Friday, June 25, 2010

The Future of an Illusion

Over the past couple of weeks, I've observed folks who've lost the capacity to see anything they do as wrong, no matter how vindictive, harmful or hateful. I know an otherwise nice guy who in getting divorced has gone beyond wanting what's his to taking what's hers, even if what's hers doesn't serve him in any way. I've know an otherwise ethical business women who's dealings suddenly went all buyer-be-ware as she dropped all consideration for the other parties, deciding to take all she can get no matter what the cost.

And I've wondered: how does someone get there? How does someone get to the point where he can do no wrong? What causes someone who is normally reasonable, rational, caring and loving to lose all her perspective and simply want to win? What is it that blinds people to the negative impact of their actions, or even to delight in them?

Now, before you jump on my use of the word wrong, let me start by saying that I'm using wrong self-referentially; if the person in question were to observe another conducting himself in a similar manner, she would see what he was doing as wrong. Wrong is in the eye of the beholder, until the beholder beholds himself.

Denial, Delusion, Love and Acceptance
Many of us who contribute to and read this blog are advocates of love, acceptance and a non-judgmental attitude: towards others and towards ourselves. Psychologists focused on positive psychology and happiness, caution us to the potential adverse effect of too much self-love and acceptance. In the extremes, there's a fine line between high self-esteem and sociopathy. Psychologists tell us than when people become too loving and accepting of themselves, they can take on a grandiose sense of who they are, lacking shame, remorse and guilt, and losing the capacity for empathy and caring, i.e., they become sociopathic.

However, I would suggest that the challenge does not lie in having become too loving and accepting of one's self, but instead, in never having learned to love and accept one's self. To truly love and accept one's self involves seeing who you are exactly as you are with excruciating clarity and specificity, and then deciding that it's all good. Instead of this, what many of us do is to deny who we are and what we've done and to morph all the unacceptable and unlovable stuff into something acceptable and lovable.

Doing the former (let's call it love and acceptance) requires you to drop judgments and leads to being really comfortable with who you and what you are; the latter (let's call it denial and delusion) allows you to retain judgments and leads to loving and accepting someone other than yourself.

It's quite amazing how total denial and total acceptance seem to meet somewhere in the middle. At first blush, they can appear to be the same thing. Two people struggling with all they've done and how they hate themselves for it, suddenly discover self-love and acceptance.

They look the same. However, one has magically morphed the facts of what he's done into other facts that are acceptable; he's remade history to suit himself. The other has looked the facts straight in the eye for what they are, stood firm in onslaught of all their implications, and then understood that he was doing the best he could given what he knew and believed. The results appear similar, but one path leads to sociopathy and the other to sainthood.

The biggest challenge/benefit with either approach is that they tend to compound over time. Neither love and acceptance, nor denial and delusion stand still. They grow. We either become more loving and accepting of ourselves and others, losing judgments as we go. Or, we become more delusional and blind, growing judgments as we go.

Hope for the Delusional
Of course, each of is capable of doing both denial and delusion, each of us is capable of love and acceptance, and each of us probably does a bit of both.

It's easy for any of us to feign love and acceptance while judging the hell out of things. We all do it to some degree from time to time. For example, I advocate love and acceptance, and at the same time I have some pretty strong judgments about delusional deny-ers feigning love and acceptance. From my perspective, they best represent what one might call "pure evil" if one believed in purity.

So, if any one of us can be truly loving and accepting, and any one of us can employ denial and delusion, and if the effects of either can appear to be the same, and since the effects of denial and delusion are, well, delusional, how can one tell when he's blinded himself through denial and delusion and set himself on the path to sociopathy?

I think the answer is fairly straight-forward: look at the places where you hold the strongest judgments. If you have a hard time identifying when you're being judgmental, then look at the times when you see something happen and you become unhappy about it. The level of blindness (denial and delusion) is directly proportional to the strength of judgment. If I judge the hell out something, it's highly unlikely that I'll see it in myself. So, focus on the strong judgments first.

Once you identify your judgments, play with them, become friends, open your mind to the idea that from time to time you may in fact behave in a manner that you would judge. Just crack the door a bit. I would go so far as to say that, if you hold a judgment, then there must be denial going on somewhere. So you don't even have to wonder about whether or not it's there, just about where it is and when it occurs.

Another way to uncover points of denial is to look is simply at the things about yourself that you don't like to talk about. Really fertile ground.

My thoughts on this are still developing a bit, but I think there's a lot to explore here...

Happy Friday,


  1. What comes up for me on this exploration of the choices people make, is that it is about fear. People deny responsibility as a result of fearing. The notion of being responsible for every flavor one experiences, is for many peculiarly threatening it seems. Smilingly and pokingly I might suggest lets all go long with pharmacuticals instead, they will look after everything we're told. So? what are we going to choose to believe? "When we see it, how we sees it, is how we'll believe it" bw

  2. The energy of fear is so prevalent in our world today and many of us get caught up in it for varying lengths of time until we remember that it is always our choice whether to believe the fear.

  3. Fear seems to be the most often cited reason for undertaking action that we would otherwise consider to be wrong. It's almost as though, with any given person, you have two: the one who acts in the absence of fear and the one who acts in fear.

    The two can be diametrically opposed to one another and the fearless one can have a difficult time understanding why the fearful version behaves the way she does.

    Interestingly, it's often judgments regarding fear that preclude our seeing why we fear or that we fear at all.

    I've known several "strong" people (whom many would consider to embody fearlessness and whom many would would fear) who would behave quite differently when they were afraid. They didn't manifest their fear in typical ways (they might actually appear to be getting stronger). However, fear the did.

    Sometimes I would point out, "Oh, I get it. He's just afraid. This is how he does fear."

    The funny thing is that the people involved had such negative judgments regarding fear itself, that they could never see it as fear. "What, are you kidding? He's not afraid of anything!"

    Well, actually...

  4. yes, thanks for sharing reminding us of this scenario


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