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How do you know you are possessed by a flaw?  

Everybody has some character flaws, but for most of us there is a bigger
problem. Some of our character flaws have us. That's right. You read
that correctly. You are possessed by the flaw rather than possessing
it. A few centuries ago in Salem, this would have been called a demonic
possession. Now we know that sometimes our flaws can act as though they
were totally autonomous. They take possession of you and run your psyche
as though you were on automatic pilot. It is as though you were a bus
and every now and then someone else is driving your bus. The problem is
that this driver is out of control.
You don't think its possible in your case? Ask your spouse or a close
friend. Better yet ask someone who doesn't like you. They probably can
see it better than a friend. If you can chew gum, drive, listen to the
radio and still get home alive, you know that you are capable of
creating parts of your psyche that run your life without your thinking.
Did you ever drive home and not remember the drive, because you were
ingrossed in deep thought or a stimulating conversation. You used the
brake, maybe shifted the car a few times, avoided accidents, sang off
key with the radio and it happened automatically.
Our flaws can be like that. Sometimes a single flaw or a constellation
of related flaws operate on their own. We automatically go into
reaction, feel resentment, blame, feel inadequate and maybe even go into
raging indignation without even being aware that it happened.
Reacting automatically with a flaw is a dilemma that interferes with the
ordinary everyday business of living a moral life. Responding
consciously, sometimes even with what looks like a flaw is healthier
than reacting automatically with a character flaw.
Did you ever do the same stupid thing more than once and sincerely wish
you hadn't done it? When a flaw reoccurs automatically, without your
conscious permission then it has possession of you. Possession by a
flaw is not uncommon. Take dishonesty. I love to poke fun at our
politicians with this one, but did you ever tell a small lie without
even thinking about it? Research shows that people lie all the time.
The most common lie is about why you are late for appointments. It is
the traffic lie. Here in Toledo traffic may not count for much, but if
you have ever lived in Boston or New York or parked on the Garden State
Parkway or New Jersey Turnpike ( the world's largest parking lot) you
know what a great excuse it is.
Small flaws that reoccur are tolerated by everyone because everybody
even saints and sages have character flaws. Large flaws are not. Even
if we don't hold ourselves accountable, the flaw will. Flaws tend to
punish us over our lifetime even if we think we can get away with them.
Take Spreewell and his "raging indignation." That flaw was worth
millions to him.
So the first question was - Is the reaction automatic? If it was and
you became aware that you used the flaw after it started then it has
possession of you. That means it is time to get to work. It is a flaw
that needs to be undone. If not the character defect will contaminate
your character. Your future, not just your present, will be affected by
the flaw.
The next question obviously is -Do you stop afterwards and wish it
didn't happen? Regret, remorse, self-recrimination are associated with
a readiness, or willingness to let go of the flaw. If you are willing
and it keeps occurring, that too is a sign that the flaw possesses you.
You may know some people who have serious flaws and no willingness to
change. Regret or remorse aren't part of the picture for them. In fact
justification for using the flaw is uppermost in the minds when the
character flaw is pointed out to them.
If you are willing to embark on a program of transformation, let me warn
you that you will find yourself irritated with your flaws. That's
normal. What is more irritating is that they resurface even after we
think we have dealt with them in therapy. Don't be discouraged.
Noticing that a flaw has occurred is really a big deal for most of us.
Usually we walk around in denial of the negative side or shadow side of
our personality. It is not that we wish to suppress our awareness, it
is just that the only way we can use these negative qualities is to
completely deny that we have them. We need to use them. Often the need
is not too sane, but nevertheless it is a need.
Every flaw serves a purpose and supports a belief that is useful to us,
so it is no wonder that we go to the extent of denying their existence
to be able to use them. When you get to the point that you routinely
recognize a flaw then you are on the path. Eventually you will discover
that there are better ways to deal with life. You will discover that
you can make a conscious choice for character. You can chose to use a
virtue instead of a flaw. That may not come easily for some, but the
fact that your flaws irritate you and you don't want to be possessed by
them is the starting point on the path to character development.
The last question - Does it repeat itself? Is this flaw a part of an
unconscious pattern. That's the way it is if the flaw has you. It
occurs automatically, under certain "trigger' circumstances. It has
become a habit, and habits rule one's life. The more you are able to
notice the repetitious nature of a flaw, the better able you are to
understand what drives you to use it. It may take a while to understand
what it is that drives the habit, or feeds the need to use the flaw, but
you will eventually uncover it. Every flaw is sustained by what I call
a "flawed belief system." These beliefs generally help us protect and
fulfill basic needs. Next time I'll cover the four basic needs behind
character flaws. It will help you understand each of the character
flaws that we are going to look at over the next year.


 

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