Sunday, 10 March 2013 20:26

The Idealistic Personality

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This paper delineates the psychological structure and behavior pattern of the idealistic personality.  This is a person who in childhood, due to the exigencies of his inherited biological issues, used his mind to invent an idealized self; a self he believes is an ideal alternative to his problematic body and experiences obsessive-compulsive desire to become that ideal self. In every situation he finds himself in he seeks what is ideal and tries to live up to the ideal. He does this as if he is a slave to the ideal self-construct and in the processes loses the ability to seek the real and live according to its nature. Idealists may be socially achieving but they live anxious and tortured existence and make life miserable for themselves and for those around them (whom they expect to live up to the ideal images and pictures of who they should be that they have for them). Instead of trying to actualize the false ideal self, the idealist must learn to actualize the real self, not the fictional ideal self. In living from the real self he finds the peace that eluded him when he tried to live from the false ideal self. 

The Idealistic Personality 

Ozodi Osuji 

Idealistic thinking entails seeing what is real (your body, self, other peoples bodies, selves, social institutions and the natural environment) as not good enough and wishing that they should be better than they are. The idealist rejects what is and wishes for an ideal version of it.  This is done in an obsessive-compulsive manner, as if the person is pressured by internal forces that he cannot disobey. The pursuit of perfection is a compulsive part of the human condition; Plato saw it as inhering in the existence of ideal archetypes in the spiritual realm that those on the earthly realm are trying to actualize on earth.

Idealistic thinking and imagination leads to anxiety, anger, tension, stress, depression and paranoia.  The person has fear and anxiety in that he uses the ideal as standard to judge his actions and is afraid that he may not live up to the ideal. Not attaining the imaginary ideal makes him fearful.

If he is religious and associates God with the ideal, he sees God as the one requiring him to become ideal and he fears disappointing God when he appears less ideal in his behavior.

In most cases he associates society, especially his significant others (parents, siblings, peers, priests, teachers, work bosses and friends) as the ones requiring him to become ideal and fears not becoming ideal lest he disappoint them.

Actually, it is not other people that require him to be ideal for normal persons accept their imperfect selves and expect him to accept his imperfect real self. It is he himself who used his mind to decide that as he is that he is not good enough and wants to become better. What he wants to do he projects to other people and now falsely believes that they desire him to become ideal before they accept him. Of course, neurotic persons who are doing what he is doing, seeking ideals and expect people to be ideal before they are accepted would expect him to be ideal. The relevant point is that normal persons do not expect him to become ideal before they accept him.

Thus, he lives under tremendous fear and anxiety, especially fear of failure to live up to others expectations (which are his ideals projected to other persons as their expectations from him).

When he thinks that people and things are obstructing his attainment of his ideals he feels angry at those people and things. Thus, the idealist tends to be an angry person (as well as a fearful person).

Clearly, the pursuit of ideals leads to unrealistic behavior, to not doing what the real world requires of one to adapt to it. The result is poverty and frustration.  More importantly, it leads to lack of inner peace and to tension and stress.

Idealism is escape from the real self, from the reality of human bodily imperfection. Idealism actually does not solve the problems the idealist sees; he is merely escaping from them; his imperfect self, body, world, social institutions are not changed by his idealistic wishes for them to change and become ideal.

Generally, the idealist inherited a weak and problematic body and hates it and is seeking an ideal body and self but such seeking does not change his body or lead him to understand that body objectively and make the most of it on its own terms.

Clearly, the best response to the human condition of imperfection is science. Science studies the human body, personality and the world of things as they are and does not wish that they become better and makes the most of things as they are.

Idealism leads to being judgmental and intolerant of those who seem to deviate from the ideal (such as homosexual persons).

Idealism gives the idealist psychological pain. All that idealism gives is pain, anxiety, anger, frustration and disappointment and failure! The real question then is why pursuing idealism? I do not see any good in idealism so what is the point in seeking it? There is absolutely no single reason why one should seek ideals. It leads to lack of productivity and acquisition of material wealth and psychological sense of abundance.

The reason people pursue idealism is because they do so obsessive-compulsively and believe that somehow they can attain ideals; the pursuit of ideals and perfection kind of give their lives direction and purpose. As long as they are seeking ideals they feel like they are doing something important with their lives.

When eventually idealists realize that they and the world cannot become ideal they tend to become deflated and give up on life; they despair and have no more wish to do anything; they become living dead persons with no further goals to pursue.

