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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Idealization?

Idealization, and the dependence on external sources for narcissistic support, do not involve only other individuals; we also use institutions, ideas, spiritual notions, ideologies, situations, and activities as objects of idealization. Only the truly self-realized individual can be herself while still perceiving everyone and everything in their true condition.

— A. H. Almaas

Idealization refers to a psychological process where an individual forms unrealistic and often overly positive images or beliefs about themselves, others, or the world. Idealization can be seen as a defense mechanism that protects the individual from experiencing difficult emotions, such as insecurity, vulnerability, or fear.

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Idealization

Are You Still Living Through a Mental Structure?

For a long time, the student relates to the teaching, the school, or the teacher as the ideal object. They relate to that ideal object through the central object relation. That object relation will have to be exposed because it is not reality. You are still living through an internalized object relation. You are still living through a mental structure. You are still living through images, through a projection. You are still imagining reality as something that is not the way it actually is. Because you are living your life from a false perspective, there will never be true realization. Realization will not take hold. Transformation will not be effected in a fundamental way. Any experience you have will be a part of that object relation, which will make you forever dependent on that object relation.

Can True Support Be Gained from External Sources?

The support that emerges when we go through the narcissistic helplessness is a manifestation of Being which is this whole dimension of Will. We refer to this as Diamond Will for reasons we will discuss shortly. Understanding this quality will clarify many issues regarding idealization and its transferences. Recognizing that the support that resolves the idealizing transference is an essential manifestation of Being, makes it clear that there is no way to gain true support from external sources. It is an aspect of our very Being, and the most that an external source may provide is guidance towards recognizing it within ourselves.

Clarification of Narcissistic Idealization

This understanding clarifies narcissistic idealization, which supports a feeble and shaky sense of self and also demonstrates that all kinds of idealization, whether we call them primitive or mature, function to shore up one’s identity. Because of its intrinsic incompleteness and unreality, the normal identity always needs this support, regardless of how strong this identity might be felt to be. In fact, it is our understanding that all idealizations are simply variations, on and reflections of, the narcissistic idealization. We see then that any identity based on ego structures (which is true of both the normal identity and the grandiose self of the pathologically narcissistic individual) inevitably needs external support, such as the idealization of others. This also explains why the normal individual develops deep idealizing transferences similar to those exhibited by narcissistic personalities, when dealing with the aspect of his spiritual transformation relating to the sense of identity. In our work, we understand this development of the narcissistic idealization as intensification of normal idealizations, due to the greater narcissistic need for support which arises when the normal identity is challenged by expanding spiritual transformation.

Disruption of Teacher-Idealization

The next stage arises when this idealization of the teacher is disrupted by something that the teacher does or fails to do. It is usually disrupted simply by the fact that the teacher is not perfect and the idealization is not realistic. Regardless of how perfect the teacher might be, she will never fit the idealized image of the student, and the student will at some point notice the discrepancy. When the student sees something in the idealized figure that doesn’t fit with the imagined perfection, there is a disappointment and a loss of the idealized image. The student will experience even slight failings of the teacher as lack of empathy, attunement, appreciation, understanding, sensitivity—but most importantly, as the loss of the teacher’s support. This loss often brings up the defensive reaction of anger, rage, and hatred. The student hates the teacher for not living up to his image of her and feels that she has failed him, or even betrayed him. Psychodynamically, every time the idealizing transference is disrupted, the student experiences unconsciously, if not consciously, the loss of part of his structure, a part that provides him particularly with the sense of support for who he is. This is a loss of the support for the narcissistic equilibrium—the sense of self-esteem and stable self-existence. However, the student does not initially recognize the loss of support implicit in the loss of the idealized object. He first goes on the defensive, experiencing rage toward the teacher, blaming and devaluing her. This rage may manifest as cold withdrawal from the teacher, or even vindictive devaluation. This might seem counterproductive or disruptive to the teacher-student relationship, but it’s actually a blessing in disguise. If the teacher understands the situation and is skillful in her interactions with her student, and if the student is sincere and mature enough, there is the unique opportunity here of the student seeing his teacher as she is. More significantly, there is the possibility of a quantum jump in his inner transformation.

