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.
I was reading an article online that had some helpful tips for parents desiring to encourage their kids develop some good habits for financial success. It talked about the habits of the wealthy vs. those of the poor. It was solid researched stuff and should have been welcomed by any parent wanting to give their child a leg up. What saddened and frankly shocked me a bit was the quantity of negative and angry comments that followed. Most of the comments were from people rationalizing their personal failures. They completely missed the intent of the article.
It was obvious that these people were blind to the attitudes that kept them stuck and the real possibility that they could be passed on to their children as well. They embraced hopelessness and helplessness instead of possibilities.
As an employer, I tried to avoid hiring people who were angry or negative. They were the ones that were most likely to get in conflict with other employees, alienate customers and blame others for their lack of advancement. I always chose attitude over aptitude. If they had a good attitude they were usually teachable. That was the problem with many of the comments that I read in the above mentioned article. They demonstrated an unwillingness to listen and learn. For whatever reason they would rather see themselves as powerless victims of an unknown and unseen enemy, or worse yet they looked for something or someone outside of themselves to blame.
Although the article was neither condemning nor shaming I suppose it was inevitable that some would have feelings of failure triggered simply by the subject. That can’t be avoided. But fortunately there were also other comments that indicated that the author was successful in communicating his positive intention. These are the people that will benefit. They understand that the right kind of knowledge is powerful as a change agent.
I have observed this phenomenon in couples as well.
When couples who are having struggles have a generally positive attitude they are likely to get better with time. They expect the difficulties to be temporary, and work toward that goal. Those that do not expect things to get better usually reach their goals too.
What sets apart the successful couples from the stuck ones is often their ability to receive constructive criticism. Successful people consider the input and thank you for it whereas the less successful become defensive and angry, especially when the input is given by their partners. It is not easy to hear about our shortcomings – we all would prefer to be praised for our strengths and hear encouraging words. But we grow when we incorporate helpful criticism.
It all depends on our attitude.
There are times when Nanand I tussle over the contents of this blog. I always give her editorial privilege, meaning she can critique my first draft. She will often say that my delivery is too stringent (or too vague). I just think I am speaking the truth in love. She thinks the love part is a bit too obscure. But she knows my heart and I know hers, so I only register a slight disappointment that she didn’t send up fireworks the first time around.
How we deal with disappointment is a sure sign of our emotional maturity level.
If we can take disappointing news in stride, we are probably operating at a pretty high level of maturity. If on the other hand we pitch a fit like a four-year-old when we encounter an obstacle, well, we are probably operating at that emotional level. And no one wants to be in a relationship with an immature partner. It gets old really fast. High drama = low maturity.
What kinds of disappointments might we face in marriage?
- When a spouse doesn’t want us to spend money
- When a spouse turns us down for sex
- When a spouse doesn’t meet our emotional expectations
- When a spouse doesn’t remember times, dates, and promises
- When a spouse doesn’t want to be as social as we do
- When a spouse doesn’t hold the same priorities
- And so many other instances that frustrate and challenge our emotional balance
There is another side to this as well. How are you at accepting other people’s disappointments? I often ask a counselee if they are able to let their partner be disappointed and not try to fix everything, especially if their partner needs to adjust to reality of some sort. Nan is always disappointed when I don’t go along with everything that she desires. But that doesn’t mean that I am necessarily wrong and need to fix it. Sometimes I just have to let her have time to accept my decision. And the same goes for me, too.
I’ve noticed that many people will act much better when faced with disappointments at their jobs. They hold it together probably because creating a scene in public is humiliating. But those same people might not show restraint at home where the stakes are arguably higher and longer lasting.
I have empathy for people’s disappointments (most of the time), especially when they are being denied good things that have been earned or are reasonable, or having to suffer for bad situations that they did not cause. That is why we need a close, connected relationship with God. So we have a place to turn to in those tough moments.
Psalm 34:18 (NLT) The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.