I have found myself being surrounded by persons with compulsive behaviors for most of my life. I didn't realize this, however, until late in my thirties. At that time I was married to a very attractive woman who was an alcoholic, a binge drinker. I found to my dismay that on weekends, or on the occasion of most any celebration, my wife would become a different person. While not drinking at all, as far as I knew, during the work week, she would drink one drink after another on weekends. Not until the termination of this short marriage did I realize that I had unconsciously been attracted to, and felt somehow "comfortable" around those with addictions and self-mutilating behaviors.
I had encountered quite by accident, a new friend through the church I was attending at the time. Jerry Jennings, a recovering alcoholic, hearing my story asked about my parents, family and past loves. The curtain now had risen.
Naive, and never having to deal honestly with the subject of addictions myself, Jerry shined a light on what was going on in my life. My late father was most likely an alcoholic. My brother became an alcoholic in his twenties. Most every girl friend I had ever felt an attraction to was compulsive and addicted to alcohol or drugs.
In the process of recovering from the failed marriage I turned to a psychologist. He, of course immediately saw that I wasn't running on "all cylinders" as he put it. For some reason, I was continually being attracted to addicted and compulsive people. At last, I could no longer deny what I was going through and why. I put myself on notice that I must now, at all times, become aware of who I associated with, and why I was picking certain people as friends, and perhaps most importantly, know my emotions and feelings at all time. I discovered I had lived until now, hiding and denying my emotional feelings...not really knowing from minute to minute how I really felt.
My life up until that time had consisted of the "good life," so I thought. Working hard. Making lots of money, buying lots of stuff. Having a girl friend at all times. Now I realized that I had an internal conflict. The "good" and "bad" were at war. I had grown up with the concept that some things were intrinsically "good" and the rest was "bad." I was taught of course, to try to always do the "good," and eliminate the "bad." I had been, for many years, seeing things as "black" or "white." This dualistic internal split was creating tremendous conflict.
What I was really lacking...true friendships, real human intimacy, children ( I had none) and leisure. I had internalized my life values to include making money and buying lots of stuff. This meant tons of work and not much else. Internally, anything that involved work and money in payment of my labor was "good," anything else was "bad."
My internal image of what is good meant: an ever increasing standard of doing more and more work, to make more and more money. I now came to realize that my internal standard was becoming increasing more and more impossible to live up to. I was involved in a never ending internal war that could never be won. As I made more money the standards increased, and by logic I could never keep up with the ever increasing demands of my internal image of what would make the "good life."
Wise men of the past have commented on the internal battles of the human mind. Freud classified the conflict as a battle between the conscious and unconscious mind, the unconscious mind being the "anti-social" aspects of our unconscious thinking.
Buddhism labels the conflict as being between the selfless and self-centered aspects of ourselves. Western religions define the war between the forces of good and evil: God and Satan.
In each classification system, we are encouraged to be conscious, selfless and Godlike and eliminate the unconscious, self-centered and devilish behavior. And in most schemes, we in fact are warned that the latter will result in our loss of salvation, eternal life, or at the least, will result in great hardship to our lives.
The split between our internalized ideals of good and bad creates a control issue internally. We try to ensure that the "good" wins over the "bad." Unfortunately, the "bad" then tries to overcome the "good." The warring goes on and on, back and forth, one taking control, then the other. A sense of self-mistrust is planted internally.
To try to find some solution we put our trust in an "authority" figure or idealism, that is, a person or system of morality that explains to us what is "trustworthy and good." So now the conflict becomes between the external "trustworthy authority" and our internal feelings of self-trust.
Examples of the way we attempt to dualistically define the world are the common concepts we use when we try to separate "spiritual" thoughts from the "worldly;" "pure" thoughts from the impure; and "selfless" thoughts from the self-centered.
In doing so we presume that the former are better than the latter. This way of defining the world is not logical nor practical. This way of thinking assumes that humans can minimize or even eliminate the worldly, impure, or self-centered from our thoughts and actions. Thus, the great internal conflicts are assured. And victory over the "impure" is not at all assured. We have found ourselves in a no-win situation. And at the most, in an impossible situation, with no hopes of resolution.
The job of life, so we are taught, becomes one of maximizing the good ("moral") aspects and minimizing the bad ("immoral"). Addiction, is considered a "moral" failing often resulting in "immoral" acts.
In reality, addictions and compulsive behavior is the result of a person having internalized values of "good" and "bad" that cannot be lived up to. That person attempts to mold behavior and have standards of accomplishment to fit their internalized values and judges any deviance from this standard as bad or failure. In doing so, that person unknowingly denies and suppresses vital parts of what it really means to be human, that there is not "black and white," that there is no "goodness" nor "badness."
This internal conflict is a result of traditional world views that divide behavior and activities into hard, rigid, static, and absolute categories of right and wrong, pure and impure, good and evil, selfless and selfish. The world view is that we should self-sacrifice to follow God's will, or the good of the group, or to follow karmic laws, depending upon which system we have chosen as our religious or moral beliefs.
