Category Archives: forgiveness

The False Self

young woman holding smiling face

I just finished reading the chapter entitled “The Impostor” from Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning.  It is about the false self — the shadow personality or projected self that we all have.

The false self always wants to look better than it is – better than it feels. It wants to project an image of being more successful, smarter, more courageous, more confident, more competent, and more emotionally healthy. But it is hiding behind an illusion of its own making.The ability to present our true selves is critical in dating and marriage. How can I really love you if I don’t know who you are down deep. If I don’t really know you, then who and what am I saying “yes” to at the marriage alter? This is one of the reasons why taking a reasonable amount of time before becoming engaged is essential. Can you really say you have gotten past the projected image to the real person?

It is always unpleasant to be confronted with our failings and dishonesty, and harder yet to admit them. It is an even more difficult task to actually dig for them. Is the purpose of that kind of exercise to lead us down a path of self condemnation?

Not at all!

Honest self examination should lead us to humility and to self forgiveness. It should bring us to a place where we can accept the reality of our flaws without becoming overwhelmed by them. The failure to do so will often result in hostility towards others and/or hatred or some other form of violence towards our self.

Accepting the existence of our false self does not mean becoming resigned to living out of our false self.  Rather, it means being aware that there is an internal tug-of-war going on that wants to put image ahead of honesty. Let’s face it; it is painful to let others see our uglier, but more honest side. But will they truly know us until they do? Can we accept others’ imperfections until we make peace with our own or will we just become judgmental and harsh with them?

Again, the key is in self forgiveness just as God has forgiven us.

We can move towards maturity and growth and honesty and away from fear, anxiety and self protection when we know that we are acceptable and loved. Intimacy with others grows as we reveal our true selves. Vulnerability with safe people produces closeness, and closeness lets us experience love and acceptance.

Drawing near to God may be our first step in shrinking the false self. He accepts us just as we are, and He loves us unconditionally. And He does so knowing us completely. When He is our focus, we begin to lose some of the need to hold on to our insecurities and defenses. We realize that He protects us and validates us and our identity shifts.

If there are obstacles in the way of your growth, there is always help available by reaching out.

My Lips Are Sealed

 
 
He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)
 
I was thinking about this passage today and what it might say about a defensive attitude. How many times have I failed to keep silent when it would have been the best choice for relational harmony? How many times did I not choose the path of (what would feel like) suffering for the right reason?
 
Maybe you are like me and think that you should have a retort for everything. You might think that to fail to answer a criticism would be weak. Was Jesus weak in the above passage?
 
I think Jesus knew his mission and would not stray from it. He had a focus on the big picture that governed his behavior and his attitude.
 
It could be the same with us. When we get frustrated in our marriages and other relationships we can keep a macro outlook and let things go without challenging them. It is not immediately satisfying, but godly humility is the road to emotional maturity. Is that a goal of yours?
 
I am not advocating passively tolerating real abuse in a relationship. That is a condition that calls for immediate and appropriate action. It requires that we speak up. But what some might interpret as emotional abuse could actually be disagreement. Can you accept that people will not always agree with you and refrain from pushing back? Is preserving a relationship more important to you than winning an argument?
 
To paraphrase our pastor recently, “Forgiving is choosing to suffer, instead of holding onto our right to make someone else suffer.” It hurts to hold our tongue when we feel slighted or misunderstood. It doesn’t feel fair. Again, it feels weak. But if I’m a big picture guy I understand that my mission is to glorify Christ with my life. Sometimes that requires making sacrifices that almost feel untenable. Perhaps, that especially means surrendering my pride.
 
I have noticed that this defensive posture is a learned automatic response in most people. In other words, it is a deeply ingrained habit. And we all know that it takes awareness, desire, and above all, intentional, often painful work to break any habit. And for this one, often there is no immediate reward. The reward comes as a relationship improves over time.   
 
I have found that it is easy to receive mercy and grace – not so much to give it. A non-defensive attitude is an incredibly precious gift that you have to offer in any relationship. 

Saying “I Do or I Don’t”

 
 
It is always an anxious moment for a pre-married or pre-engaged client when they ask us this age-old question:
 
“Should I ask her to marry me?”
 
I almost never answer this question directly. I don’t believe I should be given this much power in someone else’s life. But what I do is try to lead them through some questions that might help them make a good decision. If we are seeing a couple that is undecided, we often ask them to do a homework assignment from a workbook that guides them through this process. We ask them to take a personal retreat and seek God for an answer.
 
Confusion over this decision may come when boundaries have been crossed. A relationship may have become too intimate too quickly – especially when sexual boundaries have been discarded. We may feel very close, allowing our heart to rule over our head. Feeling close is not the same as being well-matched. It’s especially easy to ignore important signs when a relationship is relatively new and in the infatuation stage (less than six months or so).
 
This heart over head, or head over heart question is extremely important to the longevity of a relationship. If out of balance you may be opening up your life to either chaos or coldness, which might not be sustainable. 
 
Ask yourself these questions:  
 
  • Will he/she make a good parent?
  • Can I trust this person completely?
  • Will I fit into his/her family system?
  • Do we have common goals?
  • Is there any hint of abusiveness, physical or emotional?
  • Is he/she emotionally mature?
  • Are there any addictions that are not healed (drugs, alcohol, spending, sex)?
  • Are there any character issues that worry me (lying, angry, irresponsible, needy)?
  • Will we be partners, both carrying the weight of the relationship or will one person function more like a dependent child?
  • Do we resolve conflict effectively?
  • Do we apologize and forgive easily?
  • Is he/she possessive, jealous, manipulative or controlling?
  • Do I feel safe with this person? 
Intense feelings of love are not sufficient to sustain a lifetime marriage. The right questions have more to do with direction, purpose, respect, integrity and commitment. Those are questions that have to be answered with courage and rigorous honesty.  
 
A good goodbye is so much better than a painful life.   
 
If you are married, and struggling with some of these issues, take heart. There is always an opportunity to heal old wounds, build some relationship skills, and change some bad habits. Those things also take courage, honesty and just plain hard work. You may have to lead the process in your relationship. Start with prayer, surrender your heart, and get good counsel.