Layer After Layer

By Greg Baer M.D.

July 8, 2015

It is popular to describe people as onions, one layer covering another, over and over.

This turns out to be true, but not in the clean-cut manner of onions.

The Core—Innate Character Traits

At our core is who we really are, comprising all our Innate Character Traits, including, among others:

Emotional sensitivity
Sense of adventure
Artistic ability
Musical disposition
“Out-of-the-box thinking”
Ability to connect to others
Need to connect to others

These Traits are a result of genetics, epigenetics, and perhaps—depending on your spiritual beliefs—our spiritual inheritance, the traits we brought with us when we were born.

The combination of all our Traits is Who-We-Really-Are. It is the seeds from which we sprout and grow. I have never seen these gifts be bad.

The world tends to value some Traits more than others. People tend to value intelligence, for example, more than they value tenderness, but what a dreary place this life would be without tenderness.

We are all enriched by all the Character Traits, and it is simply true that some of us possess more of some traits than others of us have.

If we compare our own combination of Traits to what other people have, we’ll be miserable. Profound happiness is to be found as we recognize our Traits and nourish them to grow to their full capacity.

The Presence or Absence of Love—Love or Not (Formation of the Outer Layer)

Our Innate Character Traits are then profoundly influenced by love or the absence thereof, and from that influence grows our Outer Layer, which is what we and other people tend to see.

The Influence of Love on our Innate Character Traits (Formation of a Healthy Outer Layer)

The presence of Real Love allows our Traits to blossom in loving and natural ways, to form a healthy Outer Layer. We feel happy, and to others we appear to be healthy and happy. Let’s examine a few examples of how love causes individual Traits to contribute to a healthy Outer Layer:


When we feel loved, we use our intelligence to:

correctly identify our mistakes and eventually avoid them;
dissect our own lies with unerring accuracy;
establish a career that would allow for an adequate income;
formulate effective plans for loving and teaching people;
solve problems of a wide variety of types.


With love, our talents—musical, artistic, speaking, and more—are freed up to serve, entertain, and uplift ourselves and others.


When we feel loved:

we keenly observe people’s needs and fears in order to love and help them;
we rigorously see our own flaws so we can gradually improve them;
we solve problems for the benefit of ourselves and others.
The ability to connect with others: With love we use this ability to enrich the lives of others, and to connect them to each other in a loving way.


When we feel loved:

we can fearlessly and lovingly point out the fears and unproductive behaviors of others in a way that will help them;
we can reach people who are emotionally distant, who need more than a casual brush with love;
we’re willing to take the risks involved with telling the truth about ourselves in a way that will lead to finding Real Love;
we persist in finding the truth and love, despite all the opposition arrayed against us;
we are not afraid of failing, which enables us to be creative.


With love:

we’re able to feel everything more subtly and deeply: peace, joy, gratitude;
we can sense more easily the feelings of others, which allows us to respond sooner to them and with greater effectiveness.


With love:

we take appropriate responsibility for our own feelings, instead of blaming others;
we tend to do what we have promised to do;
we hold ourselves accountable for the assignments we have been given;
we are self-motivated in the process of learning and growing.

The Influence of the Absence of Love (Negative Formation of the Outer Layer)

The absence of sufficient Real Love is inherently painful, much like the absence of food leads to painful hunger, or the absence of air leads to the painful sensation of choking. This pain is invariably accompanied by fear—fear of the immediate pain and fear that the pain will continue or worsen. Pain and fear don’t just interfere with the natural and loving expression of our Innate Character Traits. No, pain and fear distort, stain, and poison the natural expression of our Traits. Our Traits still express themselves, but in twisted and unloving ways. Let’s look at the selected Traits we just discussed to see how they express themselves in the absence of sufficient Real Love to create an Outer Layer that looks and feels unloving both to ourselves and others.


When we’re in pain, we use our intelligence to:

rationalize our unloving and selfish behaviors;
find limitless and creative ways to lie, run, act like victims, and more;
accomplish “great” things at work and elsewhere, in order to gather great gobs of praise and power;
manipulate people;
achieve competence and arrogance, which are weak substitutes for the genuine confidence that comes from knowing who we really are.


When we’re in pain, we use our talents to:

show off and win the conditional approval of as many people as possible;
give ourselves a sense of being alive;
entertain and deceive people for the purpose of acquiring money and power;
entertain people to win their approval and avoid their disapproval.

Insight, keen observation. 

When we’re in pain, we use our powers of observation to:

criticize others;
make ourselves feel better by comparison;
identify the needs of others, so we can please them and win their conditional approval;
solve problems in a way that benefits us over others;
identify a greater variety of ways that other people have hurt us, which justifies our victimhood;
use self-help programs and an appearance of spirituality to create an air of enlightenment.

Ability to connect to others ourselves and to connect others to others. In pain we connect to other people in order to maximize the praise, power, and money we can get from them.


When we’re in pain:

we pursue excitement (fast driving, risky investments, etc.) to dull our pain;
we’re more likely to defend ourselves with anger than by withdrawing;
we tend to intimidate people to get what we want;
we criticize and attack people to defend ourselves and to get a feeling of power;
we selfishly get whatever we can for ourselves, disregarding the needs of others.


When we’re in pain, our tenderness:

makes us hypersensitive to the words and behaviors of others;
leads to an increased incidence of PTSD and PCSD;
makes us less likely to take necessary risks;
tends to increase our guilt and shame;
makes us far more likely to use addictive behaviors to decrease our pain.


