ASK ABDI: HOW TO DEAL WITH IDEALIZATION AND ABUSE?
QUESTION: I found your book, Shadows on the Path, while looking for a book about the subject of abusive relationships between master and student. I read it over a period of almost one year (I have read one page per day maximum, sometimes twice). I am a psychologist and teach martial arts, and I have a martial arts master, of course. In the last year, after some years of strong idealization of this guy, I got into a conflict with him because I felt he abused my trustfulness.
As always, the aftershock of the idealization was the degrading, so I began to see my master as a piece of shit. Luckily, I managed to overcome this episode. After a while, I realized to what extent I idealized this guy and began to see reality more clearly. Also, I began to see my strong need for these kind of idealizations, and in which parts of my life I do it as well.
Suddenly, I could see this guy as more “normal”, as a human being, with all his incredible power and abilities, but also with his “flaws” and weaknesses. This led to a more peaceful relationship with him. Now I respect him, love him (before I THOUGHT I loved him, but actually wasn’t able to…), fear him, let him be.
The valuable side effect is I found myself and my “inner master” as a guiding line for my life. That doesn’t mean I always recover him easily when I need him. But I know he is there and I know that it is all about him, not the outer one. Now, all I have to do is remember that.
ANSWER: I am happy that you found the book useful. It was written to be read like that: very slowly. That book took three years to write and slim down to its published size. Many people tell me that they read it in one sitting, which I find humorous. Slow is good medicine.
Such an important lesson you share here. The idealization of another is such a lose/lose proposition for both parties involved. There is no room for growth since both people are stuck in an idea that is not and can not be real. We are all imperfectly perfect and perfectly imperfect. Perfectly perfect is a nightmare that we attempt to live and project onto others because we are not taught that it is impossible. Our culture is based on the denial of this fact and we are taught to strive for the ideal of perfection. This fact stems from a deep fear, distrust, and disconnection of who we are. Everyone has imperfections; it is a part of being human.
Your teacher in this example is as much of a victim of it as you are. If he is aware enough, he can try to break you out of your hypnosis by saying to you, “Hey, I am just a man like you. I have some gifts, some things that I have learned by hard work, and some flaws”. Or he can be unaware of the idealization. Most likely, he can be somewhere in the middle where he is aware of the disharmony, but enjoys people thinking of him as “special, invincible, etc.” It is a seductive drug for both parties, and as drug addictions go, there is no happy ending until it is given up. It leaves no room for real dialogue and relationship. But it is seductive, and we all can and do fall under its spell easily. Teacher/student relationships are especially prone to suffer from this for obvious reasons. A true teacher shares power and empowers the student, he has no need to stand above the student. A true student, conversely, works hard at not projecting on the teacher and allows for the humanity of the teacher by accepting his own humanity.
There is another piece here, what is called the golden shadow. It refers to the noble parts of ourselves that we project onto another. Teachers of any kind are usually good projection screens for this. Many times it is actually harder to own and integrate these “positive” aspects of the shadow than negative ones. So make sure that you are aware of this and that you are working on owning all of these qualities that you were transferring onto your teacher.
Lovely how you have turned it around. Truly the job of all outer teachers is to guide us to the inner teacher. This relationship has to be fostered, just like an external relationship. We have to make friends with this inner guru through daily internal connection. We do this by letting go of behaviors and relationships that numb us. This teacher has always been and will always be here. It asks nothing back in return but our attention. Drink until you are full.