A few days ago I pondered the fate of Owen Wilson as it relates to his possible ascendant, and the conflicts that we often encounter between our persona as represented by the ascendant with the rest of our birthchart.
Martha Beck speaks on this issue from a psychological perspective:
I base all my counseling on the premise that each of us has these two sides: the essential self and the social self. The essential self contains several sophisticated compasses that continuously point toward your North Star. The social self is the set of skills that actually carry you toward this goal. Your essential self wants passionately to become a doctor; the social self struggles through organic chemistry and applies to medical school. Your essential self yearns for the freedom of nature; your social self buys the right backpacking equipment. Your essential self falls in love; your social self watches to make sure the feeling is reciprocal before allowing you to stand underneath your beloved’s window singing serenades.
This system functions beautifully as long as the social and essential selves are communicating freely with each other and working in perfect synchrony. However, not many people are lucky enough to experience such inner harmony. For reasons we’ll discuss in a moment, the vast majority of us put other people in charge of charting our course through life. We never even consult our own navigational equipment; instead, we steer our lives according to the instructions of people who have no idea how to find our North Stars. Naturally, they end up sending us off course.
If your feelings about life in general are fraught with discontent, anxiety, frustration, anger, boredom, numbness, or despair, your social and essential selves are not in sync. Life design is the process of reconnecting them. We’ll start this process by clearly articulating the differences between the two selves, and understanding how communication between them broke down.
getting to know your selves
Your essential self formed before you were born, and it will remain until you’ve shuffled off your mortal coil. It’s the personality you got from your genes: your characteristic desires, preferences, emotional reactions, and involuntary physiological responses, bound together by an overall sense of identity. It would be the same whether you’d been raised in France, China, or Brazil, by beggars or millionaires. It’s the basic you, stripped of options and special features. It is “essential” in two ways: first, it is the essence of your personality, and second, you absolutely need it to find your North Star.
The social self, on the other hand, is the part of you that developed in response to pressures from the people around you, including everyone from your family to your first love to the pope. As the most socially dependent of mammals, human babies are born knowing that their very survival depends on the goodwill of the grown-ups around them. Because of this, we’re all literally designed to please others. Your essential self was the part of you that cracked your first baby smile; your social self noticed how much Mommy loved that smile, and later reproduced it at exactly the right moment to convince her to lend you the down payment on a condo. You still have both responses. Sometimes you smile involuntarily, out of amusement or silliness or joy, but many of your smiles are based purely on social convention.
Between birth and this moment, your social self has picked up a huge variety of skills. It learned to talk, read, dress, dance, drive, juggle, merge, acquire, cook, yodel, wait in line, share bananas, restrain the urge to bite – anything that won social approval. Unlike your essential self, which is the same regardless of culture, your social self was shaped by cultural norms and expectations.
If you happen to have been born into a Mafia family, your social self is probably wary, street-smart, and ruthless. If you were raised by nuns in the local orphanage, it may be saintly and self-sacrificing. Whatever you learned to be, you’re still learning. Your social self is hard at work, right this minute, struggling to make sure you’re honest and loyal, or sweet and sexy, or tough and macho, or any other combination of things you believe makes you socially acceptable.
The social self is based on principles that often run contrary to our core desires. Its job is to know when those desires will upset other people, and to help us override natural inclinations that aren’t socially acceptable.
The “social self”, of course, is the ascendant; the “essential self” the Sun sign. From an astrological viewpoint the social self is inherent in the individual and did not develop in response to any outward stimuli as Dr. Beck proposes. Still – the two dynamics may work in tandem with each other, such as a Leo Sun and Sagittarius ascendant. Or, as we have seen, the conflict between the core self and the social self can create more difficulties.
The beauty of astrology is that it clearly identifies the nature of these selves, along with the other multiple personality traits that are symbolized by the other planets and points of the chart. This enables us to bring those different energies together into one cohesive whole.