How Self-Betrayal Opens the Door to Disorder of the Soul

Photos by Francesca Woodman

One of the most difficult things I’ve been confronted by is how to respond when the will of another person is contrary to my own. In the quick moment of discernment during this stalemate, where negotiation is not always possible, when do you stick to your guns and when do you concede? Is it better to have a firm will or one that is more malleable? If the reasoning behind our own will is superior to the other, does this answer the dilemma?

Everyday life is full of these moments, such as when you are invited to a family gathering but don’t want to go, or a boss asks you to do something contrary to your sense of principles or mood. When your wife tells you that she hates your beard, but you love it. When your husband is repulsed by long nails, but you adore your kitty claws. Is the solution to compromise, how about medium length nails that are only half gross to the guy and half as lovely and useful as tools of self-defense for the girl. A half portion of what you want, can this satisfy? Or does that other half get filled with resentment?

The disease to please can infect anyone, slowly eradicating the true identity of its host by evicting authenticity and turning the person into a storage unit for other people’s hopes, dreams and preferences. Sometimes this is necessary, in situations of diplomacy, discipline or survival. Surrender of one’s will to God is an act of benevolence towards the self. So when does it become self-betrayal instead of self-actualization?

Finishing a spreadsheet even though you have a headache is just work ethic, and doesn’t pose danger to the soul unless you start having nightmares about equations – this could be a sign to examine your career choice. Maybe you should be painting instead of bookkeeping, because therein resides your greatest talent and to share your best gifts with the world is not only for your own good, but the good of all.

Family is often the first place where we begin to commit acts of self-betrayal. What we do to be loved and accepted by our families becomes dangerous when we sacrifice our good on the altar of frivolous whims and dysfunction. Take a family where the mother teaches her children that being overweight is the worst sin of all. A child translates this to not only the scapegoating of any larger bodies, but learns that in order to be loved, one must be thin. Let me count the ways this could go awry. An entire concept of love and acceptance built on the house of cards of physical appearance. To be specific on how a belief and false sense of self can lead to disordered behavior, one child of this mother could easily take the calorie restriction route, into anorexia or excessive vanity and a hostile relationship with food. Another child could react through rebellion and pack on the pounds intentionally in a kind of punk rock gesture. Neither prongs of this fork are healthy responses, and neither help create an identity of the child apart from being a living reaction to mom. That’s a low bar for the potential of a person. Do we not want to be more than mere reactions to the people around us? Do we have to do things that aren’t true in order to be loved? Must our self worth be dependent on exterior factors?

To dig in your heels and refuse to give in to demands that will be detrimental can be dangerous, as it’s an act of honesty. Not everyone likes honesty, especially when it interrupts another’s agenda or shatters their reality. The path to a character of bravery is paved with truth telling. Whilst daunting, what else do you have to do in life apart from refuse to betray your integrity? Is your task as a human to deny yourself for the dysfunction of another? Is the other willing your greatest good? Is this love?

So the next time you’re asked to open the door to exterior desires and schemes, ask why. Demand to know the heart of the one who knocks, for them to surrender their intentions before you offer up your will. Replacing something good in yourself with the dysfunction of another only leads to estrangement from the truth of who you are, and reeks havoc in your behavior, responding to falsehood like an allergic reaction. Dysfunction begets more dysfunction whereas the goodness of authenticity encourages the good in others. God is constantly asking us to come back to our true selves, a fracture repaired by receptivity to the Holy Spirit, an interior revolution that can set the world free one person at a time. Perhaps you might want that, it’s only up to you.

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