There are three major divine attributes of love, power and serenity that in the healthy person work as a team. They hang out side-by-side, humming along in perfect harmony and alternating which one takes the lead depending on what the situation calls for. They complement each other; they make each other stronger; they maintain flexibility amongst themselves so one never drowns another out.
But when they are in distortion, these divine attributes step all over each other. They create conflicts by way of contradictions when one lucky attribute gets unconsciously chosen over the others as the favorite life solution. Then love, power and serenity get distorted into their evil twins: submission, aggression and withdrawal. Before you know it, the dominant attitude of this supposed solution starts setting up rigid, dogmatic standards that become the tenets of the idealized self-image.
Every human being, during their childhood, runs into both real and imagined feelings of rejection, helplessness and disappointment. Not surprising, these create a lack of self-confidence and feelings of insecurity that we spend the rest of our lives working to overcome. Often, however, we go about it in the wrong way. In our efforts to master our difficulties, largely created in childhood and then perpetuated into adulthood through our wrong solution choices, we find ourselves increasingly bound up by the straightjacket of a vicious circle.
We have no idea that our great solution is the very thing drawing disappointments and problems onto our heads. When our solution doesn’t work, we just try harder using the same ineffective solution. The less this works, the more we doubt ourselves. The more we doubt ourselves, the harder we work at applying our wrong solution. It never occurs to us that our real problem is the solution we have chosen.
Love: Distorted into Submission
When a person is inclined to choose love as their pseudo-solution, they have the basic feeling that ‘if only I were loved, then everything would be OK.’ So love is supposed to solve every problem. In reality, life doesn’t work this way, especially since love is something we’re to give, not get locked into demanding we receive.
Flying under the auspices of the receiving-love-solves-everything solution, we develop personality patterns and trends that cause us to act and react in ways that make us weaker and more helpless than we actually are. Ironically, due to such disturbances in our behavior, we are scarcely able to experience love.
So then we take on more self-effacing behaviors, hoping like crazy we will gain the protection and love we think offers refuge from being annihilated. We cringe and we crawl, complying with others demands—whether real or imagined—and selling our soul in an attempt to get the help, sympathy, approval and love we crave.
Unconsciously we believe that if we assert ourselves and stand up for what we want and need, we’ll essentially forfeit the only thing in life that has any value: being cared for like a child—not in a material way, but emotionally. So in the final analysis, what we’re really doing is claiming an imperfection of submissiveness and helplessness that aren’t genuine; they are artificial and dishonest. We use a fake weakness as our weapon in the battle to finally master life and win.
To avoid getting caught, we hide all this falseness behind the mask of our idealized self-image: we put on a Love Mask. We end up believing that these trends show how good and holy and unselfish we are. We are proud of the way we “sacrifice,” never claiming our own strengths or accomplishments or knowledge. In this way, we are hoping to force others to love and protect us.
These not-so-divine attitudes become so ingrained in us, it’s like they’re part of our nature. But they are not. They are distortions that we need to rout out in our personal work. We must avoid the temptation to rationalize them away by making it look like these are our real needs; real needs never need to masquerade like this. And we shouldn’t be fooled by opposite trends of the other pseudo-solutions that also show up, even though they’re not as predominant. Similarly, people who primarily use the other pseudo-solutions of aggression or withdrawal will be able to find areas of submissiveness within themselves.
It may be difficult for the submissive-leaning person to discover the fault of pride, which is woven into all these attitudes but more on the surface in the other types. But if we look with discerning eyes, we may see how we have a subtle contempt for anyone who asserts themselves—whether in a distorted or a healthy way—and we secretly criticize them. Once we find the pride, it will be tough to shellac it over with being “selfless” and having a “holy” attitude.
Oddly, at the same time, we may envy or admire the aggression that we despise. So while we feel superior in our spiritual development and ethical standards, we’re also wistfully thinking ‘I wish I could be like that; I’d get farther in life.’ So we’re proud of being “more good,” which keeps us from having what “less good” people are able to get. Being the self-sacrificing martyrs that submissive types are, we need to continually check our motives if we want to find the selfishness and egocentricity that lurks inside.
In the end, whatever gets incorporated into the idealized self-image—and of course all three types do—will be tainted with pride and hypocrisy and pretense. While it’s harder to find the pride in the submissive type, it’s harder to find the pretense in the aggressive type who pretends they are just being honest when in fact they are being ruthless and cynical, and out for their own gain.
For a child, it is valid to need to receive protective love. But if such a need is carried over into adulthood, it’s no longer valid. It will cause us to go about searching for love with a pleasure-craving that says ‘you have to love me so I can believe in my own worth, then perhaps I’ll be willing to love you.’ That kind of desire is pretty darned self-centered and one-sided, and the effects of it are grave.
When we’re so dependent on others for love, we become helpless; we won’t stand on our own two feet. All our energy is channeled into living up to this ideal of ours, which is designed to force others to love us. We submit as a way to dominate, but we attempt to dominate through weak helplessness. We comply with others only because we want to make them to comply with us.
It’s not hard to imagine that living this way will keep us estranged from our real self. We have to actively deny and hide the real self, in fact, because were we to assert ourselves, it would seem brash and aggressive. This, we think, must be avoided at all cost. But really, we can’t inflict such an indignity on our own soul without feeling contempt and dislike for ourselves.
But such painful feelings fly in the face of our idealized self-image. So we throw our self-effacement—which is the supreme virtue the idealized self-image is trying to uphold—onto others. The embedded contempt and resentment, however, don’t look very holy or good, so we must try to hide that too. This sort of double hiding heaps serious repercussions back on our psyche, and can lead to all sorts of bodily symptoms.
So here we are left holding a bucket of fury, shame and frustration along with self-contempt and self-hate. The first reason we have landed here is that we have denied our real self and suffered the indignity of not being able to be who we truly are. Our conclusion: the world takes advantage of our “goodness,” abusing us and stopping us from reaching self-realization. This is a classic definition of projection. The second reason we have ended up here is because we can’t live up to the dictates of our idealized self-image, which says we must never resent or despise or blame or find fault with anyone else. So then we’re just not as “good” as we ought to be.
So that, in a nutshell, is what it looks like to have chosen “love” as our pseudo-solution. We’ve turned a lot of lovely qualities, such as forgiveness and compassion, understanding and union, communication and brotherhood and sacrifice, into a rigid, one-sided affair. All this is a distortion of the divine attribute of love. If we’ve chosen submission as our strategy for surviving, our idealized self-image will demand that we always stay in the background, always give in and always love everyone; at the same time, we must never assert ourselves, find fault with others or recognize our own accomplishments or true values.
What a holy picture this paints, at least on the surface. But friends, all the underlying poison of our distorted motives destroys anything genuine. Being submissive then is a caricature of what real love looks like.
Power: Distorted into Aggression
In the second category is the pseudo-solution of seeking power. Here we think that the answer to all our problems lies in having power and being independent. This may be our pervasive life solution, or this may only show up in certain areas of our lives. As with all pseudo-solutions, there will always be a mix.
When the growing child adopts the power solution, it is with the intention of becoming untouchable. We believe the only way to stay safe is by becoming so strong and invulnerable that no one and nothing will be able to touch us. Then we cut off all our feelings.
When, however, our pesky emotions surface, we feel deeply ashamed. We see emotions as being a weakness, so then love and goodness are weak and hypocritical, even if they are expressed in a healthy way. Warmth and affection, communication and caring for others—all these are despicable. When we suspect such an impulse arising in ourselves, we are ashamed of it. It’s like the way the submissive type is ashamed of their resentment and qualities of self-assertiveness, both of which lie smoldering within.
Our drive for power and aggressiveness might be mainly directed toward accomplishments, so we will always be competing and trying to one-up everyone. We feel we are the exalted one and always want to maintain our special position. Losing any competition then is an injury to us and our private solution. It’s also possible that we’ll exhibit a more generalized, exalted attitude toward others.
Either way, we’ll cultivate an artificial toughness that isn’t any more real than the artificial helplessness that the submissive type manufactures. The power type is just as dishonest and hypocritical, because in truth, everyone needs warmth and affection. Without these, we suffer. So to be frozen in isolation and not admit the pain we cause ourselves is dishonest.
The idealized self-image of the power type—the one who dons the Power Mask—demands standards of godlike power and independence. We think we must be completely self-sufficient without needing anyone, which is in contrast to what mere mortals require. We don’t see friendships or love or help as being important.
Our pride sticks out like a sore thumb. Heck, we’re proud of our pride. We’re also proud of our aggressiveness and our cynicism. But we’ll need a more finely calibrated detector to see our dishonesty, which hides behind our rationalization of what a hypocrite the goody-goody type is.
The Power Mask requires us to live more independently from feelings than a human being possibly can. So we constantly feel like a failure for not living up to our ideal self. This “failure” throws us into depression and fits of self-contempt, which of course we project onto others so we don’t have to feel the pain of how we’re secretly whipping ourselves. Not living up to our own ridiculous standards of omnipotence will definitely leave a mark.
