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Portraits of the imperious self (2): the imperious self is imperious

Portraits of the imperious self 2

This article is part of our series entitled “Portraits of the imperious self”:
► you may read the general presentation of the series here: Portraits of the imperious self (1): an ethics of transformation
► to view all the articles of the series see: Portraits of the imperious self


If the plural “portraits” is used here, it is to best illustrate the multifaceted and elusive figure of our inner life for the imperious self is a shape-shifting model that makes for a difficult subject for a painter. We never really know where to find it when we look for it, and we often find it where we have not been looking for it—at times in our outward behaviour, more often in our thoughts and emotions, in our most daily activities as well as in our actions that appear most spiritual and most noble. The imperious self is like a creeping rootstalk that runs underground and spreads itself out in the Self. Only via the shoots that now and then become visible in our consciousness do we have access to it, though we can never unearth it completely and it is always there. This presentation will therefore be limited to a few manifestations that I have observed in myself and through the experiences that I have been able to gather. These portraits are sometimes similar and often match up. For more clarity, I will distinguish them from one another, but most of the time the imperious self presents itself under several guises and at several levels at the same time, enabling it to confuse and disorient us.

The goal, then, is not to present an exhaustive portrait of the imperious self, but rather, with the help of examples, to identify this adversary with many faces whose most powerful weapon is precisely its ability to go unnoticed. The experiences related here are not necessarily the most subtle ones that I have been experiencing, but they are the ones which can be more readily conveyed. Beyond a certain level of subtlety, the interactions with the imperious self are difficult to put into words—it is up to everyone to make their own experiences and to measure the wealth of their observations.

The imperious self commonly manifests itself in the form of a raw or imperious impulse. An impulse that pushes us to act or think in a way that satisfies our illegitimate desires with no concern for reason, good and evil, or the rights of others. It produces desires, attractions and emotions that are sometimes ordinary and sometimes so appealing they become irresistible unless we can counter them with solid arguments.

The imperious self is a powerful psychological energy that is harmful for the soul. This energy is continuously produced by the activity of our character weak points (flaws) and results in unethical and undivine impulses and desires at the level of our ego.

Bahram Elahi, La Voie de la Perfection – Introduction à la pensée d’Ostad Elahi, Paris, Albin Michel, 2018, p. 47.
(unpublished translation, all rights reserved)

  • The desire to stand out: someone is telling a story and I brutally interrupt to tell my own story, which is similar, but so much more interesting.
  • The desire for someone: I am in a committed relationship and I am overwhelmed by the desire for another women/man.
  • Envy and jealousy: a colleague of mine got a promotion I would have liked to get, and now I can only see his flaws which I go around telling everyone about.

In its most exacerbated form, an imperious impulse is comparable to a tidal wave that breaks through the dykes of reason and moral conscience, knocking down in its path all social rules, ethical principles, or the good resolutions we might have made—it is blind anger, vengeful hatred, or, in a deficient mode, suicidal behaviour. It can also correspond to some addictive behaviour: gambling, alcohol, smoking, etc. At a less spectacular level, addiction to television, to the internet or to video games also may fall within the scope of the imperious self. We most often know we should stop, yet the best reasons in the world cannot give us the strength to do so. Whether we are aware of it or not, at this stage an imperious impulse has taken control of our willpower.

I am addicted to the news. This manifests itself by having a compulsive need whenever I get an opportunity to watch the news—on TV, on the internet, or in magazines. At the onset it is probably due to intellectual curiosity, which is a good thing. The problem is that it can get completely out of proportion: I can stay up late at night or spend hours on a day off from work reading online news, although I have a million things I promised myself or my family I would take care of.

Even though I know how negative this behaviour is, how sterile and harmful it is, despite the remorse I know I will feel later for having wasted my time and missed opportunities succumbing to this impulse, I do it anyway. So, I set up a plan with a very clear set of “penalties” such as: if I spend too much time watching or reading news, the next day I do not allow myself any TV or internet time. But I rarely hold myself to it. I invariably come up with excuses such as “What are 5 minutes of watching the News while I have lunch?” or “Just 5 minutes, it won’t make any difference,” and then those 5 minutes always turn into 1 hour or a lot more, and I end up doing a botched job of the things I was supposed to take care of.

