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The Trap of Self-Importance
By Joyce Shafer
We sometimes misunderstand what being authentic really means and find ourselves visiting or living in the ivory tower of the ego called self-importance. It’s a trap.
Our interpretation of what it means to be authentic or true to ourselves can be misconstrued in a way that leads us to certain behaviors, like considering others to be and treating them as less in some way than we perceive ourselves to be, such as less spiritual, clever, equal, worthy, and so on. When we practice self-importance and there’s something in life or another person we don’t like, we behave certain ways, ways that are different than if we are operating in an authentic manner that comes from confidence in our personal power and knowing we are an infinite spiritual energy having and sharing a physical experience, who at times feels just as challenged as others do.
Self-importance is a form of isolation and a form of self-loathing. Even when we feel somewhat close to others, it’s still lonely, because self-importance is a solo pursuit. A need for self-importance stems from fear: the fear of others seeing that we have two sides called light and shadow, the knowledge that we’re not always right, and that we do make mistakes and practice behaviors we ought to reconsider. We fear seeing this in ourselves and owning it, as well.
Self-importance leads us to think we’re the only ones who experience this fear (we’re not), which might be called a form of self-absorption, and we’ll go to great lengths to keep this hidden. This, of course, keeps us from feeling authentic. If you really want to feel authentic, accept that you have pleasing aspects and not-so-pleasing aspects, and be at peace with this. Accept this so you can become whole again. A good number of us are walking around pretending we are nothing but good and right, when we’re not; and when we bump against this truth, it can freak us out a bit. This is why we work so hard and stress so much about keeping this fact and absence of wholeness hidden from others and ourselves, and why we deflect evidence of our flaws when they’re made obvious, usually with anger so the focus is shifted away from us. But we get tripped up from time to time because the opposite of any good aspect we possess and demonstrate is always lingering next to us, ready to express itself if something motivates this into action.
One way self-importance takes form in our lives is the ivory tower syndrome. The extreme of this is the high-maintenance types of personalities. There are many “sizes and shapes” and levels of this, but what each have in common is the belief they are, or they have a strong desire to be, considered elite in some way. This can happen to anyone anywhere on the economic scale because it’s an emotional, not financial, matter. Keeping in mind the possible levels of expression, elite or high-maintenance types believe no one’s needs or input are as important as theirs, whether this strikes them at particular times or is a consistent practice. What others feel, desire, or need are secondary, if not irrelevant, when a person is trapped in or practicing any level of self-importance. They feel others are there to serve them so as to meet their needs, abate their fears, and feed their ego, each of which has a voracious appetite. The longer they remain in the ivory tower, the hungrier their ego is and the more frightened and needier they become.
These types tend to be high-strung and easily triggered. This is because they are afraid of what they might lose and how easily this loss may happen, especially what others think of them—even when how they choose to behave seems to contradict this. (Change and loss happen as a natural part of life, but their coping skills haven’t been practiced or practiced in helpful-to-them ways.) It doesn’t take much for them to feel threatened. Anything that’s contrary to what they feel they must have or must experience will cause this feeling. They are stressed a good deal of the time for this reason.
It takes a lot of energy to keep the illusion (or delusion) going in a way that makes them feel safe; however, for them, feeling safe is an illusion, as well. It’s something they never truly feel or feel for long, because the ivory tower is a “house of cards” construction. They’ll pretend to themselves and others that they’re strong and in control, but know at their subconscious level that they don’t believe this or feel it. When they’re afraid, they come out fighting, in one form or another. It’s their attempt to feel in control again, though, they never actually feel in control—it’s a pretense they consistently confront.
Let’s put away judgment, though, and right quick. It’s easy for any one of us to go to the top of the tower at times, or even to step over the threshold or climb a few steps. When we feel self-important or desire to, we believe the way to not feel so scared or feel hurt by others and life is to be apart from or elevated above the fray (even if just in our own minds), isolated for the most part from what and who causes us to see how insecure and unsecure we may actually feel or believe ourselves to be. It’s such a contradiction, really: the need to be elevated above others and the need to be loved and accepted by them at the same time. It’s a bit mad and definitely exhausting—to all involved. And it is always, always, always about self-acceptance even though we burden others with this, expecting them to fix or supply this for us.
It takes a lot to sustain the tower of self-importance, so everyone within the circle of influence is expected to dance to the tower-dweller’s tune. When they boast or go on and on about themselves, others are expected to listen in something like a state of reverence, or at least deference. The self-important are moody, have hair-trigger anger and other emotions, and are often self-centered, though, resist seeing this aspect in themselves. (See what I mean about not judging: all of us can have moments when we demonstrate these behaviors, and for the same reasons.) But this can become severe, which usually happens when the person is terrified the tower will come down—and who will they be then?
