Flaws – Seeing the shadowy side of oneself.

Ed Husain

Ed Husain, in his book The Islamist, describes his personal flaws. How at the age of sixteen, he, had become an Islamic fundamentalist, much to the horror of his devout Muslim parents. He had joined those who played politics with Islam, knowing how to use religion to manipulate the emotions of its followers to sympathise with terrorism and the setting up of an imaginary Islamic state.

The values of tolerance, respect and compromise had had no meaning for him. He had wanted to destroy the Western democratic world.

He had joined with others to do their best to whip up fear amongst Muslims. They disrupted peaceful religious meetings, and verbally abused those who resisted them. He had been hooked into a desire for power and dominance. This had become a major flaw in his character.

However, as he grew older he began to examine what he had got himself into. He began to question his motives and was to become ruthlessly honest regarding the errors into which he had fallen. As a result, he recovered his faith and mind and broke away from the fanatics.

Denial of our personal flaws

We may not be drawn into international terrorism, but are we always willing, like Husain, to own up to our own failings? Most of us are not fanatics but do we each have our own flaws? We know it is all too easy to try to deny any personal criticisms that come our way. No one finds it comfortable to acknowledge shortcomings in their makeup. However, when we do notice feelings of resentment, guilt, or hurt in our dealings with others, we might start to wonder if we are at fault.

Why don’t you … Yes but

We can imagine someone saying `It never works’ when trying to mend a minor fault within the home. Others start to present solutions, each starting with the words `Why don’t you…’ To each of these the person objects with a `Yes, but…’ rejecting each suggestion with some plausible reason until they all give up.

According to psychotherapist Eric Berne, this shows that a crestfallen silence has been engineered which gives expression to a flaw in the individuals makeup – his or her idea of personal inadequacy, amounting to self-dislike, coupled with a belief in the worthlessness of other people, a notion which had been privately held all along.

Other negative motivations are boosting oneself at the expense of others and expressing hostility. Underlying such attitudes is a belief that others and/or ourselves are not okay – that there is something inherently bad about them and/or us. When we express such feelings, we prevent our relationships — say with work colleagues or family members — from thriving or we even do great damage.

Ideas of other psychologists related to personal flaws

Harry Stack Sullivan spoke of the `bad me’. This is said to represent those negative aspects of oneself that we do not like to acknowledge, even to ourselves, and which we hide from others.

Carl Gustav Jung said there is a shadowy aspect that we have no wish to be. It is said to be the sum of all the unpleasant qualities one wants to hide, the inferior, worthless and primitive side of our nature, one’s own dark side.

According to Sigmund Freud a part of each us he called the ‘id’ is amoral, illogical, self-serving and ruled by desires that only give self-gratification – for example for sex, food, and aggression.

Honest self-assessment of personal flaws

Emanuel Swedenborg said that we have a rational mind. This enables us to transcend the emotions of the moment and use to better appreciate the inner truth about ourselves – including our failings and flaws. We can look at our own behaviour in the light of the values to which we ascribe. In this sense, self-assessment is also self-evaluation.

I would say that examining the `bad me’, the `shadowy side’, the psychological `games’ we may play — that is to say facing our flaws — is a crucially important first step towards personal growth. By doing this we can gain insight into the misguided nature of the assumptions we have been making and the way we have been abusing our position.

There may be times, like with Hussain when we no longer have in the forefront of our minds the clear wholesome principles that we grasped as children.

It may be easy to turn our minds away when hearing the quiet voice of conscience. Yet, I believe what stays in us is a hearing ear and an understanding heart. We can make an effort to observe what we do or say that is unhelpful, unjust, or downright selfish. We can develop our self-knowledge.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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