I walk around with an idealized version of myself living rent-free inside my head. I’m undecided if this version of myself is who I really want to be or if it’s just the version of me that I want to project into the world. But nonetheless, he’s there, whispering in my ear nonstop.
You only snoozed your alarm six times today, he sneers when I look in the mirror in the morning. What a loser.
How long are you going to scroll on your phone this time? he asks while I’m sitting on the couch after work.
Your daughter has asked you to play with her five times now. Are you going to spend any time with her today? When was the last time you sat down to write? When was the last time you actually finished reading a book? When was the last time you studied the Bible? Are you just going to let your biblical languages degree go to waste? You just bought those new running shoes. When are you going to use them? Fast food again? That’s another twenty bucks that could have gone toward paying off debt.
Oh man, I could keep going. This voice never shuts up. It’s constantly reminding me how far away I am from the person I want to be. Or the person I think I want to be. Or the person I want people to think that I am.
And for the longest time, I’ve allowed that voice to win. How? Because I believed it. I genuinely believed that the idealized version of myself actually was myself. As for my real, physical self? I believed it to be just a shadow of the real me. I still do, to a degree. It’s a work in progress.
But you see, when I take that voice at face value and believe its lies, that voice gets what it wants. When I accept the fact that my idealized self is an all-around better human being than my embodied self, I give that idealized version of me a little ego boost. And here’s the crazy part. Since the idealized voice is coming from my own brain, since it’s still a part of me, in some twisted sense, by putting myself down over and over again, I’m somehow boosting my own ego. Textbook emotional abuse. I’m gaslighting myself.
If you’ve read anything else on my blog, you’ll know that I’m working through a difficult period of faith deconstruction and reconstruction. I’m slowly unraveling years of emotional and spiritual baggage handed to me by my Evangelical religious tradition. Understand I’m not trying to push the blame for my self-abuse onto anyone other than myself. I’m just trying to better understand myself and my history, how I came to be the person I am today and how my beliefs have shaped me in helpful ways and in unhelpful ways.
One of the most unhelpful ways in which my Evangelical tradition shaped me was through the idea of dualism. I have these two categories in my brain: things that are physical and things that are spiritual. Everything that I can experience with my five senses is physical. Even I am a physical creature in the sense that I have a physical body. But there’s a spiritual realm composed of that which my five senses cannot experience. And sense my senses cannot sense my consciousness, I must also be spiritual. In fact, I’m more spiritual than I am physical. After all, my spirit will live on long after my body returns to dust.
In this dualistic worldview, the most important things in life, and the most important things about me as a human, are the spiritual things. Indulging in my physical senses is seen as neutral at its best. But more often than not, gratifying the desires of my flesh and ignoring the needs of my spirit is downright evil.
So back to the idealized version of myself. My mind. My superego. In this dualistic worldview, it’s my spirit. It’s constantly urging me to do better, which isn’t inherently a bad thing. But It wants me to be a super achiever. It’s frustrated that I won’t have 15 published books before I turn 30. It thinks I should wake up at 5am sharp every day, run a few miles, read 10 chapters of the Bible in Greek and Hebrew, read a 100 pages of a personal development book, write detailed notes on said book, write a full blog post, take a cold shower, and get to work by 7:30am. Since this is my spirit, it must all be good. Right?
My physical self, on the other hand, wants to sleep in. It doesn’t want to run. It never really has the motivation to do much of anything in terms of side projects, like blogging or writing a book. It likes ice cream. Like, it really likes ice cream. And it’s not good at keeping the house clean. My physical self is good at its job. It loves its family. For the most part, it’s a pretty decent guy. But it’s no super achiever. Not even close. And since this is my body, it must have more of a tendency toward evil.
So the natural conclusion to my dualistically-trained mind is that I’m stuck. My brain, my ideal self, my spirit, my essence—for all intents and purposes, this is the real me. And it’s got a lot going for it. But there’s one crucial thing it doesn’t have going for it: a cooperative body. And without a cooperative body, it can’t really live up to its highest aspirations. But at least he has someone to blame. Meanwhile, the version of myself that lives in the real world and functions in society can never live up to its expectations. It’s constantly subjugated to belittlement and barrage.
So what’s the way forward? I have no idea! I was hoping that by writing all these thoughts into a structured blog post would magically produce some sort of logical conclusion or next step. But I’m not sure where to go with this. I guess for now, giving this a name is a good place to start.