The following provides a few definitions of ‘self’.
Our physical-self is our physical body including our brain, heart, and senses; everything that physically makes us who we are on this earth.
Our ego-self is our physical-self with the inclusion of our awareness of our environment. This awareness is what we perceive through our physical senses as modified by the model of the world that our brain has built by using that same information.
When we are born, we are aware only of the information provided by our senses. As we grow our brain integrates the information it receives into a data store that provides a model of our environment. Our brain never has access to our environment directly; only through our senses. Once it has built a model of its perceived environment, it interprets new information received with-respect-to this model.
Our brain, using the model it has built, reacts to the environment. This means that we react to each new experience in a way that depends not only on the current experience, but also on our past experiences. Our awareness of our environment depends on the information provided by our senses and how our brain interprets them given the model it has built.
This has profound effect on who we are, as we all have different internal models of the world. How any given one of us will respond in any given situation depends not only on our physical-self, but also our ego-self that we have become because of the experiences we have had in life. This difference can be seen in the same individual by considering them when they were a child versus when they have grown into an adult.
Some people refer to the ego-self as the real-self. They say that the real-self is who we are. It is how we think, how we feel, look, and act. The real-self can be seen by others, but because we have no way of truly knowing how others view us, the real-self is our self-image (how we think people see us). This is consistent with the above definition of ego-self.
The true-self is an idealized version of who we are. Different people have different ideas about what this could mean. A couple of ideas are described in the following:
True-Self Is Who We Want to Be: It is an idealized image that we develop over time, based on what we learn and experience. This could include things like what our parents taught us, what we admire in others, what society fosters, or what we happen to think is in our best interest.
True-Self Is Our Spiritual Self: We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience –Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Consider that we have a body and a spirit. Our spirit interacts with our environment through our ego-self. Our spirit can be considered our “true-self”.
In either case above, the true-Self is an idealized version of our ego-self. I prefer the spiritual version since the “who we want to be” approach seems flawed because we have a flawed ego-self postulating this, which seems would lead to a flawed “who we want to be”; a conundrum. Whereas the spiritual version is at least compatible with the plan of salvation as expressed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You must decide this for yourself; there are likely also other ideas to consider.
The bottom line takeaway is expressed at the beginning of this section independent of what the underlying mechanism is for implementing it.
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” – Teilhard de Chardin
“The primary purpose of life is to wake up to the presence of our spiritual being and allow it to flow into our doings.” – Eckhart Tolle