Essential Origins of Idealization

Having explored idealizing transference and the dimension of Diamond Will, we can see more clearly the connection between the idealized object that is needed to support one’s narcissistic identity, and the essential quality that is the support for the true identity. The idealized object is usually seen as big, strong, powerful, perfect, intelligent, and loving. These characteristics are like the experience of the Diamond Will: immense, powerful, loving, spacious, and solid. We saw in Chapter 20 that the grandiose self is a distorted image of the Essential Identity. In relation to the Diamond Will, which is the true support for the Essential Identity, the image is not only distorted, but projected on an external object, usually a parent or teacher. This is the source of idealization: The perfect qualities of the idealized self-object are not merely created from the needs of the child, but reflect the qualities of something real. These qualities, which are considered by depth psychologists to be delusional idealizations, are the real characteristics of the only thing that can support the child’s real identity: the Diamond Will of Essence. The child needs the idealization, which is simply the projection of the Diamond Will on the parent, because he knows—albeit unconsciously and indirectly—what he needs to sustain his sense of true identity.

Making the Essential Self Into and Ego Ideal

Sometimes, however, instead of idealizing a particular quality, some people idealize who they truly are, and make the essential self into an ego ideal. People who idealize being authentic, original and spontaneous, for instance, are actually idealizing qualities of who they truly are. However, this idealization does not mean that they are actually being who they truly are. An idealization is always a distortion of one’s reality. Usually, though, a person idealizes a certain quality that he has, and wants to be admired, loved, recognized, and respected for that quality. But as I’ve said, deeper than this wish is the desire for who he simply is, regardless of what he does, to be seen as precious. And there is a deep despair because who he is is not seen as precious, and the ego ideal is one of the compensations for this.

Recognizing the Essential Aspect in the Ego Ideal

Yes. A person can idealize the personal essence. That person will idealize personal relationships, personal things, and being personal. The person is not interested in a universal, objective perspective. There will be an issue about being efficient, and about being a person who is unique in a personal way. When you recognize your ego ideal and also recognize the essential aspect in it, what I call your particular “channel” opens. Your channel has levels of the essential quality which you don’t recognize immediately; these levels manifest as part of a process. For instance, if a person idealizes strength, there are many qualities in the strength. Ultimately, it becomes the “red channel,” which manifests as strength and power, and then as a sense of vitality and expansion. This develops into a lustiness, and as the red energy expands, it becomes passionate love. Passion is idealized. As this expands, there is an idealization of beauty. The red channel is the channel of beauty. You’re not only powerful and expansive, you see and appreciate beauty—a glamorous kind of beauty—a beauty full of vitality and colors. When you recognize the ego ideal, instead of having something to accomplish, you then have a special contribution that is an outflow of who you are. This can happen only by exposing the ego ideal, not by living according to it.

The Need to Idealize Someone Specific

Grandiosity may alternate with, or be hidden by, an inordinate need to find persons to idealize. The need to idealize someone specific is normal, but it is a more desperate need for the narcissist, and is needed for the normal individual when the narcissistic constellation approaches conscious experience in the work of spiritual development. The idealization becomes more extreme, and one tends to believe that one's idealized figure possesses unusual perfection and power. He uses the relationship to the idealized figure as a support for his sense of identity, to gain a sense of power and perfection from the association with the idealized figure.

The Need to Understand the Issue of Idealization

Student: Yesterday you talked about how some people idealize autonomy. What is the relationship between autonomy and the true self? How can the idealization of autonomy keep you from seeing your true self?
Almaas: The quality of autonomy might be used to substitute for the true self, to compensate for its absence. But it’s the issue of idealization that needs to be understood and not the autonomy itself. If a person is not his true self, he needs an idealized self. A person who never attained autonomy would always think he was a failure. Another person might achieve his idealization and then be disappointed to discover that it didn’t do what he thought it would do. People can either respond with despair and depression, or they use the occasion to try to explore why it didn’t give them what they wanted. People who can question in a very genuine way in such a situation can arrive at the true self. The person who achieves his idealization may have a better chance at finding his real self if he doesn’t despair, but actually learns true hopelessness. If he doesn’t reach his idealization, he may still find the true self, but it may be difficult for him to believe that that’s what he needs. If the idealization doesn’t break down, it is possible to experience the true self, but not value and appreciate it. The idealization must be exposed. Sometimes it has to be seen by working on yourself, rather than through the life situation. You can uncover beliefs and hopes and dreams by working on yourself, rather than having to act them out in life.

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