It’s not uncommon for power types to espouse a trumped-up view that ‘people and the world are basically bad.’ And let’s face it, if we go out looking for proof to back up such a claim, we’ll find plenty of confirmation. So we, the power type, will take pride in how “objective” we are, as opposed to being gullible. And that, we say, is why we don’t like anyone.
Our idealized self-image also dictates that we must not love. To show our true loving nature then is a crass violation of all we stand for, and doing so brings on deep shame. We can look at how this compares with the submissive type who proudly loves everybody and considers everyone good. Of course, in reality, the submissive doesn’t really care whether anyone is good or bad, as long as their appreciation and approval is directed our way.
Power seekers are also wired to never fail. Ever. We take pride in never failing at anything. If we think we might fail, we just head in another direction. Compare this with the submissive type who glorifies failure because it proves we are helpless and forces the other to protect us.
As we can see, the dictates of these two solutions are in direct opposition to each other. But whenever we choose to use one of the divine attributes in distortion, the others come along for the ride, also in distortion. This mixture of the three distortions wrenches us apart. Not only can we not do justice to the dictates of our chosen solution, we can’t possibly get all these distortions to work together. Even if it were possible to always love everyone, or to never fail and be completely independent, we can’t play both sides at the same time; we can’t be simultaneously loved by everyone if we want to conquer them.
Imagine our inner landscape when we are trying to always be unselfish so that we can gain everyone’s love, and at the same time, be always selfish in our greedy grab for power. And on top of this, we should be indifferent to all feelings so that none of this disturbs us. Can you picture it? On a regular basis, we are literally tearing ourselves in two. Everything we do causes guilt and a feeling that we are inadequate, filling us with self-contempt and making us frustrated.
Serenity: Distorted into Withdrawal
The pseudo-solution of withdrawal is often chosen when we have been so torn apart by the first two options that we had to find a way out. So we resorted to withdrawing from our original inner problems, and then also, as such, from life. Underneath our withdrawal is a false attempt at serenity. So now we’re still torn in half, but we’re just no longer aware of it.
If we build our façade strong enough, we will be able to convince ourselves that we can remain calm through any life circumstance; ah, peace. But then a doozy of a storm comes along and rocks our little boat. Our underlying conflicts rise up with a vengeance, showing just how artificial our serenity really was; turns out, the whole structure was built on sand.
Both the power type and the withdrawn type have something in common: aloofness. They are above feeling emotions, they like to stay detached from others, and they follow a strong urge to remain independent. Both have been hurt and fear being disappointed and getting hurt again; they don’t like feeling insecure and fear being dependent on anyone. But the idealized self-image for these two couldn’t be more different.
Whereas the power seeker likes being hostile and glorifies their aggressive fighting spirit, the withdrawal type isn’t even aware of having such feelings. When they do come to the fore, we are shocked by them, for they are in complete violation of our chosen solution, which dictates: We should remain detached and look benignly upon others; we know their good and bad qualities and aren’t bothered by either. If this were indeed true, we would indeed have found serenity. But no one is really ever quite that serene. So as with the other two types, the unrealistic dictates can never be realized.
The pride in the withdrawal type shows up in a detachment that is godlike in its justice and objectivity. But more often, our views are just as colored by what others think as they are for anyone else. Try as we might to rise above this “weakness,” we just can’t help it. And since we’re likewise just as dependent on others as anyone else is, we’re also being dishonest in our false detachment. As always, we will fall woefully short of the dictates of our Serenity Mask, leading to self-contempt, guilt and frustration.
All this can be subtle and elusive to uncover, especially since we can rationalize our behavior until the cows come home. Only through the painstaking work that we do with a Helper of some kind can we bring out how these distortions exist in us. Sometimes one pseudo-solution is so dominant, it sits right on the surface for easy identification. But then we may need a finer screen to sift through the evidence of how the other types appear and conflict with each other.
More than anything, we must become willing to truly experience the feelings associated with our solutions of choice. We will never rid ourselves of our idealized self-image just by looking at it. No, we need to become aware, in a very acute and intimate way, how all these contradictory trends operate in our daily lives. And this will be painful.
At first, we may actually think we are going backwards, relapsing into being worse off than when we started. This is natural and has to happen as we start to become aware of what till now we have kept hidden, which includes the pain we haven’t wanted to feel, and against which we were protecting ourselves by foisting our misery onto others.
So it’s not true that we are going in reverse. It only seems so. In fact, any work we have done to-date has been instrumental in allowing these previously hidden emotions to come forward into our awareness. Now we can really analyze them. Before, the unexposed tyrant was unreachable in the superstructure we had built, and our idealized self-image had free rein to attack us and keep us in its clutches causing such unnecessary brutality and self-harm.
We’ve gotten so used to our own emotional reactions that we can’t see what’s right in front of our eyes. Once we focus our awareness on even our slightest inner reactions, we will uncover valuable clues to work with. But none of this can happen if nothing ever disturbs us. So of course, there will be disturbances in our life. We can bank on it. That’s the moment when things can come out into the open so we can come to terms with what’s been happening all along.
If we start to view our problems and our emotions in this light, we will begin to see that neither God nor other people are the problem here. We are the ones making crazy inner demands. And it’s us who suck other people into the vortex of our demands. We unconsciously put pressure on others to give us what they aren’t capable of giving, and that makes us much more dependent than we need to be, even as we might be pointlessly striving toward total independence.
Seeing things this way will shed a whole new light on our lives. With our new outlook, we’ll start seeing that we aren’t such victims after all. We’re the ones creating many, if not all, of our challenges, all because we insist on using half-baked solutions.
Once we start to work with our emotions, we will be able to let go of the false values of our idealized self-image. And then our real values can emerge. Up until now, with our idealized self-image masking our real self, we haven’t even known what our real values are. We have been so alienated from the core of our being, we could only concentrate on creating more and bigger and better false values. So now we’ve got a bag full of values that are poor imitations for the real ones. We want to pretend these are real and claim them as fully ripe. We’re afraid to let them go because they are all we’ve got.
We tell ourselves that these are real and that real values don’t even count. They come naturally and without effort, so how can that be real? We’re so conditioned to straining for the impossible, it doesn’t occur to us there’s nothing to strain for. Because in truth, what’s actually valuable is already there, just lying fallow. What a pity.
We’ve spent our whole lives working on our idealized self-image because we didn’t believe in our real worth. As such, we’ve missed the parts that are truly worth accepting and appreciating. It’s painful at first to unroll this entire process. We will have intense experiences of anxiety and frustration, guilt and shame and so on. It won’t be pretty.
But as we venture forth with some courage under our belt, this will shift. For the first time, we’ll start to see ourselves as we really are. We’ll be shocked to become aware of our clay feet, realizing that our limitations land us far short of the idealized self. But we’ll also start sensing values inside ourselves we hadn’t noticed before. Our budding self-confidence will help us walk in the world in a whole new way.
Gradually, we’ll grow into our real self. True independence will take root so that we’ll no longer measure our self-value using the yardstick of other people’s appreciation. When we can evaluate ourselves honestly, we won’t be so keen on getting validation from outside ourselves. That validation was really just a poor substitute for the real thing: our own honest appreciation of ourselves.
We’ll start to trust and like ourselves more, so then what others think won’t matter half as much. We’ll find security within, so we’ll stop leaning on pride and pretense to prop ourselves up. We’ll discover that our idealized self was never all that trustworthy to begin with; it weakened us. Words aren’t big enough to describe how good it will feel to shed the burden of this mantle that’s been hanging around our necks.
But this is not a hasty process; it can’t happen overnight. The only way to achieve growth is through steady self-searching. We have to analyze all of our problems, from the big ones to the small, and look closely at all our attitudes and emotions. Then, through the natural process of growth, our real self will blossom. Our intuition will bubble up and spontaneity will spill forth. This is the way to make the best of our lives. Not because we no longer make mistakes. Not because we never fail or have any faults. But because our whole attitude and outlook about everything can change.
We will discover more and more how the divine attributes of love, power and serenity can go hand in hand, in a healthy way, instead of causing a war within because they are in distortion. Love will stop being a self-centered means to an end that we need only because it saves us from being annihilated. We will learn to combine our own capacity for love with power and serenity, communicating with others in love and understanding while remaining truly independent.
We won’t look to love, power or serenity to supply our missing self-respect. We’ll experience healthy power, free from pride and defiance, without wanting to have power over others. We’ll learn how to use our power for the sake of growing and for mastering our own difficulties—without needing to prove anything to anyone. When we occasionally fall short, which we will from time to time, this won’t present a threat the way it did when power was in distortion; our worth won’t be diminished in our own eyes. So with every life experience, we will keep growing and healing, without the distortions of haste or compulsion or ambitiousness getting in the way.
Healthy serenity won’t cause us to hide from our feelings, from life or from conflicts. Because our serenity will be blended with love and power, we will have a healthy detachment from ourselves that allows us to be objective. We won’t avoid anything out of fear it might be painful, since we know it might yield an important key. If we have the courage to go all the way through our feelings, we can discover the pure gold of the real self hidden behind them.
Return to Bones Contents