘me’ actually are. In other words this Substitute Sense of Self functions as a core of their being.

Unlike the transparent and stable naturalness of a Natural Sense of Self, however, a Substitute Sense of Self is a complex, unstable, dynamic, and pathological psycho-emotional-behavioral structure which aims to functions for the person as a unit to hold on to in life but in reality only results in a lot of suffering for the person and for their environment. It is kept in place in the person’s Psyche only through constant re-creation via a complex system of dependencies, conditions-to-be-met, Motivation, goals, agendas, emotions, and behaviors. This system as a whole is referred to as the Substitute-Sense–of-Self-oriented System.


The ‘Substitute Sense of Self-oriented System’ gives rise to many compulsive behaviors because the person perceives, subconsciously, that this Sense of Self – vague and elusive but essential for life as it is – depends on the outcome of their achievements and behavior and of what others think of them*1). These outcomes have to be renewed constantly and are that makes their nature one of compulsion. Daily activities ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM TO BE but have become ‘Vehicles’ to what we could call a ‘Hidden Agenda’. This ‘Hidden Agenda or Goals’ forms the real and only motivator to just about all of the person’s behavior.

The ‘Hidden Agenda’ is rooted in their ongoing psycho-emotional neediness. The natural, genuine childhood needs were unmet, so overtime these (artificial) substitute needs arose.  The desperate and never-permanently-successful attempt to meet and fulfill these needs results in compulsive behaviors. Which type of compulsions this refers to needs to be researched and tested *2).

In other words, the ‘Hidden Agenda’ is born from a void  that is the result of the lack of support in the development of a healthy psycho-emotional system, which then results in a fundamental absence of Sense of Self. A healthy psycho-emotional system reflects and involves a healthy Sense of Self.

A person’s ‘Hidden Agenda’ basically comes from their psyche’s attempt to compensate or fill in the Sense-of-Self-void that was created when, in early childhood, they weren’t adequately acknowledged as a separate and autonomous human being. The way this shows up later in life varies from person to person; each of us is unique with unique circumstances and each of us develops our unique compensating strategies to fulfill our unique ‘Hidden Agenda Points’ (Ego-References). [ Early Child Survival Strategies and Ego-References]. (There are however, a lot of similarities among these, too.)


What’s really going on?  When a person has a healthy Natural Sense of Self, their actual actions or behaviors have normal, intended, predictable, obvious outcomes, the outcomes you would expect from those behaviors. (For example, I am washing the dishes to get the dishes clean, and perhaps because I want a clean kitchen and home because clean is nice.) The vehicle (the behavior) and its outcome (the goal) are in a sensible, ordinary alignment.

When a person does not have a healthy Natural Sense of Self, and is operating from a Substitute Sense of Self, there is a huge discrepancy between the ‘vehicle’ of action or behavior, and the actual goal (the Hidden Agenda) of the behavior. The natural alignment is quite distorted or we might say even perverted, so the vehicle is not aimed at the expected goal at all but at the Hidden Agenda goal, one which will bolster the always-failing Substitute Sense of Self.

For example, I am washing dishes to score points with (or against) my spouse, or because my mother will be happy with me, or because I ‘have to’ do things in a way that my father regards as ‘proper’ so he will not reject me.

Another example: I give my children music lessons because ‘doing so makes me feel part of the music scene’ and that is most important for me. That ‘I belong to the music scene’ is my ‘Hidden Agenda’ that needs to lead to my Substitute Sense of Self; or… I will be looked upon as ‘an achiever’ by my parents, so I score!  It isn’t about the children, or their skill or enjoyment, or love of music, nor about the ordinary benefits of their having music lessons. Those are really not important nor motivating to me.

With hundreds of examples like this operating, I can lead a whole life doing things that appear ‘normal’ but have a strong Hidden Agenda. My Hidden Agenda (which is ultimately to experience, however vaguely, my Substitute Sense of Self, which comes down to the state of ‘Feel Good About Self’ is really the only thing that actually matters to me in all those behaviors.

The psycho-emotional dysfunction (absence of a Natural Sense of Self) makes even the most normal-looking action or behavior in daily life into a cover-up for a Hidden Agenda. You think the goal of the behavior/action is the normal/obvious goal, BUT IT IS NOT!

What’s more, the ‘Hidden Agenda’ is the actual ultimate motivator for the action. The person’s behavior and actions are not really aimed at, nor motivated by the achievement of, the ‘ordinary’ (healthy, simple, direct, obvious) result, at all!

