An idealized self sounds like a model of self-acceptance. But, if we take a moment let’s listen to what it tells you:
“You’re doing the right thing. You’re in control. No one can hurt you. Just keep being the way you are now. “ Thus shielded, you can hardly do wrong, and if you do your misdeeds are quickly covered up and forgotten. The beauty of having an idealized image of yourself is that you actually do feel good about who you are.
However, the image sometimes substitutes for a painful reality.
As you would expect by now, the shadow self has something to say in this matter.
At regular intervals one icon of righteousness, usually a preacher or a public moralist, falls into scandal. Invariably these individuals have committed the very sins they accuse others of, improper sexual misbehavior being the most typical. Cynically we imagine that these Elmer Gantries are rank hypocrites that they live out the sham of public virtue so they can pursue a vice in private.
In reality fallen icons are extreme examples of an idealized self-image. Their powers of denial were superhuman. The shadow couldn’t touch them.
Then, when the shadow did surface, an enormous sense of guilt and shame surfaced with it. Once they fall, these professional saints indulge in extremes of public atonement. But, even in contrition, nothing feels real.
If you pull back from the spectacle however, the whole drama could have been avoided. An idealized self-image isn’t a viable solution.
Only true self-acceptance is, and when that happens there is nothing for others to reject. This doesn’t mean you will be universally loved. Some one else might still walk away, but if that happens, you won’t feel rejected. It won’t result in an emotional wound.
So, how do you know if you are falling for a false sense of self, which is what an idealized self-image is?
Dismantling your ideal self-image of yourself is a challenge, because this is a much subtler defense than simple denial.
Denial is blindness; the idealized self-image is pure seduction. The way out is to go past all images. There is no need to defend who you really are. Your true self is acceptable not because you are so good, but because you are complete. All things human belong to you.
The most important ally you have is awareness. Judgment is constrictive. When you label yourself or anyone else as bad, wrong, inferior, unworthy, and so on you are looking through a narrow lens.
Expand your vision and you will be aware that everyone, however flawed is complete and whole at the deepest level.
The more aware you are, the more you will accept yourself.
This isn’t an instant solution. You must spend time looking at all the feelings you’ve so diligently denied, suppressed and disguised. Fortunately those feelings are temporary; you can go beyond them.
There’s nothing to reject, just a lot to work through.
This is how a figure like Jesus or Buddha could have compassion for anyone.
By seeing wholeness behind the play of light and dark they found nothing to blame. The same holds true along the spiritual path you follow.
As you see yourself more completely, you will have compassion for your faults, and that will lead to complete self- acceptance.
The One Versus the Many.
The solution: Surrender to being.
Finally we arrived at the war in your soul.
At this level, the conflict is very subtle, which sounds odd because we tend to think that the cosmic battle between God and Satan must be titanic.
In fact, it’s very delicate. As you get closer to your true self, you begin to sense that you are part of everything. Boundaries soften and disappear. There’s a blissful feeling of merging. As beautiful as this experience is, one last resistance crops up.
The ego says, “what about me? I don’t want to die, like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz, whose last words were “I’m melting, I’m melting!”. The ego has been incredibly useful. It has guided you through a world of infinite diversity. Now you are about to experience unity. No wonder the ego feels fatally threatened; it sees its usefulness (and its domination coming to an end).
The ego mistakes surrender for death. To be whole involves surrender. You give up one way of seeing yourself, and in its place a new way dawns. “Surrender” isn’t a welcome word to the ego, because it connotes failure, loss of control, passivity, the end of power.
When you lose an argument, aren’t you surrendering to the winner? Of course!
Any situation couched in terms of winning and losing makes surrender seem weak, shameful depressing, and unworthy. These are all feelings at the ego level, however. Seen without ego, surrender becomes natural and desirable. A mother who gives her children what they need isn’t losing, even though one could say she’s surrendering her needs in favor of her children’s. That would be a false perspective.
When you give yourself out of love, you lose nothing. In fact, loving surrender is like a gain. Your sense of self expands beyond ego-driven needs and desires—these can never lead to love.
Surrender is not of the mind. You cannot think your way there. Instead, you must journey into pure consciousness, before words and thoughts arise. That’s the whole purpose of meditation, to carry a person beyond the thinking mind, which means beyond conflict.
Eventually one longs to experience the true self completely.
The shadow is a thing of denial, resistance, hidden fears, and repressed hopes.
The spiritual path delivers everything; it can resolve all conflicts. But we expect too much of it when we ask for a panacea. Spiritual unfoldment is delicate. It can’t be reached when your mind is agitated or your attention overwhelmed by stress and other outside pressures. In other words, wholeness is a cure-all, but not an instant cure-all. You need to prepare the right conditions for going inward.
You only have to gaze around you at the world to see the proof of that beauty, form, order, and growth have survived for billions of years. In dealing with your shadow, you are aligning yourself with the same infinite power.
The instant that life is split into good and evil, the self follows suit. A divided self cannot make itself whole.
Read more in The Shadow Effect
Live and Learn. We all do.
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