It is at this point that psychotherapy (or mature thinking) helps to teach the despondent idealist that seeking the real, albeit imperfect is worthwhile purpose for living.

Science studies the imperfect body, self and world and has given people better ways of living than all the idealistic musing of neurotic philosophers like Plato, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

The idealist must, therefore, give up his idealism now, not tomorrow for all that it gives him is sorrow and making life miserable for those he compares to his ideals and find not good enough.

People around the idealist are tense for they do not want to be compared to ideals and rejected; they do not like the idealist’s criticalness; they do not relax and act as themselves: freely, spontaneously, laugh and have fun; the idealist is a killjoy! The idealist does not behave spontaneously; he is rigid and inflexible in his pursuit of ideals.

Idealism leads to paranoia, especially if the idealist believes that he is his ideal self-image (which he is not) and defend it.

Reality is so powerful and unchangeable that the human child comes to the conclusion that the only way to cope with it is through magical means, wishes. Wishes that things be the way one wants them to be is magical thinking; human beings adopt magical thinking when the reality confronting them is such that they do not know how to overcome it.

It is this type of wishful and magical thinking that led to religion. Reality is tough; for example, people do get sick, age and die and people want to be healthy and live forever so they used wishes, magical thinking to create imaginary after life scenarios that they call heaven and populate it with imaginary gods.

The point here is that when a child has a problematic body that does not cooperate with him he uses his mind to wish for a better body. If he uses his wished for body and self to replace his problematic body he is now deluded.

In paranoia the individual uses wishes to invent an ideal powerful self (when he is weak and powerless) and believe that he is the ideal powerful self and defend it.

The ideal self is grandiose. The paranoid person defends a grandiose self. Naturally other people do not acknowledge that grand self so he perceives people as persecuting that grand self hence delusion of grandeur and delusion of persecution (the other types of delusion are jealousy, erotomania and somatic delusion).

The paranoid self is an imaginary big self-used to replace the real weak, powerless self.   Paranoia is largely a product of human sense of powerlessness and desire to be powerful, a desire to control a world that we are not in control of and a desire to predict the future and know what other people are thinking so as to make sure that they are not thinking harmful thoughts about one and are not about to harm one; this is obviously motivated by desire for safety in a world where people do not feel secure.

When the exigencies of a child’s body make him feel inordinately vulnerable, weak and powerless and having no control over his body he engages in these paranoid thoughts. Alas, he cannot predict the future or know what other people are thinking or forestall harm from happening to him and might as well take his chances and live in an unpredictable universe.

The individual is at best 1% percent responsible for what happens to him; the other 99% is in the control of other people and the universe as a whole. He has some responsibility because he can decide to live or to kill his self so if he is alive he has some role to play in his being alive and what happens to him. However, to say that he is in total control of his life is a stretch that even a fool can see is not true.

It makes sense to say that God is in control of one’s life if by God one means the universe that one has no control over.

Idealism leads to despair; if the idealist gives up on life just because he did not live up to his imaginary ideals he becomes depressed.

In depression the individual loses interest in the activities of daily living; he has no interest in work, sports and relationships, personal grooming and experiences a desire to die. Some depressed person, in fact, attempt suicide (hence need to hospitalize them and observe their behaviors).

The idealist lives with free floating anxiety from fear of not living up to his ideals.        In anxiety the individual anticipates what ordinarily is fearful and reacts as if his life is actually threatened and experiences fear (desire to flee or fight) with its attendant biochemical reactions in the body (release of adrenalin, excitation of bodily processes, fast breathing, fast pumping of the heart,  rapid working of the nervous system, muscles and thinking etc.). The objective of fear is to force the individual to protect his life by either running away from danger or fighting and defeating it. (Karen Horney, in her book, Neurosis and Human Growth articulated what she called basic anxiety in neurotics, anxiety from  fear of not living up to the neurotic’s ego ideal self.)

Idealism is wishful thinking; idealism is magical thinking that is rooted in a child inheriting a problematic body that he wants to use his imagination to come up with alternative ideal body and self.

Maturity lies in accepting the imperfect body and self, studying it scientifically and understanding it as it is, not as it should be and making the most of it.

Marrying into a higher or a race perceived to be superior is often motivated by idealism. The idealist perceives those who seem better than he is, say, rich people if he is poor, white people if he is black as ideal persons and wants to become like them hence marries one of them. Later he finds out that they are like he is, not better or worse for people are people regardless of their wealth and skin color (wealth does give refinement, though).