In pain:

we inappropriately take responsibility for the feelings of others;
we feel excessively guilty for the mistakes we make;
we take responsibility for the blaming other people heap on us, which results in feeling shame for our mistakes and flaws;
we’re afraid to take risks and the responsibilities that go with them, because then we’ll feel even more guilt and shame.
we tend to make great efforts to please people, so they won’t make us feel responsible for their displeasure, disappointment, and disapproval.

Even More Pollution of the Outer Layer

A short version of what I’ve stated thus far: If you add love to out innate traits, they blossom. If you add pain and fear, our traits become distorted and destructive. Our Core is beautiful. Our Outer Layer—how we appear to ourselves and others—is often a complete mess, distorted by the effects of pain and fear.

As though our Outer Layer were not messy enough already, it’s further polluted and distorted by how we FEEL about it. As we look at the fear, guilt, running, lying, victimhood, manipulation, and more in our lives, we feel even more SHAME about who we are—or, more accurately, who we appear to be. Threads of this shame then permeate the entire Outer Layer, becoming an enormous part of who we think we are. We feel ashamed of who we “are.” We feel worthless.

The Implications of Understanding The Two Layers of Ourselves

How can we apply all this knowledge practically? In a great many ways, but let’s look at a few.

Learning Who We Really Are

We have to understand Who-We-Really-Are—our Core. Why? How can we know where to go with our lives if we don’t know who we are? If a bird thought it was a pig, how would it behave? Once we know who we are, we know what traits to develop, and how to fulfill our potential.

How can we discover who we are? It’s not complicated. The Core is obscured by its interaction with pain and fear, so if we eliminate pain and fear, what’s left is US, who we are. And I’m aware of only one way to eliminate pain and fear: Real Love. When we find love, trust it, remember it, and learn to share it, pain and fear naturally disappear.

Wise Men

We can’t find Real Love on our own. On our own, we simply repeat the patterns of feeling and behaving that we’ve been taught. We need help. So wise men can bathe us in love, washing away the pain and fear and the mess those feelings have created—the Outer Layer. Wise men wash away the mud that surrounds the Core so thoroughly that we have no clue who we really are. For more about the role of wise men and women, read this blog.

Shame, Low Self-Esteem

Nearly all of us feel varying degrees of shame, which cripples us, because in shame we can’t feel the love we need. Shame means that we are disgusted by who we are. But we assume—naturally so—that who we really are is a sum of the behaviors we see and the feelings we have. This is a terrible mistake. What we see is the Outer Layer of ourselves, the layer almost invariably is produced by adding pain and fear to the Core of ourselves. The Core is all our Innate Character Traits, which are good, while the Outer Layer is so corrupted by pain and fear that it is almost unrelated to who we really are. In essence, we are ashamed of the pain and fear that were inflicted UPON us, which isn’t US at all.

Once we recognize that we’ve been wrong about who we really are, our shame naturally disappears. How could it not? We can then begin to see who we are and use those traits in positive ways.

Understanding our layers also makes sense of feelings and behaviors that have long confused us. We hate feeling confused. We’re already in pain, and not understanding the real cause of it only adds to our anguish.

Seeing Who We Are by Using Our Unloving Behaviors

So, now we understand that what we SEE in ourselves and others is almost always the Outer Layer, not our Core. We see only a distortion of ourselves. But even this distorted view can be useful. How?

When making a video or audio recording, distortion often occurs, as a result of nearby power sources, power cords overlapping, other recordings being made, solar flares, and more. But recording engineers often can filter out the effects of these outside influences and restore the recording to its true state.

We can accomplish a similar feat with the Outer Layer, using the distorted information we see to create at least a partial image of the Core. Let’s look at an example:

When Rachel sat in front of me, I thought I had rarely seen someone more frightened and mousy. Her marriage was a shambles, her husband was a relentless bully, and she was afraid of making decisions of any kind. After a few minutes, I said, “You have no idea who you really are.”

Through her tears and sobs, she mumbled that she really didn’t.

“You’ll begin to discover who you really are as you accept the love I’m giving you, and the love others will give you—including God. You’ll discover your true characteristics bit by bit, but I can begin to tell you some of them now.”

“Like what?”

"You have the innate gift of confidence.”

Immediately she stopped crying, lifted her head, and stared at me with an open mouth. “Confident? Me? You can’t mean it. How can you say that?”

“Mostly I just feel it, but look at what you’ve done. You’ve been whipped into submission all your life, and yet you had the guts to travel all the way to Georgia and do whatever it took to change your life. You have been motivated by a confidence that there IS a better way of living, and that YOU can find it and do it. That’s amazing confidence.”

Never in Rachel’s life had she considered the possibility that—underneath all her whimpering victimhood—she might be a confident person. On occasion we can help people see their Core by seeing glimpses of it through the confusion of the Outer Layer. On other occasions we can see the core by looking for EVIDENCE of the interaction of their core with pain and fear. For examples of this, see the sub-section above, “The Influence of the Absence of Love.” Aggressive people tend to be bold at their core, for example.

In summary, who we really are—our true qualities—is always there. If we’re in pain, we express ourselves in destructive ways. When we’re not in pain, we’re free to express ourselves with love and true power. We become an undeniable force for good.

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    • It’s really wonderful how we also learn about Real Love, the same way we learn about our ‘Innate Character Traits’. And what a blessing to know we can help our children be delighted with who they are, when we know the difference between adding love or fear to each trait.

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    About the author 

    Greg Baer, M.D.

    I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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