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Christian Counseling - Helping Heal The Conflict Between The Ideal & Real Self

Most children have fantasies about who or what they want to be when they grow up--airline pilot, firefighter,owner of their own business, mother, father, pastor, etc. Their real selves need to grow into more of their ideal selves. It is a little conflictual to them that they cannot be that person now.

It is considerably more problematic for people who have not achieved the ideal self they thought they could or should have at their present age. Perhaps they thought they would be smarter, earning more money, kinder, more secure, higher on the ladder of success, freer from sins, married, single, more spiritually-minded, have more friends, etc. The greater the disparity between the ideal and real self the greater the frustration, disappointment, insecurity, guilt, fear and/or poor self-esteem and self-image. This is especially true if a child had been told that he or she could be anything or do anything. What seems to be an encouraging statement is in reality untrue for 99% of the people, for we all have limitations on our energy, intelligence, talents and spiritual gifts, as well as our own interfering, personal problems and time on this earth.

Perfectionists have an even more severe negative reaction to not achieving the ideal self. They, in particular, engage in frequent negative self-statements that ensure their lack of success. Consequently, many try even harder, while some give up in despair. What would God say to us all about managing the conflict between the ideal and real self? At least two things!

First, "Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself?" (Ecclesiastes 7:16). I think we could fittingly exchange the words "righteous" and "wise" for most any other word that would define our ideal selves--rich, happy, loving, etc. His message encourages us to avoid or gain self-control over an ideal self that is unrealistic, excessive and detrimental to our health, even when it involves the pursuit of good things.

Second, God would say that we should not live a laissez-faire manner of life; that is, one who refuses to interfere in the natural course of things and simply lets them be what they are. This is a passive or lazy existence, which perfectionists fear they will live, if they slow down or give up the fight for their ideal self.

What is left is a middle of the road approach to managing the differences between the real and ideal self. This moderate life first requires one to truly accept his or her real self. After all, that is where God begins, in the reality and truth of who one is, not the ideal. The slow, slow journey then continues toward the never-to-be-reached goal of the perfect or ideal self. And that is okay, that the journey is slow and the goal unreachable. As long as we are on the path with God to become more than we are, it is enough. Enough because we can't get to the end, no matter how hard we strive. Enough because God doesn't expect us to reach it and has made provisions for our imperfections. The provisions are grace, mercy, forgiveness, compassion and Christ, which are what He unconditionally gave to every person who turned his or her life over to Him. The old song, "Just As I Am" is a tribute to this reality. We are loved and accepted independent of what we do and who we are. In consideration of these realities, we are already and absolutely freed from our own ideal self that demands we measure up to all of life's have to's, musts and shoulds, but only if we believe it and let ourselves off the hook. God already has! 

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