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


A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Lake Helen, Florida, June 7, 1992

“And the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them: You are those who justify yourselves before me, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God'” ( Luke 16:14,15).

One of the most common weaknesses of mankind, yet one of the most deadly, is the tendency to justify one’s actions or behavior regardless of their nature. We are all guilty of doing this, and yet, sad to say, if this becomes a habit and becomes deeply entrenched by constant repetition, salvation becomes impossible until we overcome it. If we indulge this instinctive evil without restraint, we cannot even begin to regenerate, for we destroy for ourselves the means provided for our regeneration.

The Word teaches clearly and unequivocally that everything good and true comes from the Lord. He is the source of all spiritual and natural life. We are only vessels who receive these Divine gifts from Him. But we are not passive vessels. We are endowed with the ability to respond, as of ourselves, to the influx which we receive, both directly from the Lord into our souls and mediately through heaven into our minds. We can respond, according to order, by using our life, and the good and truth we receive from the Lord, for use; or we can respond by using these things for our own satisfaction, pleasure and advancement.

When we adopt the latter course we enter into a denial that we receive everything by influx, and we ascribe good and truth to ourselves. That is, we regard ourselves as the source of the truths we understand and speak and the goods that we do. Nevertheless, we are told by the Lord: “A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:26).

However, the Lord gives us these gifts of life, love and wisdom in such a way that we feel them to be our own so that we can enjoy their blessings. If we allow ourselves to be deceived by the appearance, we are inevitably led into evil. For since we do not acknowledge them as gifts from the Lord, we feel no responsibility for using the gifts for their intended purpose. Instead, we use them for the gratification of selfish loves, pleasures and ambitions.

The Writings declare: “So long as a person believes that he does all things from self, both goods and evils, so long goods do not affect him and evils adhere to him; but the moment that a person acknowledges and believes that goods flow in from the Lord and not from self, and that evils are from hell, then goods affect him and evils do not adhere to him, and, moreover, insofar as goods affect him, so far evils are removed, thus the person is purified and liberated from them” (AC 10219:3).

The evil of self-justification arises when a person ascribes all things to self. If we truly acknowledged that good and truth flow in from the Lord through heaven and evil and falsity from hell, we would neither claim merit for our goods and truths, nor would we seek to justify our evils. But when we ascribe the things we feel, think, do and say to self, then when evil is revealed in us, we automatically seek to justify ourselves and our actions, for if we acknowledge our evils to be evils then, because we attribute every thing to self, we must condemn ourselves.

We see from this that the tendency to justify one’s faults, errors and evils springs from the false and mistaken idea that we live of ourselves and therefore are not accountable to God for the way we live.

All evil allures and deceives the mind, for all evil arises from, and seeks to satisfy, the loves of self and the world. “These loves,” we read, “like the unseen currents of a river, continually draw the thought and will of man away from the Lord to self, and away from heaven to the world, thus away from … truths and goods to falsities and evils” (AC 9348). Because of this, when a person is in evils of life, he seeks falsities which are in agreement with his evil, and finds truths distasteful, for they are not in harmony with a love of evil. We have this teaching: “Evil of life is attended with its own falsity, which falsity lies hidden in the person who is in evil of life, and sometimes the person is not aware that it is in him; but as soon as he hears or thinks truth, then this falsity comes forth, and if it cannot deny the truth outright, it seeks to explain it in favor of its own evil, and thus falsifies the truth” (AC 8094).

When we love evil, this affection continually inflows into the rational faculty, and a kind of fallacious light pours in from the fire of the affections of evil, and causes us to see falsities as truths. “That every principle whatever,” the Writings say “… when once taken up, can be confirmed by innumerable things, and be presented in the outward form as if it were truth itself, may be known to everyone. Hence come heresies, from which, when once confirmed, the person never recedes. Yet from a false principle nothing but falsities can flow; and even if truths are interlarded among them, they become truths falsified when used to confirm a false principle because they are contaminated by its essence” (AC 2385:3).

“A person who is in evil as to life is in the falsity of that evil, and does not believe the truth however well he knows it. He sometimes supposes that he believes, but he is mistaken. That he does not believe will be granted him to know in the other life when his perceiving is reduced into agreement with his willing. Then the person will disown, hold in aversion, and reject the truth, and will acknowledge as truth that which is contrary, that is, falsity” (AC 7950:3).

This may all seem a bit abstract, and yet it has a very practical bearing on life. The tendency to justify one’s evils exhibits itself very early in life. The little child when caught doing something which he is forbidden to do learns very quickly to make excuses for himself. It does not take a child long to learn that if he can make it appear as though his motives were good, he may be pardoned. Or he tries to make it appear that he was forced against his will, by circumstances, to do it. With children and young people these excuses are usually transparent. But as we grow older, if we habitually justify everything we do, we develop this art to a fine point of subtlety, so that at length we may even begin to deceive ourselves.

Truth exposes evil. It is like a spotlight shining into a dark room. When our eyes are accustomed to the dark we cannot bear the light, so we either close our eyes and turn our backs, or we blot out the light, or perhaps we direct the beam elsewhere so that its light does not shine on us. That is, when one of our faults or evils is exposed by the light of truth, we tend to close our mind to it, refusing to see its application to ourselves, or we may try to extinguish it by denying it, or else we may try to show that it does not apply to us, and direct the light of truth toward others.