This is where in this Theory ‘Direct Motivation’ and ‘Indirect Motivation comes into play. The ins and outs of Direct and Indirect Motivation will be discussed as well as a number of adjacent subjects, like: Hindrances, Inner Conflict, Reward Concept, Body Language and more.

Our suggestions for regaining a non-compromised motivation system, one that is geared towards well-being, is for the person to do frequent if not continuous introspective checks on what is truly motivating them at any moment (Motivation-check) next to body-awareness- and meditational exercises.

There are many young children whose normal needs for healthy self-mirroring by the caretaker are not being met. They can become very observant (subconsciously) about which of their behaviors and actions best result in getting something (in the way of actions and vibes from the caretaker) that at least approximates what they need.

As mentioned earlier, each child develops actions and behaviors unique to them and their situation, although there are common patterns. These actions and behaviors later develop into what this theory calls ‘Ego-References,’ conditions that need to be fulfilled to feel safe. The degree to which the conditions are fulfilled can even become criteria for a person to perceive, in a very subjective way, if he or she has the right to exist; they become a matter of ‘life and death’ and as such result in a continuous fight or flight state (See the term ‘Annihilation.


The Ego-References refer to the person’s desired behavior or state or ways to achieve that state or behavior – because only this specific desired behavior (based on early childhood observations) is the one that will result in the “right” vibes from the mother/caretaker towards the child. An example: I have to finish this work today (not so much because the work needs to be finished but because I than can anticipate a sense of approval, or feel-good-about-Self).

“I need to be in time!” can grow into a compulsion of gaining self-approval (or approval of the parent) in the process the real reason of why it would be useful to be in time is totally not in scope (Indirect Motivation).

As the Substitute Sense of Self-oriented System, with the Substitute-Sense-of-Self as goal, develops, later in life, just the person behaving in the specific way required to fulfill the conditions is enough to generate some experience of a Substitute Sense of Self. In other words the system persists even when parent or caretaker are not present anymore.

When a person never notices this psycho-emotional pattern operating in them, they are bound to keep on repeating that pattern till the end of their days. THEY ARE MISSING OUT ON THEIR OWN LIFE because the Self sensed in this way is not really a natural, normal sensed Self, but a poor, pale inadequate substitute for it – a substitute which also gives rise to a whole series of problems, hassles, sufferings, illnesses, and pathologies, in life.

If the childhood situation of deprivation is severe enough, then over time, the child’s whole identity gets wrapped up in fulfilling these conditions. There is nothing else to their sense of themselves. Working on fulfilling the conditions becomes, in fact, the only reason for living. Life for them becomes one big struggle to live up to all the self-imposed conditions’.  You can imagine how stressful this is, and what a sad situation, made even worse by the ‘collateral damage’ of the side-effect sufferings and problems.

A person like that is not in touch with herself and is merely juggling to keep her plates in the air in the attempt to get the experience of the Substitute Sense of Self. The poignant drama here is that she is skipping her own personal life altogether. A person who is caught in this Substitute Sense of Self- oriented way of living misses out on a life as ‘her own person’ — so in a way we could even say she doesn’t really exist! In the long run, that can cause many diseases and addictions, big and small (compare: Pathology).

To recognize whether you are trapped in the dynamics and dictates of a Substitute Sense of Self, and to learn what ‘to be yourself’ actually is, you have to first get a clue about what ‘sense yourself’ means. One of the main goals of this Theory is to help you get that understanding.

This site presents:

  1. the Theory and with it extensive explanation, examples and details
  2. a method for Self-assessment
  3. suggestions, exercises, and advice for recovery: gaining a Restored Sense of Self.
  4. The request to partake in this study by you doing Introspection on your self and telling us your story, your experiences
  5. This site offers the possibility to interact with others and learn from each other and by doing so you contribute to the global progress in gaining knowledge and information on this topic that can reduce a lot of harm in the world:

‘More Sense of Self – Better Health – Less WAR!’

is our slogan.

Please consult the site-map for an overview of the work; you may want to use the link-map for a speedier functioning of the links.

*1 and per extension on what they ’think’ of themselves (compare the Lego and Clay Demonstrations in Definition of Self)

*2 Invitation to scientists on the right spot to do research on the relevance of this Theory for the various types of Compulsion, Obsession, Addiction…

Where the reader goes next…