The raw and imperious impulse of the imperious self is clearly identifiable here: it pushes us to act in a way that has damaging effects and even though we are perfectly aware that the action is illegitimate, and even though we can hear the voice of our blaming conscience, the power and intensity of the impulse shuts out reason and willpower: the imperious self rules over us completely.

In general, the imperious self attacks us with the element of force by means of its imperious impulses, such as a surge of pride, jealousy, or hatred, or an irrepressible illicit desire, in which case we can feel quite clearly its presence and activity within us. These forceful attacks can even lead at times to a state of paroxysmal crisis, an “emotional putsch” that deactivates our reason and will to resist, thereby allowing the imperious self to satisfy its impulses without any restraint. A person who experiences such an attack thus transforms into a puppet that wholly obeys (with body and soul) the imperious self, without considering the consequences or even being aware of the ugliness of the act he is committing; this may even happen to those who otherwise have a strong faith and are quite ethical. When led solely by the impulses and desires dictated by our imperious self, we violate all prohibitions and are unreceptive to any advice, resembling a drug addict in a state of withdrawal who will do whatever it takes to get his fix. And if we were to experience a pang of guilt, it would always be after the fact.

Bahram Elahi, La Voie de la Perfection – Introduction à la pensée d’Ostad Elahi, Paris, Albin Michel, 2018, pp. 61-62.
(unpublished translation, all rights reserved)

One of the surest signs that the imperious self is at work is the feeling of urgency, the imperious, nearly irrepressible impulse that drives us to act or behave in a particular way. We are always highly motivated by anything that satisfies the imperious self, whereas we are rarely motivated at the onset, to spend our time and energy for ethical or spiritual purposes.

I am a teacher. A pupil once confided to me that one of my colleagues had directed racist comments against her. I felt outraged and headed straight to the staff room with the firm intention of denouncing the fact to my colleagues, maybe even to the principal. I felt vested with a double mission: that of a citizen and of a teacher whose responsibility includes protecting pupils from abuse. I was ready to make a scandal and could hear in my head the words that were about to be uttered when I noticed that my steps were hurried, and I was oddly eager to tell everyone about this incident. I even perceived a feeling of pleasure when logically the case should have been rather awkward: I was about to denounce a colleague for a serious offence based on the single account of a student. Had I taken the time to verify the claims? Could the words have been taken out of proportion? I had not made any inquiries. Then why was I in such a rush to tell everyone my story? There was of course that incident that I hadn’t gotten over when that same colleague pointed out in front of the principal and the parent council, in the middle of a class council, that several students had complained about my being late to class repeatedly. Obviously, I had a grudge against that colleague. I stopped right in the middle of the hallway. I sensed the involvement of the imperious self and decided to find another way of going about it than launching a public outcry.

Rather than a sense of civic duty, what manifests here is more akin to a desire for revenge and maybe also the need to forge an image as a passionate woman invested in grand causes that will shed the poor image of the teacher who is always late. The red flag that allowed that teacher to stop just in time was when she realized how imperious the impulse was that pushed her to “accomplish her duty” no matter what. We know very well that in general doing our duty is one of those things that require a certain amount of effort. If there is no sense of effort and we feel almost compulsively drawn to action, it is highly likely that this so-called duty is actually a manifestation of the imperious self in disguise.


The imperious self is imperious: can you identify this characteristic in yourself in the last hour?

The imperious self is imperious: can you identify this characteristic in yourself today?

The imperious self is imperious: has it ever drawn you out to act in an impulsive out-of-control manner while justifying the action with ethical legitimate arguments?

How have you distinguished during the action or in hindsight between an urge from the imperious self, disguised as ethical, and a good and legitimate ethical feeling of urgency?

>> Write your own experiences and thoughts on this question in the comments! <<

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  1. A. Feb 28, 2021 2:02 pm 1

    During a recent dinner, I was faced with people who expressed strong opinions about subjects related to spirituality.

    Though I did not agree with them, I did not share my point of view for quite some time in order to avoid useless discussions.

    At some point, I explained an event (that was quite incredible) that had occurred to me and I was forced to reveal my way of thinking and my approach. I said something like “everything that happens to me is linked with God and it has a close relationship to our deep nature, the way we really are”. This statement triggered a number of reactions where people expressed strong disagreement.

    It is then that I began to feel quite upset interiorly (though I did show exteriorly my inner feelings).