The Writings tell us that the difficulty of resisting evils increases so far as we do them from delight. For in the same measure we become accustomed to them until we no longer see them, and at length love them and from the delight of love excuse them and confirm them by every kind of fallacy, and declare them to be allowable and good. “This is the fate,” the Writings state, “of those who in early youth plunge into evils without restraint, and also reject Divine things from the heart” (HH 533).

The tendency to justify our faults, errors and evils is one which we must be watchful for. As we grow up, certain things become habitual and customary, and therefore delight is associated with them. We tend to think that whatever is customary or widely practiced is good. What we often fail to realize is that humanity and society, like ourselves, are unregenerate and therefore motivated by selfish loves and worldly pleasures, and therefore many customary ways of living and acting which we love are actually evil. Whatever springs from evil is evil.

It is not enough to acknowledge that we love evil generally, for such an acknowledgment does not change our life. If we do not acknowledge specific evils we continue to delight in them and confirm ourselves in them (see AC 8390). Of those who do this it is said in Jeremiah: “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods … and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say: We are delivered to do all these abominations’? … Therefore I will do to this house, which is called by My name, in which you trust … as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My sight … The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. Do they provoke Me to anger?’ says the Lord. Do they not provoke themselves to the shame of their own faces?'” (Jeremiah 7:8-10,14,15,18,19)

This passage from the Scripture makes it clear that the acknowledgment of the Lord without living according to His Divine truth is not enough. To do this is to stand in the house called by His name, and make cakes to other gods to the shame of our own faces. The Writings say: “He who wills good does good; but he who does not do good, however he may say that he wills good, still does not will it when he does not do it” (AC 3934:7). I want to focus on this statement for a moment on some of its implications.

Good in many places in the Writings is defined as use. This means that if we really love a use, we will be willing to perform it when opportunity is granted. If we are not willing to perform it, we do not really love it, no matter how we may seek to justify our refusal. Love is the life of man. What we really love we seek and find the opportunity to do.

The performance of uses, especially those uses for which we receive no monetary reward, seems opposed to our happiness and well-being. It seems to deprive us of the opportunity of enjoying pleasures. So when we are called upon to perform uses which we think will interfere with pleasure, we seek to justify our refusal. We do this in various ways. We may hide behind a facade of humility, or we may turn the spotlight on somebody else whom we claim would be more suitable, or we may belittle the use itself and thus destroy it in an effort to justify our unwillingness to do it.

Use is good. The neglect of uses in favor of self and worldly gain and pleasure is evil. “That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” We would recall the teaching that evil which a person has justified by reason and confirmed by life cannot be removed to eternity unless the person repents of it in the world (see AC 4172). For in the process of justifying evils man destroys his rational faculty and thus his essential humanity (see AC 4156e). When a truth is presented which makes us uncomfortable, we must guard lest we close our mind to it, for, the Writings say: “Nothing … is of more importance to man than to know what is true” (AC 794). “To think from the truth is the truly human principle” (DP 321:5; cf. TCR 354:3).

If we would be inhabitants of the Lord’s kingdom, both here and hereafter, we must be willing to acknowledge His truth as our sole guide in life. We must be willing, at all times, to acknowledge our faults, errors and evils, and strenuously resist the temptation to justify them. If we do not, we end up either rejecting or profaning Divine truth. This is the sin against the Holy Spirit which cannot be forgiven in this world or in the world to come. We must keep our minds open to the shining light of truth. We must have the intellectual honesty to recognize evils in ourselves and disorders in our lives and in society. We must have the courage to acknowledge them, and the resolution, strength, fortitude and determination to rectify them. Amen.

Lessons: I Sam. 15:1-23, Jer. 7:1,2,8-28, AC 5096

Arcana Coelestia 5096

“Who were bound in the prison house.” That this signifies which were among falsities is evident from the signification of “being bound in a prison house” as being to be among falsities (n. 4958, 5037, 5038, 5085). They who are in falsities, and still more they who are in evils, are said to be “bound” and in “prison” not that they are in any bond, but for the reason that they are not in freedom, for those who are not in freedom are interiorly bound. For they who have confirmed themselves in falsity are no longer in any freedom to choose and receive truth; and they who have much confirmed themselves therein are not even in freedom to see truth, still less to acknowledge and believe it; for they are in the persuasion that falsity is truth, and truth falsity. This persuasion is such that it takes away all freedom to think anything else, and consequently holds the very thought in bonds and as it were in prison. This has become evident to me from much experience with those in the other life who have been in persuasion of falsity through confirmations in themselves.

They are such as not at all to admit truths, but to reflect or strike them back again, and this with hardness according to the degree of the persuasion, especially when the falsity is from evil, or when evil has persuaded them. These are they who are meant in the Lord’s parable in Matthew: “Some seeds fell upon the hard way, and the birds came and devoured them” (Matthew 13:4);

the “seeds” are Divine truths; the “hard rock” is persuasion; the “birds” are principles of falsity. They who are such do not even know that they are in bonds or in prison, for they are affected with their own falsity, and love it for the sake of the evil from which it springs; hence they suppose that they are in freedom, for whatever is of the affection or love appears free. But they who are not in confirmed falsity that is, in the persuasion of falsity easily admit truths, and see and choose them and are affected with them, and afterward see falsities as it were beneath themselves, and also see how they who are in the persuasion of falsity are bound. These are in so much freedom that in view and thought they can as it were range through the whole heaven to innumerable truths; but no one can be in this freedom unless he is in good; for from good, man is in heaven, and in heaven truths appear from good.