Lecture 83 – The Idealized Self-Image | Abbreviated Version

P2             As a child, regardless of what your particular circumstances were, you were indoctrinated with admonitions on the importance of being good, holy, perfect. When you were not, you were often punished in one way or another. Perhaps the worst punishment was that your parents withdrew their affection from you; they were angry, and you had the impression you were no longer loved. No wonder “badness” associated itself with punishment and unhappiness, “goodness” with reward and happiness. Hence to be “good” and “perfect” became an absolute must; it became a question of life or death for you.

Still you knew perfectly well that you were not as good and as perfect as the world seemed to expect you to be. This truth had to be hidden; it became a guilty secret, and you started to build a false self. This, you thought, was your protection and your means of attaining what you desperately wanted—life, happiness, security, self-confidence. The awareness of this false front began to vanish, but you were and are permanently permeated with the guilt of pretending to be something you are not.

Oh yes, much of the idealized self-image dictates highly moral standards, making it all the more difficult to question its validity. “But isn’t it right to want to be always decent, loving, understanding, never angry, and to have no faults, but try to attain perfection? Isn’t this what we are supposed to do?” Such considerations will make it difficult for you to discover the compulsive attitude that denies present imperfection, the pride and lack of humility that prevents you from accepting yourself as you are now, and above all, the pretense with its resulting shame, fear of exposure, secretiveness, tension, strain, guilt, anxiety.

P3             There are also facets of the idealized self, depending on personality, life conditions and early influences, which are not and cannot be considered good, ethical, or moral. Aggressive, hostile, proud, overambitious trends are glorified, or idealized. It is true that these negative tendencies exist behind all idealized self-images. But they are hidden, and since they crassly contradict the morally high standards of the particular idealized self, they cause additional anxiety, in that the idealized self will be exposed for the fraud it is.

In most cases these two tendencies are combined: overexacting moral standards impossible to live up to and pride in being invulnerable, aloof, and superior. You do not realize the impossibility of being as perfect as your idealized self demands, and never give up whipping yourself, castigating yourself, and feeling a complete failure whenever it is proven that you cannot live up to its demands. When you try to hide your reactions to your own “failure,” you use special means to avoid seeing it. One of the most common devices is to project the blame for “failure” into the outer world, onto others, onto life.

There are other personality types who know perfectly well that they cannot identify with their idealized self. But they do not know this in a healthy way. They despair. They believe they ought to be able to live up to it. Their whole life is permeated with a sense of failure, while the former type experiences it only on more conscious levels when outer and inner conditions culminate in showing up the phantom of the idealized self for what it really is—an illusion, a pretense, a dishonesty. It amounts to saying: “I know I am imperfect, but I make believe I am not.” Not to recognize this dishonesty is comparatively easy when rationalized by conscientiousness, honorable standards and goals, and a desire to be good.

The genuine desire to better oneself leads one to accept the personality as it is now. A sense of failure, frustration, and compulsion, as well as guilt and shame, are the most outstanding indications that your idealized self is at work. The more insecure you feel, the more stringent the demands of the superstructure or idealized self, the less you are able to live up to it, and the more insecure you feel. You may invest it with many aspects of your real being; nevertheless, it remains an artificial construction. The more you invest your energies, your personality, your thought processes, concepts, ideas, and ideals into it, the more strength you take from the center of your being, which alone is amenable to growth.

P5             When you have a feeling of acute anxiety and depression, consider the fact that your idealized self may feel questioned and threatened, either by your own limitations, by others, or by life. Recognize the self-contempt that underlies the anxiety or depression. When you are compulsively angry at others, consider the possibility that this is but an externalization of your anger at yourself for not living up to the standards of your false self.

Do not let it get away with using the excuse of outer problems to account for acute depression or fear. you will come to understand the exact nature of your idealized self: its demands, its requirements of self and others in order to maintain the illusion. Once you fully see that what you regarded as commendable is really pride and pretense, you will have gained a most substantial insight that enables you to weaken the impact of the idealized self.

Then, and then only, will you realize the tremendous self-punishment you inflict upon yourself. For whenever you fall short, as you are bound to, you feel so impatient, so irritated, that your feelings can snowball into fury and wrath at yourself. This fury and wrath is often projected on others because it is too unbearable to be aware of self-hate, unless one unrolls this whole process and sees it entire, in the light.

P6             At present you are not even aware of the pressure of your idealized self, of the shame, humiliation, exposure you fear and sometimes feel, of the tension, strain, and compulsion. The difference between the real and the idealized self is often not a question of quantity, but rather of quality. That is, the original motivation is different in these two selves. This will not be easy to see, but as you recognize the demands, the contradictions, the cause-and effect sequences, the difference in motivation will gradually become clear to you.

Another important consideration is the time element. The idealized self wants to be perfect, according to its specific demands, right now. The real self knows this cannot be, it knows that it is imperfect and does not suffer from this fact.

—The Pathwork® Guide