The passive observer attempts to keep all of his options in front of him. Emphasizing each of his decisions, his life carries the weight of cosmic significance. Everything he does profoundly matters, and every choice he makes eliminates the possibility of something greater.
Idealism is about indecisiveness, which is related to dependence. Some prefer the universe to send them a clear signal allowing them to move away from comfort, essentially outsourcing their volition. These individuals reject anything that doesn’t appear to be perfect, or obviously right. On the one hand, they loathe the mundane; on the other, they expect the universe to cure them of its symptoms.
Some call this the Peter Pan Syndrome, its namesake stemming from the popular children’s character who refused to grow up and old. Life, with all of its rejections, failures, and obscenities, lies beyond the golden child. For he is too special, abiding in a realm above it all. So, he expects the universe to act on his behalf and to provide as a parent would. His indecisiveness and idealism feed off of one another. The greater the fear of movement, the greater the need for purity.
Thus, idealism, expecting the perfect resolution, is at once a goal and a barrier, precluding the pursuit of anything meaningful because it has yet to come along and reveal itself. Idealism is mixture of patience and petulance, the hope and rage associated with the possibility of someday getting one’s due. Of someday being redeemed.
Philosopher Dean Rickles maintains, “A natural tendency for many humans is to try and make themselves impervious to any and all attack: bulletproofing. This comes from an understandable place: a desire not to be hurt. To be invulnerable. But one has to be aware of the costs of taking this too far.” And idealism is the great escape. So much of my life was punctuated by it. But, I wasn’t willing to admit that I was terrified of diminishing power. What would it be like to allow myself to love? Could I deal with the threat of potential heartbreak? According to psychoanalyst Nancy McWilliams, “When one is rationalizing, one unconsciously seeks cognitively acceptable grounds for one’s direction.” And since I was motivated to flee, my answers to the aforementioned questions always served my fears. I’d find love when it presented itself, when it was right. The bulletproofing entailed the belief that I deserved better than settling. Settling was for them, those others, but not for me, the golden child.
The passive observer is therefore a ghost, living in a bubble of his own cognition.
So, much of the work in treatment addresses his beliefs and motivations, in addition to his disappointments. And despite popular belief, therapy isn’t non-judgmental; it’s, fundamentally, non-shaming. Therapy doesn’t sugar-coat unethical and harmful behavior; it only lets the client know that, most of the time, it doesn’t disqualify them from being loved, which is their greatest fear. In this respect, the thinking traps and avoidant patterns mainly harm the patient, although they aren’t without collateral damage. And the work focuses on idealism, not only that related to the future, but also the version associated with one’s self-conception. I expected perfection because it allowed me to avoid acknowledging that I believed others expected it from me. It was a deflection of sorts, a childish way of saying, “Oh, you think I need to be perfect?! Well, you need to be perfect for me!” I needed to learn how to better handle disappointments.
Dean argues that overcoming this childlike state requires taking on responsibilities. He noted that minor responsibilities increase and evolve. But, ultimately, the point is that your decisions aren’t that significant. You aren’t keeping greatness in front of you through passivity nor are you evading it with your choices. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Its radiance is all we have.
Check out our episode with Dean Rickles below: