The Myth of Sainthood: Why You and I Will Always Be Works-In-Progess

I’m a contradiction. To reduce my psyche to any particular set of traits is impossible, because I’m often one person and, sometimes, another. Although I teach my clients the tools of cognitive behavioral therapy and stoic philosophy, I find myself returning to old patterns of fluctuating emotions, wondering why others can’t be different or better people.

Character is and, to a great extent, has always been important to me, but I can’t seem to get it right. I’ve written on multiple occasions in the past about the difference between implicit beliefs (the deeper unconscious beliefs that we act on if we don’t really think too much about what we’re doing) and the explicit ones (the beliefs we profess to others, in order to articulate the relentless struggle that each of us go through); becoming a better human is an everyday battle. Or, more precisely, it’s a series of them.

I’m usually fairly impatient with others, especially when it pertains to childlike behavior in adults. Although, explicitly, I know that some haven’t grown up on account of their poor childhoods, having been abused and/or neglected, with no role-models to emulate, I frequently act on my implicit bias, which tells me that all adults should act their age. I’m sure most of you would agree with that sentiment, but I’m also certain that you would try to understand why that person is misbehaving. But, my standards and expectations usually contribute to my overreactions. Even in saying that they’re overreactions, some strong part of me disagrees.

So, this is it; this is the human condition. It’s this seesaw of contrasting thoughts and feelings, a puzzle that we only occasionally piece together. Your feelings, a term people often use to refer to their implicit beliefs, contradict your thoughts and, more often than not, outweigh them. Thus, people often ask me how to resolve the tension in that conflict. The answer is: you can’t. That voice that calls me harsh and unjustifiably angry will always follow me around, and I’ll have to continue to remind it of my progress on the one hand and the necessity of my anger on the other. And then, I’ll continue to try my best to act less impulsively and align my behavior with the belief that rage should be a last resort.

Over the years, I’ve lost faith in breakthroughs, since even when they occur, they seldom lead to lasting change. It’s really more about the internal practice of reframing one’s beliefs and the external one of acting on the new ones. In a nutshell, this is psychotherapy. Looking at the bigger picture, I’m more likely to notice my gradual, yet moderate, evolution. I’ve become less harsh on myself and others, but my perfectionism still bugs me and completely takes over during depressive episodes. I still get bogged down in petty disputes and can’t stand unfair criticisms. While I aspire to rise above, one foot will perpetually remain stuck in quicksand.

Maybe all of this is an excuse and I can do better if I simply tried, or maybe it’s just my implicit perfectionism percolating back to my mind’s ear. On most days, I choose the latter and act accordingly, but, on others, I’m sure of my ineptness. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to remind myself that I wasn’t a saint nor would ever be.

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