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We need neither monsters nor gods: the problem of self-deception

September 5, 2011 Leave a comment

David Benner’s Soulful Spirituality may be his best book yet–merging together a lifetime of insights into the psycho-spiritual-physical self with his personal and historical insights regarding soul care from Jesus and the spiritual masters. He brings well thought-out intellectual discussions along side of practical soulish applications for the journey.

elastic_band-zu from bigfoto

He presents a strong (and unique?) argument for the type of community needed among  Jesus followers.

“Soulful spirituality invites us to do a better job of recognizing and prizing the otherness of others rather than simply seeing them as extensions of ourselves or using them as containers for our own projections.”

“Honoring otherness is a deep and essential part of any authentic spirituality.”

Benner warns against exagerating the otherness of others and turning them into monsters or gods.

We make people monsters when we treat the “stranger as simply a container for all the parts of our self that we seek to disown. We then dump the despised and feared parts of our self into this container and view the resulting monster as wicked and dangerous.”

But neither should we make others gods, “We kneel in vulnerability before this strangely fearsome god, hoping that by acts of contrition and offerings of one sort or another we might avert the danger that the stranger represents.”

Alone in the plaza by Beatriz Pitarch

Be means of these defense mechanisms, Benner says we make others “all bad or all good” and justify keeping ourselves at a distance from others.

Benner presents a strong case for being honest and living in reality about our reluctance to relate to others. We do no one (including our own souls) when we are dishonest.  “An embrace of reality always supports the life of both spirit and soul. Both thrive in the soil of acceptance of that which truly is and shrivel when we wander from a commitment to such truthful living.”

Benner shares four ways we distort the truth of why we are not relating to others.
  1. Rationalization–we “invent good excuses to cover the real reasons.”
  2. Denial—we “tell ourselves (and anyone else who might inquire) that we do not, in fact, feel whatever it is that is unacceptable to us.”
  3. Projection “involves a more substantial distortion of the truth of our experience—attributing to others things that we cannot accept in ourselves.”
  4. Reaction Formation displays “a feeling that is the opposite of what we actually experience, and by so doing, further convince our self that what we wish to avoid is not part of us.”
I am personally challenged by Benner’s concluding words in this section:
“The counterfeit reality that we have welcomed into our soul will now grow as it collects around it other illusions and builds itself into a foundation of a life of falsity. It is not so much that we tell lies as that we live them. Worse still, we have become a lie.”
Question: In what way am I being dishonest about my relationships to others?
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