Do You Choose Your Soul, or Self-Image?

Believe it or not, maintaining our self-image gets in the way of living an authentic soul-based life. We say we want happiness, peace and fulfillment, but we have a hard time accessing these coveted states. Instead we focus on things that will make us look and feel better, even though they are usually temporary, at best.

Richard Rohr in his book, Simplicity: The Art of Living, points out that if we want to live in authenticity, “We [all] have to look exactly the same three demons in the eye: the need to be successful, the need to be righteous or religious, the need to have power and get everything under control.” Each and every one of these egoistic needs keeps our soul locked quietly in a closet while our self-image steals the show.

And how do we know when our self-image is in charge vs. our soul?

The self-image is informed by our ego…and that’s why it often contradicts our soul. 

The self-image is quick to make us a martyr out of obligation.

I can’t follow my heart because I have responsibility to x, y, or z. I can’t do what I want because I’m responsible for the lives of others. The self-image gets a sense of value from being everyone’s hero…taking care of everyone’s problems and then usually, complaining about it later.

The self image does things and says things for approval.

It wants recognition, a pat on the back, anything to reap a feeling of temporary worthiness. When the thought comes to mind of how others might react to what we’re considering saying or doing, that’s our image trying to look good. 

The self-image is highly entitled.

It feels deserving and will often talk about what it deserves, especially in light of how it expects to be treated by others. There is a right and wrong way of doing things and when the self-image is at stake, it’s way is usually correct. Others are expected to act within standards set by the self-image or they’re considered wrong. 

The self-image defends its words and actions.

It sometimes gets anxious about needing to explain why or how. It cannot afford for anything it says or does to be left open to someone else’s interpretation, especially if it might be perceived as wrong or bad in some way. Fixing or righting the image always takes priority over being human. 

Our self-image is controlling.

It cannot afford for the soul and its unpredictable ways to interfere with maintaining appearances. The soul, a red-headed step child, must be kept under wraps.  And that’s because the soul can be very unpredictable often surprising us by its inclinations. It tends to be passionate, adventurous and spontaneous. It can make us do things that the self-image would consider “out of control.” The soul is motivated by freedom, acceptance and love, three things that the ego finds very dangerous!

The soul’s biggest threat to our self-image is change.

The soul understands the need for growth, for us to never stop evolving, changing, and rising to the occasion of our circumstances. Our soul thrives when it has the opportunity to expand. It learns compassion through grief and pain. It learns love and acceptance when vulnerable. It seeks out ways to face fear and open even more to life. The self-image, on the other hand, prefers the status quo because it’s easier to manage and control things that aren’t changing all the time. 

On top of that, souls do not live in isolation…by nature, they can’t.

They recognize a need for others. Souls want to connect with other souls. They naturally cooperate, share and confess…in a way, a lot like kids do. That’s why, as we get older, we learn to suppress the soul in favor of growing up and becoming “in control.” Our self-image isn’t nearly as open. It loves isolation because deep down, we know that if anyone were to get too close, or if we dare open up too much, others might discover the truth: that we’re really not what we pretend to be. So we maintain our self-image in silence.  

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Which Will We Choose?

If we want to live authentically, empowered by the truth of who we are, then we must learn to recognize our self-image and it’s protective strategies. We have to decide. Will we let the ego lead the way, or dare to allow our Soul to take the helm of our life.

“One of the hardest things to do in letting go is giving up the need to be something.”  ~Rohr

Honoring our soul instead of our self-image is a lifelong process of choosing and shifting. That’s because we’ve spent years building up the persona we want others to see and then protecting it. It’s hard to accept that something we’ve given so much attention to can actually have so little value. It’s a mask at best, a prison at worst. In fact, maintaining the self-image is the greatest cause of stress, fear and frustration in our lives. But still, we’re afraid to let it go. 

Today’s blog is meant as a reminder that no matter where we are in life, this choosing between the soul and self-image, is always available. We make the choice more than once; that’s normal. But once we’ve chosen, if even just for an instance, to recognize our soul, we’ll want to return. We have been its witness and we cannot un-know what it reveals to us about who we are. It’s like visiting the ocean. Once you watch the sun rise or set across that vast expanse, you’ll long to go back, to have your eyes feast on that glory one more time, to stand in the presence of a great and promising mystery.

Giving your soul permission to lead is like that. The sense of freedom we get by not having to prove ourselves, adjust our thinking or behavior, or say and do the right things is liberating. I encourage you to try it out every now and then. Then choose to allow it more and more, until it is your primary road, not a detour you take on occasion.

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