    The discussion then moved on to politics and my friends began to express opinions in a very assertive way. As for myself, I shut up and only shared my thoughts once to say that discussing politics was not wise because information was biased and politicians’ behaviors (in general) usually despicable. Politicians will not stop at anything in order to achieve their goals and that politics + media were the quintessence of the negativity characterizing this time and age.

    That triggered manifestations of disagreement among those present since « politics plays an important role and it is necessary for society to function properly hence one should not avoid talking about it and it is also by sharing ideas with friends that one can fine tune one’s own views».

    With hindsight, analyzing this experience, I realize that:
    a) instead of being detached and indifferent I also was very assertive;
    b) I got more and more upset interiorly; this manifested itself in how more assertive I became
    c) during the 24 hours that followed the dinner, I cast my mind several times to the dinner and saw myself (imagined) several times in front of my friends telling them things like: « now, stop your nonsense, I am going to explain why talking about politics is no good, or why politics itself is bad » or again « spirituality can only be understood through practice » etc.

    I cannot quite identify the imperious self’s facets that led to this behaviour. There is certainly an imaginative aspect but the inner anger I felt puzzles me.

    I also felt attacked by people who displayed a form of intellectual arrogance.

    If anybody has a key to interpret my reactions, I would be curious to hear or even just listen to anybody’s advice about how they would have behaved in a similar situation.

    1. Lisa Mar 04, 2021 6:22 am 1.1

      The same has happened to me as a reaction to the ignorance of the people around me.
      Yet in rethinking my reaction I felt that my behavior came from my pride which has me thinking I know better than my friends.
      Therefore if asked about my opinion, I don’t know how I should give my opinion on those subjects without putting others in opposition.
      If anyone has an answer, it might help for the next time. Thanks

      1. A. Mar 08, 2021 9:11 am 1.1.1

        Thank you dear Lisa – very kind of you to reply to my question

      2. kbld Mar 08, 2021 3:50 pm 1.1.2


        Regarding your specific question on “how to”, you might be interested in the channel Charisma on Command. I talk about it there (in particular how it does not take the place of a work on intent, but can be used as a tool for it): https://www.e-ostadelahi.com/eoe-en/committing-to-saying-what-is-good/#comment-845159 . There are plenty of good videos that address your question (for different situations, and mainly who is in front of you and what kind of interaction you have).

      3. Yan Mar 27, 2021 7:51 pm 1.1.3

        @klbd @lisa

        I think @klbd did a pretty good job in distinguishing material & psychological technics/skills with spiritual virtues here; https://www.e-ostadelahi.com/eoe-en/committing-to-saying-what-is-good/#comment-845159: “…It is important…to understand what these tips are and what they are not…They can be tools for spiritual practice, they are not spirituality in themselves…”

        I believe it’s really useful to learn “negation skills” as well as, “psychological technics” and then use them (and sometimes modify if necessary) with a spiritual intention, in a way that is aligned with one’s spiritual belief. A funny analogy that comes to my mind is “Ikea Hacks”, where people buy Ikea parts, and with creativity make their own customized furniture.

        I recommend two books:

        1- “Getting To Yes” by Roger Fisher & William Ury.

        This book is a good book for developing negotiation skills for both personal and professional life. A video from the co-author https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYdk1NK9-r0

        2-“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman

        This interesting book is about our cognitive biases, and how our mind tricks us to behave in a certain way, and how could we override these biases, to act more optimally. A video from the author https://youtu.be/RHmXPyX7czU

    2. Yan Mar 07, 2021 9:53 pm 1.2

      Hello A.

      I can relate to your experience as I have experienced very similar scenarios, acted the same way as you did, and got the same response as you got. Later, when I delved within, I found out that the main source of my anger and feeling of frustration is the combination of the following: Spiritual Superioritism, Pride, Arrogance, and Impatience.

      Even though in situations we could be objectively right, the combination of the above character weaknesses does not allow us to accept and settle with the fact that everyone has their own journey, and will learn what they need to learn, when the time comes. This distorted view caused mainly by pride, make us want people (especially those who we care about) to be exactly as we are and share our beliefs, and if we cannot make this happen, it will result in frustration and anger.

      I used to act as if I was moral and spiritual teacher to others, but later I learned that this way of thinking is caused by pure spiritual arrogance and pride. If I really want to be useful to others, in a way that He wants me to be, I should be acting in vivo (in all and simple daily matters of life) according to my spiritual beliefs, and then maybe overtime others can learn from my “good” behavior, not my words. For example, if I could be patient and kind, and humble to others, then – and maybe – they can learn something good from me. If I didn’t gossip and I didn’t say any negative words, then they can learn something in action. If they learn something, good for them, if they don’t, that’s not on me.

