Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"That's not the real me"

We seem to have an idea of our "real" selves.  This real self is as pure as the driven snow.  Whenever we do something wrong, we insist that that isn't like us, it's not the sort of thing we do, it's not who we really are.

A flat-out narcissist may deny that the event happened at all.  "I am a good person; a good person would not do that; therefore I did not do that."  The logic is flawless, even if the premises are a bit skewed.  These people are not simply lying.  They have actually rewritten history in their minds so that the actions which don't flatter them never occurred.

Most of us will admit that the event happened and simply insist that it doesn't reflect our true inner character.  "Yes, I got a DUI, but I'm not really a drunk driver."   This lets us continue to believe that we have a real self which is good and kind and honest, and that bad decisions and actions were the result of other factors outside our control.  This is a large part of the appeal of the disease model.

To the sufficiently confused, the idea can go 'round and 'round forever.  "That was out of character for me, so something else must have made me do it.  That means I have a behavioral disease.  Since I have a behavioral disease, I sometimes do things which aren't my true self.  That means other bad actions (such as lying about how much I drink) can also be part of the behavioral disease."  And so we end up with an idiotic paradigm in which lying is a sign of the disease of alcoholism and the person doing all this stuff can still be a virtuous person.

I first noticed this after my second DUI, lo these many years ago, while confined in a 12-Step rehab center.  During one session they did a sort of reverse hotseat on me, pelting me with the idea that I wasn't a bad person (I kinda was) and didn't want to drink too much (I totally did) and wasn't the sort of person who would drive drunk.  Uh, wait a minute -- I did drive drunk.  If I did it, then it is something I would do.  It was an odd experience, struggling to take responsibility for my actions while a roomful of people insisted that I wasn't responsible for them.

"Wait a minute, Mouse.  Isn't having a defect of character part of the 12-Step model?"  Sort of, but most of them don't act like it.  The defect becomes another thing separate from the true self, the flawless -- but imaginary -- being who would never neglect the kids or waste the family's savings.  This is how "character defect" and "disease" get all mixed up.  Praying for the defects to be removed becomes rather like praying for a demon to be exorcised.  Legitimate religions acknowledge that the vast majority of our bad deeds are our own fault, and ask us to mend our ways.

Unless you are a hardcore exemplar of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you have the ability to acknowledge that you are the sum of your actions.  There is only one you.  Your good and bad and neutral actions are all part of that one you.  There is no way to free the inner self who is 100% virtuous, because that self is imaginary.

Your mission, should you accept it, is to decrease the number of bad actions and increase the number of good ones in order to better yourself.  To "better" yourself -- to make yourself a better person.