If you have no idealism you are calm, self-accepting and nonjudgmental, peaceful and happy. If you are not pursuing idealism you would not be thinking a lot; you would not engage in obsessive-compulsive thinking; you would just be calm and engage in scientific thinking, that is, observation of things as they are, not wishing that they become different from the way they are.

The idealist sees himself, people, social institutions, natural phenomena as not good enough and wants to recreate them, recreate the world, people and social institutions to his liking (to his image of who he thinks that they should become). This is pursuit of grandiose power, the type of power that no one can attain; it is actually unrealistic and childish wishful thinking and behavior.

Dictators like Hitler and Stalin had obsessive compulsive idealistic personality; they were driven to attain ideal selves and societies (be it on the right as in Hitler or on the left as in Stalin); these people had the active type of idealism (they actively tried to attain their ideals); some idealists are passive and merely wish for ideals and do nothing about attaining their ideals (except use them to evaluate themselves, their spouses, children and find them not good enough and make life miserable for them, create tension and anxiety in their households).

The idealistic person’s every activity is subsumed under idealism; he goes to school to attain the means to become ideal; he works to become ideal; his ambition is to become ideal; he nothing for its own sake, for the sake of understanding it and enjoying it; everything he does is driven to attain an end, ideals that will never be attained. The idealist does not relax, smell the coffee and roses and live quietly in the here and now world.

Pursuit of ideals leads to not paying attention to science (physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy); this is because science deals with the mundane, the here and now world which are not sexy; the idealist wants to transcend the ugly world. But we have to understand this world; we are going nowhere until we have understood this imperfect world.

The ego idealist generally is other directed; he posits an ideal ego and wants other persons to accept and approve that false ideal self. Everything he does is to live up to the ideal self; he then wonders whether what he is doing would be approved by other people; that is, whether they would like his ideal self.  He uses other people to decide on what he wants to do. He does not just decide on what is right and do it but always asks whether other people would approve it.  He is a pleaser and wants to please every person in his world; he fears social rejection.

In trying to live up to the ideal ego’s standards he is really trying to live up to the standards of other people as he construes them to demand from him; but it is he who projects what he thinks that other people expect from him before they approve him to them; other people are mostly normal and certainly do not expect perfection from him or from any other human being before they approve him, them.

The idealist is responding to his own projections which he thinks are people’s actual expectations from him.

Each human being literally responds to the people and world he imagines are out there but not to the actual people and things out there; what the people and things that are out there are the individual does not actually know; what he knows for sure is what he thinks that they are.

Does the world we see as out there exist out there or is it in our imagination as solipsistic philosophers like George Berkeley tell us they are? We shall not complicate this paper by wading into idealistic philosophy; let us assume that the world we see is out there but that each of us sees it with myopic lenses, distorts perception of it.

The idealist lacks engagement with other people for his primary engagement is with his ego ideal. He is not usually committed to courses outside him except in so far that they meet with his ego ideal, and even then he is not committed to those courses but to his ego ideal. He is really a slave to his ego ideal; he lives to actualize his false ideal self rather than actualize what Abraham Maslow calls his real self.(What is the real self, is it body and ego personality only or is it more than that, say, spirit as religionists believe?). 

DISCUSSION 

Idealistic personality (thinking and behavior pattern) is caused by biological factors; an inherited problematic body, a body that makes the person feel weak and unable to do what his world requires for him to adapt to it disposes him to wish for alternative ideal body. The idealist right from childhood rejected his problematic body and seeks an ideal alternative to it.

I am an idealistic personality; my idealism is rooted in my inherited medical issues; I was born with cytochrome c oxidase deficiency, spondilolysis and mitral valve prolapse of the heart; those made my body hellish and disposed me to reject it and wish for alternative perfect body and generalized that to seeking ideal everything in life.

Many Africans are walking disease factories; they have untreated diseases that they do not even know that they have, diseases that make them feel weak and they compensate with boisterousness in an attempt to seem bold (big self) when in fact they feel weak and powerless. The point is that idealism is rooted in biology.

Whereas idealism is exaggerated in some persons the phenomenon is found in lesser degrees in all human beings, for no human being inherited a perfect, healthy body that he is satisfied with. All people see some problems with their bodies although the normal person accepts his body and self and is not motivated to have ideal body and self hence ideal world.

Alfred Adler made the seminal point that all human beings, in degrees feel inferior and compensate with drive towards superiority, hence all human beings have a bit of grandiosity and paranoia in them. Consider white racists who are not different from weak human beings feeling superior to black persons. No human being lacks some delusion disorder; no human being is mentally healthy (what is mental health?).

