The curious paradox is that When I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.
Seeing and learning to accept the totality of ourselves (both the good and the bad) is the first step on the road to greater compassion for both other people and ourselves. We all have our dark side and share shameful impulses and thoughts (lust, greed, anger, impatience, etc.). These are part of our total identity. We have to learn how to accept and live with these desires and thoughts in order to become healthy and whole. When we deny or disown aspects of ourselves, we expend tremendous amounts of energy trying to suppress and keep submerged these baser instincts. Rather than learning acceptance, which leads to serenity, peace and a higher level of energy, we begin to develop a facade and false fronts that we present to others. When we deny our authentic selves, we cease being real and become poseurs. Phoniness breeds contempt and distrust, whereas authenticity provides for the possibility of real connection and intimacy. We begin to play the games listed below and live false roles that mask our true identity:
I am always charming, engaging, entertaining and amusing. Count on me to be the life of the party.
I am so sweet and nice. Can’t you tell? I’m always smiling and I’m never in a bad mood.
I am Mr. or Mrs. Right. I always do what I “should” do, and so should you. I think nothing but pure thoughts and I always do the right thing.
I am just a weak and innocent gal and I need a big strong guy like you to take care of me.
I am strong and self-sufficient. I don’t need you. I don’t need anybody.
I am a big strong tough guy; I ain’t afraid of anything.
I am so intelligent. Every word that comes out of my mouth drips with wisdom.
I am such a good person. See how giving and kind I am? I don’t have a selfish bone in my body.
Living a false life and hiding behind facades drains our energy and saps our vitality. When your life is driven by what others think, you are no longer in control of your feelings and you are at the mercy of uncontrollable external forces. When you can accept yourself (warts and all) and understand that we are all package deals consisting of both good and bad ingredients, life becomes easier.
Whenever someone’s behavior bugs you, it is usually mirroring back to you some aspect of your own personality that you have trouble accepting, parts of ourselves that we try to disown or deny. Understanding this can be a powerful feedback mechanism. If someone says something to you that is hurtful, it’s probably because it has an element of truth in it. If it were completely unfounded, then it shouldn’t cause you pain.
Here is a great exercise for the brave: ask your friends not only for feedback as to what they like about you, but also what they don’t like about you. The negative and less flattering comments will always reflect back to you where you are not being real and accepting of yourself. Don’t we all like real and authentic people rather than phony and posturing people? Posturing and maintaining a false facade is our way of denying and disowning parts of ourselves.
When I’m teaching seminars, I have to work on not playing the “the know-it-all” professor role which leads to feelings of superiority and omnipotence. This type of self-deception makes it difficult for me to be open to learning from class members. (And believe me, teaching can be a great learning experience if you provide an open, safe atmosphere and encourage questions.) Class members frequently ask thought-provoking questions that provide the stimulus for me to think deeper about a specific topic and this learning process makes for better, higher quality and more insightful seminars.
I have also discovered that when I’m in my “guru” role, it’s hard for me to say “I don’t know” and accept that it’s not possible for me to have a ready response for every question. Acknowledging that makes me more real and allows me to connect more easily with class members.
When I made the decision to teach, counsel and write for a living, I knew that this form of service or contribution would be very fulfilling. I also attempted to accept unconditionally the notion that a life of service is all that mattered and money wasn’t relevant. My wife was concerned that I had secretly taken vows of poverty. I tried to disown my baser instincts of greed and wouldn’t admit to myself that I really do enjoy things that require money (e.g., traveling, dining out frequently and buying a large number of books every month). When I accepted this, I negotiated a settlement with myself between my desire to teach and help others with a healthy desire for attaining or doing other things that I really enjoy. I became more authentic and achieved a more realistic balance that makes my life work better. I have learned that teaching and financial success do not have to be mutually exclusive. Conflicting desires can pop up in any area of your life. They need to be identified, understood, resolved and accepted.
Fantasies and dark thoughts can conflict with what we feel are proper thoughts or behavior. This can cause painful shame and guilt. The reality is we all wrestle with conflicting desires and emotions. We all have our dark side, our secret thoughts that we feel would be so shaming if anyone else knew. When you try to totally repress or deny your dark side, you pay the price in unnecessary suffering.
This doesn’t mean that you have to act on these thoughts, but you have to at least acknowledge that they exist and understand that just because they exist, you are not bad, evil, wicked, lecherous or the devil incarnate. It merely indicates that you are human; we all wrestle with the same emotions, thoughts and desires.
I consider myself a happily married man, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune from sexual fantasies that include women other than my wife. (No good-looking woman is safe from my fantasies.) I like to think of myself as someone who loves and appreciates children, but when I’m writing and the neighborhood kids are making noise outside my window, loving thoughts are harder to achieve. Thoughts about population control and year-round schooling pop into my head. When we learn to accept our dark side life becomes easier.
Professor Oscar Ichazo summarizes the dilemma beautifully with these insights on the polarities of thought we all do battle with:
“Inside every puritan is a hedonist; inside every hedonist is a puritan; each denies the other.
Inside every confident peacock is an insecure chicken; inside every chicken is a peacock; each devalues the other.
Inside every workhorse is a lazybones; inside every lazybones is a workhorse; each secretly envies the other.
Inside each social butterfly is a lone wolf; inside each lone wolf is a social butterfly; each secretly disdains the other.
Inside every know-it-all is a questioner; inside every questioner is a know-it-all; each is impatient with the other.
Inside each skillful person is a bluffer, inside each bluffer is a skillful person; each argues with the other.
Inside each team player is a rebel; inside each rebel is a team player; each resents the other.
Inside every rigid person is a sentimentalist; inside every sentimentalist is a rigid person; each disavows the other.
Inside every believer is a doubter; inside every doubter is a believer; each rejects the other.”
Growth involves identifying, understanding and integrating all these subpersonalities or polarities. The more you grow, the more real you become.
A great visualization exercise is to imagine these subpersonalities as little children. When you have conflicting feelings, hold one with each hand and allow them to have a dialogue; let each of them talk. You, being the adult, will help them work it out and search for a compromise that will work for both.
I always have to reach a compromise between my impulsive, “devil may care” subpersonality and my conservative, miserly and frugal subpersonality. One part of me says, “Wouldn’t it be great fun to buy an Amtrak ticket and bum around the country for couple of months or go on a two week retreat in India?” The other part of me says, “What about the expense? Is that what you really want to do? Do you want to do that or do you want to take a vacation with Kathy and if not, why not?” This calls for a dialogue with my subpersonalities to discover what I really want. It’s like saying, “OK, kids, lets stop fighting, be more grown up and work this thing out.”
You don’t want to have negative beliefs about any of your subpersonalities. At one time they might have been acting in your best interests and still might be trying to protect you in some way. You have to listen to them with an open mind and see what they have to say.
For me, the lesson I learned early in life was not to trust, and to fend for myself. That was valid as a child because I had two alcoholic parents. Circumstances have changed. I now have a wife that not only cares for me but also is a person that I love to travel with. So it’s in my best interest to overcome my lone wolf tendencies and to trust and travel with my wife.
When I listen to all my subpersonalities, I come from a place of greater understanding and make better and healthier decisions.