Having versus Being
Our society is in crisis. One out of four teenagers is dropping out of high school, drug and alcohol addiction are rampant, prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem, and the divorce rate is the highest it has been in the history of the United States. Reality is no longer reality but fake news. Integrity is nowhere to be seen in the current political climate.
What is causing these problems? I believe the answer can be found if we examine our culture and how we adapt to it.
We live in a culture that is based on having rather than being. That is, we seek things rather than seek wisdom. Consider the evidence (and consequences) of our misguided search:
- We treat ourselves as objects and look at others as objects too. In our society, women are sex objects while men are success objects.
- We overvalue possessions and judge our worth on what we own and what we do – rather than on who we are.
- We focus on our image rather than our character.
- We are driven to achieve and to acquire as much as we can. We search for glory in all the wrong places.
- We want more and more and more — in fact we are “addicted to more.” We want a better car, we want more money, we want to have more fun, we want the latest tech toys, we want a more attractive partner, we want more understanding, we want more sex, we want more respect, we want a better body, and we want it all to come easily.
Our focus on seeking things instead of wisdom is a kind of illness. This illness manifests in the feeling that we are unacceptable the way we are; that we are unlovable. So, to make ourselves “marketable” and acceptable we try to live up to an idealized image of who we think we are supposed to be. This idealized image is our false self. We cling to this false self. Deep down, we see it as the solution to a basic fear or anxiety that we won’t be loved or accepted. But because our solution to this basic anxiety rests on a rejection of the who we really are – a rejection of our true self – it never works.
The irony is we reject our true self to make ourselves acceptable. We alienate ourselves from our true self and then we fear that we are going to be found out to be a phony. The result, in our culture, is that most of us really are phonies. Worse, we pass the message along to everyone around us.
Let’s look at some more ways we (and our culture) betray ourselves.
We are discouraged from being real and authentic. Instead we are encouraged to have things and status.
We are discouraged from being honest. Instead we are told that, “Image is everything.”
We focus on performing and producing what we think others want, rather than on building character and letting our true character produce authentic fruits.
Ultimately, things seem to be more important than people. What a mess! I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of it.
I believe this crisis is a wake-up call, giving us the opportunity to find a healthier balance in our lives — but only if we wake up! We are asleep, thinking we are awake. We are living in a trance. We are hypnotized into believing that this is how life is supposed to be. But it’s not.
We have all learned to play games with ourselves and others that keep us immature. We are afraid of pain and frustration, but the reality is that pain helps us mature and grow up. Pain is the touchstone of spiritual growth and personal transformation. But we are pain-phobic in this society and we have learned to avoid suffering at all costs. The price we pay is great.
I believe it is important to find our lost, true selves. Needless to say the going is tough at times, In fact I believe the more honest we are and the healthier we become the more we will be able to face our shortcomings. Quite a paradox isn’t it? Therapy is difficult, ignorance is not bliss, and addressing our problems is definitely the road less traveled. I believe however that there is a basic need or force within us that wants to mature and become a better person. I hope you will listen to that part of you.
Relationships and the True Self
My view of relationships and therapy has been shaped and influenced by Walter Kempler, M.D., a pioneer in the field of family therapy. He was a remarkable man who translated the principles of Gestalt Therapy, namely the work of Fritz Perls, M.D., into therapy with couples and families. We worked together for over 20 years.
Dr. Kempler taught me that we need a person in our lives to “grind” against. Moreover, conflict is necessary; it helps us take the next step in our personal development. In fact I believe that we choose a partner based on the unconscious wisdom that this partner will cause us trouble so we can grind.
Therefore when you are having a problem in your relationship it doesn’t mean something is wrong. On the contrary, it means something is right. This is what I call “therapeutic trouble” because it provides an opportunity to grow up and become a better person and a better partner.
If you’d like to learn more about relationships and the ideas I have about making them work, then please read, “Love Secrets-Revealed.”