      The following articles helped me to grasp the situation more clearly.

      “Impatience actually implies a considerable lack of understanding and a lot of prejudice. When we do not accept things as they are, it is often because we do not understand why they are the way they are.” https://www.e-ostadelahi.com/eoe-en/impatience-under-the-microscope/

      “…Impatience, which prompts us to contradict others vehemently, is due only to the fact that we find it barely tolerable to admit that others might have feelings different from our own. It is because those feelings are contrary to our own that they hurt us, not because they go against the Truth…What we really want is to impose our own opinions on them and to raise ourselves above their heads; or rather, we contradict them in order to take some petty revenge for the vexation they caused us in challenging our opinions. So this process involves at the same time Pride that causes the vexation,…” https://www.e-ostadelahi.com/eoe-en/impatience-under-the-microscope/

      “The more one’s mind expands, the more patient and tolerant one becomes.” Ostad Elahi’s words also refer to one of the pillars of his teaching, which is the observance of others’ rights. These rights are not limited to the legal sphere but also include their right to exist, to manifest themselves, to be the way they are. Everything that will help us welcome the world and others as they are will help us become more patient and fight against intolerance.” https://www.e-ostadelahi.com/eoe-en/i-am-impatient-but-i-am-working-on-it/

      Some other useful resources:

      Lecture by Professor Bahram Elahi on Spiritual Superioritism: https://youtu.be/oIhiMqtUA6g





      1. A. Mar 08, 2021 9:10 am 1.2.1

        @Yan – thank you for the great detail you went into in your answer. I am very grateful. I have read your answer twice. I think you are spot on. I have been telling myself that over the years I have become less proud and I feel less superior, but obviously, there is still work left for me to do. My experience exemplifies that. Again, thank you for the great answer!

  2. mahnaz Feb 28, 2021 8:27 pm 2

    Thank you for the very useful article. I prefer to do the right thing when presented with a dilemma that presents an ethical issue, even if doing the right thing makes me seem like an unwanted person. I don’t like dealing with an ethical dilemma where, at the surface, I get off as a nice person, but my behaviors are intentionally unethical to hurt others.

  3. AA Feb 28, 2021 9:45 pm 3

    The timing of this article could not have been any more perfect for what I have been going through the last few days. Recently our condo board pursued and convinced me to join them and take leadership position on an important subcommittee that has to direct all capital improvements activities going forward.

    The president of the board is not only the person who convinced me to join the Board and lead this subcommittee but him and some of his friends/supporters are actually the culprit in a lot of poor decisions that has caused extensive financial damage to the association. Going forward they would like me to do my job while I support their way of doing things. This has upset me a lot. I find it insulting not just that what they want me to do is wrong for the association but that they felt they could get me to go along with their improper way of doing things.

    I want to reach out to all who would listen and using common sense and logic explain why this is wrong. What damage this would cause would be of no concern to me as I am neither afraid nor need anything from them. They are the ones that need my experience and expertise.

    This article if nothing else has slowed me down and has gotten my attention to the hand of my imperious self in all this. I clearly feel the urge in me to go out there and show them how wrong they are in their decision making process and how if they let me I can make it all work! I still have not figured out what to do but at least I have paused to think and consider all options. I ask God to help me come up with the proper decision that would not cause any damage and hopefully have the association make better decisions with their capital spending efforts.

  4. Yan Feb 28, 2021 10:49 pm 4

    In my experience, an urge from the imperious self, disguised as ethical, always has its own signature (imperious self signature) as follows:
    – Feelings of anger, hatred and contempt; the main source of which is pride and spiritual superioritism. (If others think and act differently, and don’t share your values, your thought process, your experiences, then they are not human beings deserving of any tolerance and compassion.)

    – Feeling of urgency, forgetting who is the Efficient, and who is a mere cog in the chain of causalty. (You need to change the world right now, there is no time for tolerance, if you don’t disagree or teach them lessons right now, then it’s too late to stop the disaster.)