If others aren’t focusing a great deal of attention on them and doing whatever it takes to make or keep them happy or feeling secure or good about themselves, who are they? It’s a form of taking rather than giving, which closes or constipates the loop of abundance, be that financial, success, serenity, or anything else, but especially feeling loved. We have to be and give that which we wish to receive; and we do receive what we give, based on the energy underlying any exchange. The balancing act of karma is exact.
Besides the ivory towers, we have the ladders we are told we have to climb if we want to be somebody in this life, which really triggers self-importance. There are ladders for prestige, popularity, financial wealth and assets—there are lots and lots of ladders. Even if we climb them, we still might not feel authentic in the true sense of the word: strong in knowing, accepting, and loving ourselves and adept at what author Stuart Wilde calls The Three Graces: generosity, kindness, and respect. To practice the graces means you don’t perceive yourself as separate, special, or elite. You recognize the interdependence of all things and all people.
Being authentic doesn’t mean you don’t take care of yourself or look out for your best interests—you must. But you do this with an attitude of grace and softness rather than aggression or belligerence. Sometimes the best service to others you can provide is to send them a silent blessing and head off in another direction while they figure out why the energy seems to work in reverse for them, for however long that takes. Sometimes, it’s in your best interest to stick around for a while and discover what you need to work on in yourself, because they will reflect this to you.
When you’re authentic, you know you’re going to spend some time in your shadow side but you are also dedicated to getting better at choosing to practice the three graces more often than not, and learning from your shadow aspect. When you’re authentic, you look for ways appropriate for you to be of service to others, while you also take care of yourself, rather than so focused on being self-serving. When you’re authentic, you experience a form of enlightenment that releases you from the tower because you realize enlightenment is not elevation: it is integration. In fact, let go of seeking enlightenment and seek integration through generosity, kindness, respect, and your appropriate-for-you service to others and humanity, which may be just as much an attitude or mindset as it may be an actual product or service. This will raise your energy.
Each time you raise your energy in this way, the rest of humanity’s energy is raised a bit as well, because there is no, in reality, difference between your energy and theirs. We’re all in this sink-or-swim experience together. Your inner power will grow as a result, and you won’t need to be special because of this expansion of your personal power, but you’ll use this power to assist others to trust themselves in a way that helps them feel strong and safe. And when others do think you’re pretty nifty, you’ll appreciate this from a spiritual humility that feels wonderful, expansive, and affirms your contribution.
Self-importance will eventually bring you to your knees, including literally. I had an experience of this recently when I found myself having a relatively small self-satisfied attitude moment. My foot went out from me in that moment and I literally landed on my knees. Sure, I knew that the combination of something on a tile floor and soles that do better on dry surfaces could create a slip or fall in 3-D, but I also knew instantly what it was really about. I quickly aligned myself with humility (and an icepack).
Self-importance, in its myriad ways of expressing itself, is a form of pollution. It pollutes the energy of those who need to feel self-important, as well as anyone and anything they interact with. And, others, who don’t appreciate being made to feel less than, will become defensive or take offense at the energy spiking out at them. If you consider that everything is shared energy, you can see why this pollution bit is true. You want to stop polluting your energy and your life and come down from the tower on your own volition before the tower crumbles or leans over to cast you out. You want to be on your feet, not in a heap on the ground or on your knees (except in gratitude). Become a spiritual environmentalist and clean up your energy, including judging those whose fears lead them into and up the tower of self-importance. The moment you judge them you practice self-importance. Send them a compassionate blessing instead, because you’ve been there yourself and you know what it feels like.
Walk your path in reverence for humanity and life. No one’s journey is easy or free of fears, no matter what it looks like on the surface. It’s remarkable and lovely to feel the humbleness of making a real difference, large or small, versus a “See! I’m-special!” trap of the frightened ego-aspect. Ask yourself often what it is you want to contribute while you’re here, what you want your personal legacy to be, even if it’s a silent, less-obvious one. Check in with yourself to see if you consider others subservient to you or less “whatever” than you, or do you practice the three graces as often as possible? It’s a good practice, one you’ll appreciate.
Practice makes progress.
Joyce Shafer is a Life Empowerment Coach dedicated to helping people feel, be, and live their true inner power. She's author of "I Don't Want to be Your Guru" and other books/ebooks, and publishes a free weekly online newsletter that offers empowering articles and free downloads. See all that's offered by Joyce and on her site at State of Appreciation.