But, the healthy solution is not to separate morality into two distinct and rigid behavior categories of selfish and selfless, with selfless always being more valuable. The existence of such rules only allow the attempts to break those same rules. When there are such hard and fast rules, human nature will try to "bend" the rules or even break the rules if it is believed one can get away with it without immediate detection.
The real healthy solution demands that we recognize that there is not a distinct and rigid classification of good and bad behaviors. Nor should we attempt to eliminate one category of behaviors. There are times when we will be healthier to act selfish, just as there are moments when it would be prudent to behave selflessly.
The ultimate symbol of unconditional love for Christians is Jesus and God. But when we look at the issue closely we find that in order to receive this unconditional love, or salvation, or eternal life, we have to "believe" in Jesus and God, to repent of our sins, acknowledging the authority that designates what "wrongdoing" is, and to not sin again. These are the conditions to receiving "unconditional" love.
In fact, if we look again closely, these conditions are extremely demanding conditions. Most of us in fact, can not or will not be able to meet the conditions at all - ever.
After all, more than half of the world's population does not choose to believe in God and Jesus' promise of salvation. Most of those who do choose to believe find if nearly impossible to meet all the conditions necessary for the granting of this so-called "unconditional" love.
So what is really true is that love is in fact the integration of conditional and the unconditional. It is entirely appropriate to exact conditions for giving love as it is appropriate also to give love unconditionally at other moments.
Integration Training is a phrase I have coined to clarify and describe a method to permanently recover from addictive and compulsive behavior.
Integrity means basically "to become whole." We can now take a look at our concepts of selflessness and selfishness in the context of the above comments about the way we separate morality into "right" and "wrong".
Our purpose here is to enable wholeness. That is, to integrate our own thinking to become unified and whole, not separate and classified. This new way of thinking suggests that a new way of looking at our world view, and our behavior and our ways of thinking is needed.
We must no longer insist on internalized values that we cannot possibly live up to. No longer must we insist that our lives are to be more and more selfless. We learn to realize that we must also be selfish at times. The two are integrated. There is no such thing as always "bad" or always "good." For every so-called "good" that we traditionally try to do, there can easily be found moments when the so-call "good" behavior would not be the correct choice. The self-sacrificing behavior that we may have learned early in our life, the "saint-like" actions may be totally inappropriate at a particular moment.
Similarly, a so-called "bad" behavior, seemingly selfish or spontaneous, may be the most appropriate behavior at the moment. Not only must we now realize that there is no static, rigid categories of selfish or selfless behaviors, we must also now break out of the tendency we have had in the past to try to predominately do so-called selfless or "good" behaviors.
Wholeness is based upon real, empathic actions and is not based on trying to live up to dualistic ideals of good and bad. Wholeness instead comes from empathy, which is the true source of real altruism. Empathy is that which enables us to actually feel what others are feeling and to respond appropriately.
To enable our wholeness, our integral natures demands that we must, from each moment, know what our feelings truely are inside us, what the feeling are of those around us, and then decide what is appropriate behavior and let go of the idea that one behavior is always better or that another behavior is always to be abhorred. We must let go of the dualistic concepts of good and bad. And let go of the idealism of trying to make "good" win over "bad." And let go of the idea that "selfless" is better always that "selfish."
Integration means reaching true self-trust by combining the traits of the productive self, the capacity to defer immediate gratification for future results, responsibility, and altruism with the traits of the spontaneous, the immediate, the pleasure seeking, and that part of us that can luxuriate in timeless leisure.
All institutions of society, although being well-intentioned to serve the individuals who make up that society, being designed by humans, have the same prejudicial plan of intentions: that is, to believe and act as if there are "good" ways to do things and "bad" ways, selfless actions and selfish actions, and to believe that only the selfless actions are best. Hence, the institutions will proceed this way and expect members of the organization to proceed according to this rigid way of thinking.
In the same way that we as individuals must make the decision as to when best to serve our own interests and when best to serve others, institutions must also be flexible in making like decisions. We therefore must be careful to become aware of when and if that institution is serving society best, and not allow government, religious or societal institutions to become "all-powerful" or to act in an autocratic way against us.
But if we are facing the reality of life, we must admit that both control and sacrifice are equals. In love relationships of all type, not only must we be self-sacrificing, but we must also take control. To do one more than the other would be defeating. And defeat is usually what we see in most relationships. One party believes in control, the other accepts self-sacrifice and becomes willingly the "controlled."
The resulting psychological conflicts will eventually bring the relationship to a halt. Likewise, the relationship where both parties attempt to "control" each other, and the relationship where both attempt to be "self-sacrificing" partners ends in defeat.
The idea we must grasp now is to know that there is no authority besides us. We lay aside the false premise that we can become unselfish to become selfless, and in doing so become "as Gods," to become immortal.
We instead recognize the duality of words, concepts, and ideology. There is not an "either/or" to be obeyed at all moments. Instead, there is the integration of all parts of us to make the whole. Wholeness comes from the integration of the parts, not from the division. Our wholeness will come from our integral integration not from an authority outside us.
E-mail to Mark Werling