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Love Your Neighbor AS YOUR SELF

January 31, 2011

“Can you see the real me? Can you? Can you?”

Jimmy, the protagonist in Pete (The Who) Townshend’s rock opera, “Quadrophenia”

One of the most important steps toward discovering your true purpose is to rediscover and release your True Self. This is a challenging, life-long endeavor, as the Impostor is very skilled at keeping the True Self captive. I have wrestled with my Impostor for the better part of a decade. He is a brilliant and crafty opponent. He knows all my weaknesses and never hesitates to leverage them against me. “Impostors are preoccupied with acceptance and approval,” Brennan Manning writes in Abba’s Child. Other People’s Affirmation (OPA) is so important to me that I will stop at almost nothing to achieve it.

A year ago I quit my job to pursue life as a freelance writer and independent contractor. My wife and I had prepared for the adventure for over two years. (Some might say we were over prepared.) I worked my new business pretty hard over the next several months, and at times I really thought I could make it. But lack of progress and increasing uncertainty drove a wedge between Tracy and me. Threatened by the loss of her affirmation, my Impostor kicked into overdrive. At the end of September I decided to give up my dream and look for a new job. I completely surrendered to my Impostor. He allowed me to admit my disappointment, but he did everything possible to prevent me from admitting just how deep the disappointment went.

About three weeks later, feeling frustrated and confused, I dug out the Myers-Briggs descriptor of my temperament. I am an INFJ: Introvert, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging; the opposite of Extrovert, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving. Here’s an excerpt from the description (from Type Talk At Work by Otto Kroeger et al):

“Many of the INFJ’s descriptors — gentle, caring, concerned, imaginative, interpersonal — are those typically seen as more female than male. As a result, INFJ females fit most socially traditional female expectations…. In our society these same characteristics in males are problematic. INFJ males are confronted with a difficult situation: their natural caring gentleness is threatening to others in the workplace, particularly other males. The INFJ’s colleagues, superiors, and subordinates alike are prone to wonder, ‘Who is this person? Is he a man? A wimp? A guru? A flake?’ The INFJ is aware of this paradox. He knows he is different from society’s norm and he feels society’s pressure to be tough and macho. That leaves him with inner turmoil and with jammed circuits in his body.”

The emphasis is mine, and that is exactly how I felt: inner turmoil and jammed circuits. I was paralyzed, incapable of pursuing either endeavor: free agent or job seeker. I did not want to think of myself as “gentle, caring, concerned”; real men don’t act that way. To compensate, I tried to sell the macho tough guy image to my wife. She didn’t buy it. Neither did my True Self. The result was also clearly predicted in Kroeger’s INFJ description:

“INFJs are not without their shortcomings. For example, they have a tendency to become severely depressed when their ideals go unfulfilled. It is amazing how quickly the strength of the INFJ’s rich inner imagination can turn to discouragement when others don’t readily join or support their cause. What was inspiration now spirals ever inward toward self-punishment and deep-seated feelings of failure. Guilt becomes overriding and depression abounds. In such cases the INFJ tends to distort reality and to bury himself in a barrage of despair, ending in, ‘No one really cares. How foolish of me to have thought otherwise.'”

James Matterson, author of The Search For The Real Self, stated, “It is the nature of the false self to save us from knowing the truth about our real selves, from penetrating the deeper causes of our unhappiness, from seeing ourselves as we really are — vulnerable, afraid, terrified, and unable to let our real selves emerge.” In other words, the Impostor has our best interests at heart. But this is a twisted, destructive behavior pattern. The deeper cause of my depression was in reality a powerful desire to be someone other than who God made me to be. He made me a gentle, caring, concerned man, and I didn’t like that. I was afraid others would see me as wimpy and girlish. But the truth, as a good friend reminded me, is that I am most valuable to others when I release my true self. When I hold the true self captive, I deny others the benefit of the gifts God gave me, and I deny myself the thrill of seeing God use those gifts to draw others closer to Himself. In other words, I forfeit the privilege of redeeming my purpose.

Once the Impostor is exposed, the natural response is to annihilate him or her. But hatred of the Impostor is actually self-hatred. “The impostor must be called out of hiding, accepted, and embraced,” Manning writes. “He is an integral part of my total self. Whatever is denied cannot be healed…. The honesty and willingness to stare down the false self dynamites the steel trapdoor of self-deception.”

Who is this person? Is he a man? A wimp? A guru? A flake?

Manning encourages his readers to name their Impostors. When I first read Abba’s Child the name “Dick Lessman” came to mind. Fits pretty well with my INFJ descriptor, don’t you think? But here is an example of just how crafty and insidious the Impostor can be. He convinced me that the name Dick Lessman was just too repulsive. How could I  embrace an image conjured by the words, “dickless man”?

“Wretchard is a much better name,” he argued. “It’s clever, like you. It will make people laugh. If they laugh, that means they like you, right? Who could like someone named Dick Lessman?”

But herein lies the fallacy of our argument: in denying that anyone could love Dick Lessman, we deny that God loves everyone. Ultimately, I/we deny that God could love us/me. In the words of psychiatrist Carl Jung:

“What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself — that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness — that I myself am the enemy who must be loved — what then?”

Denying God’s love is the ultimate form of idolatry. “As we come to grips with our own selfishness and stupidity,” Manning writes, “we make friends with the impostor and accept that we are impoverished and broken and realize that, if we were not, we would be God. The art of gentleness toward ourselves leads to being gentle with others – and is a natural prerequisite for our presence to God in prayer.”

Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  That means all aspects of your self, not just the image you manage in order to impress those who are too busy managing their own images to notice. It is in loving your self that you begin to see your wretched brokenness reflected in the broken wretchedness of your fellow human beings. Then, and only then, can you truly redeem your ultimate purpose in life.

If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. (Matthew 23:11-12, MSG)

END NOTE: You know that cliche, the one about the darkest hour coming just before dawn? And that other one, about how God’s timing is not your timing? They’re both very fitting to my transition to self-employment. Within two weeks of deciding to give up and look for a job, I had contracts that would keep our heads above water for the next three months. Go figure. 🙂

If you’re struggling to name and embrace your Impostor, you may want to read my essay, Meet Dick Lessman. I go into a lot more detail of my own struggle, but I give you fair warning: if you’re easily offended by slang references and frank discussion related to male genitalia, you probably should steer clear.

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