Finally, whereas idealism is rooted in body issues its cure is not medications (medications are useful in treating the psychoses such as schizophrenia, mania, and clinical depression and anxiety disorders). Western psychiatry now believes that the cure for every psychological distress is medications. The cure for idealism is realism; that it is, realization that the pursuit of the mentally constructed idea of perfection does not solve any problem. The mental only is not realistic for it does not take into consideration the limitations imposed on human bodies by space, time and matter; the environment makes it impossible for human beings to attain our mentally constructed ideals. 

CONCLUSION 

Everything said in this brief paper is based on my observation of my body and the type of thinking it generated in me, and the people around me; it is empirical and can be verified. This is no abstract speculative psychology (as in Sigmund Freud’s metaphors such as id, ego and superego); this is scientific realism.

I believe that it is such realistic (that is, scientific) thinking that would eventually transform psychology into a science.

Science is that which studies people as they are, not as they should be, studies the world as it is, not as it should be. Science accepts the world it sees and tries to understand it on its own terms and make the most of it through technology.

A scientific psychology must be rooted in understanding of the human body at the biochemical and biophysical level. Understanding the electromagnetic system of the human body would lead to radical change in our understanding of the self. (In other papers I explored the electrical system of the human body and how problems with the body’s electrical conductors and transmission lead to the type of thinking and behavior the individual exhibits).

Science does not escape from the imperfect world we live in and seek alternative ideals to it, such as neurotic idealism (idealistic personality is a neurotic disorder) or religious idealism (pining for an ideal spiritual world is neurosis; indeed, much of religion is neurosis; God, Richard Dawkins says, is a construct of human delusional thinking).

Maturity lies in accepting the human body, warts and all, as it is and making the most of it. It is in accepting the human body and self and the world as they are that people find peace of mind and body. Much of intra-psyche conflict in the individual, interpersonal conflicts and wars are due to rejection of the real self (bodily self) and pursuit of mentally constructed ideal selves, ideal institutions and ideal world (imaginary disembodied entities).

The world would become a more peaceful place when people accept themselves as they are and stopped wishing that they become angels (which they would never become).

Our human problems are caused by our living in bodies and separated selves and defense of those bodies and selves.  If a person can deny his separated self and body and have no separated self and body identification he would not be defensive and would literally be free from fear. But how can one be on earth, live in body and not identify with body and self and defend them with fear?

To talk about having no self and body is idealistic; what is realistic is to have flexible identification with one’s body and self and be less defensive; the individual must have some body and ego defenses if he wants to be alive on earth. Talk of total defenselessness, which can only be possible if one does not have body and separated self, is a will of the wisp.

The individual cannot change his body and other people’s bodies; since the human personality is largely a product of biochemical and biophysical factors, with social experience playing an insignificant role, he cannot change the human personality; all that he can do is study the biological, chemical and physical factors that lead to the formation of personality and understand them as objectively as he can and then live with people’s personalities without wild eyed belief that he can change himself or other people or the world.

The human personality can be understood but not changed. The idealistic personality, like other personalities can be understood but cannot be entirely changed; understood it can be moderated but not eliminated for the person, given his biological constitution, will always wish for things to be better than they are; as long as he knows that wishes are not reality he is okay.

Human beings are condemned to seeking ideal alternatives to their imperfect selves, social institutions and the world and on that basis making life miserable for them and indeed going to wars to transform their world into impossible ideals. Wisdom lies in accepting the self and world as they are and making the little changes that are possible. 

PS: This brief paper is a product of ten years of cogitation on the idealistic personality; the ideas are expanded on in my other writings. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only one (?) writing on the idealistic personality. Therefore, there is no literature on it. The following books, though on different subjects, may stimulate the reader’s mind on idealistic thinking.

 

Further Reading

 

Adler, Alfred (1911). The Neurotic Constitution; also see his “What Life should mean to you”.

American Psychiatric Association (2005). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Washington DC: APA Press.

Beck, Aaron (1991). Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Personality Disorders. New York: Guilford Press.

Horney, Karen (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth. New York: W.W Norton.

Meisner, William (1982). The Paranoid Process. New York: Aronson.

Swanson, David et al (1970). The Paranoid. Boston: Houghlin.

 

Ozodi Osuji, PhD

March 8, 2013

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: ozodiosuji@gmail.com (907) 310-8176