    However, when it’s a legitimate ethical feeling of urgency, I think it would come in the following ways:
    – It has it’s own signature (inner guide signature) of compassion and love, free from anger, hatred and contempt.
    – It comes in a peaceful, and tolerant manner.
    – It always questions, calmly, what act would more likely result in His satisfaction and how should I perform it to avoid violating the right of the others (including the right of those who performed the objectively wrong act which resulted this dilemma).

    1. A. Mar 08, 2021 9:22 am 4.1

      Hello Yan – to further buttress your answer, what I have observed is that those who control their imperious self always provide answers in a very detached way like “my personal opinion is that … “. They are humble and though what they say is often the very truth (or very close to the truth) they share the information as “a personal opinion ..” and seem indifferent whether others agree or not.

      1. Yan Mar 13, 2021 12:29 am 4.1.1

        Dear A.

        You brought up a good point. Those who operate by their inner guide and sound reason, are humble and detached when they express their opinion, and more generally they are detached in other aspects of their lives and while making decisions. Maybe because they deep-down know and learned in vivo that they are a mere cog in a wheel of casualty and that they understood in practice (not theory) that He is the Efficient.

        If He is the Efficient in everything, who am I to struggle to change the opinion of others about a certain matter? Who gave me Faith? He gifted Faith to me, so how can I judge and look down on someone who hasn’t been given this precious gift? Just like a wealthy kid, whose father gave him an expensive car to drive, and he goes around looking down on others who drive less expensive cars with contempt! Isn’t this pure arrogance and ungratefulness?

  5. juliet Mar 01, 2021 4:11 am 5

    I always know it is my imperious self when my heart starts beeping hard and my whole being wants to act on it. I usually stop myself from acting and I give myself some time to think about it. Sometimes after just one hour the desire to act is gone. Sometimes ethical excuses appear and they push me to act.
    Obviously I cannot act ethically all the time and sadly I listen to the imperious impulses but sometimes I start asking myself what am I gaining in this? Revenge? Losing something good for a worthless thing? Listening to the devil inside me? Destroying my soul? …
    When I honestly answer the questions, then I am able to stop acting.

    1. Yan Mar 15, 2021 2:53 am 5.1

      Hello Juliet,

      The analytical thought processes that you mentioned you use before making your decisions, was very interesting and useful to me. I would add my personal approach to that: I usually narrow down my choices to A/B alternatives (or paths), one which is “the good” path and the other which is the “not so good” or sometimes “the bad” path.
      Sometimes, the answer is clear, however, some other times the answer is not crystal clear and I get indecisive between A/B. My imperious self does not hesitate to trick me by misrepresenting “the bad” path as “the good” path or vice versa. In that case, I could ask myself the following:

      “Which choice is more aligned with His Satisfaction, A or B? Which path does He want me to take? How would He react in this situation? If I’d asked Him what I should do, what would He have told me?”

      Most of the time, when I’m honest with myself and trying to be detached – as if, I am an agent who gets paid just to do the right thing, the consequences of which won’t impact him in any way – I can hear the correct answer inside me. The correct answers are always aligned with divine ethics in a coherent way. If the answer is not aligned in a fundamental and coherent way with divine ethics (i.e. it could be aligned with one correct principle but completely against the other) then this is a good indication that they are fake answers misrepresented by my imperious self. Then I need to be alert and think more to find the traces of my imperious self.

  6. Homayoun Mar 01, 2021 5:25 am 6

    Thank you for this great article.

    I have also experienced my imperious self taking over in respect to co-workers who don’t share my opinion, my conclusions, and contradict my views as to how to win and complete a project.

    When this happens I start in a very subtle way to push back their ideas, reject their opinion, and come up with logical arguments to explain why they are wrong and I am right.

    By doing so not only do I damage my relationship with that individual and that department; but I also set a wrong tone among all involved.

    Now I will try to improve myself.

  7. MM Mar 06, 2021 11:49 pm 7

    My experience is similar, however at least in this scenario the teacher sensed the involvement of the imperious self and decided to find another way of going about it than launching a public outcry.

    Few years ago I ended a bitter business relationship.

    Few days ago I had a meeting with a client that knew that my relationship with my former business partners had come to an end. My client told me about a scenario with my former business partners and was complaining about how unhappy she was with them and that she also had ended working with them.

    I was so happy to hear that. The first thought crossing my mind was that hopefully everyone will stop working with my former business partners as they do not deserve the success.

    Then I impulsively said to my client “that is exactly the same reasons why I ended my working relationship with them”.

    At fist, it felt very good, but shortly after something inside me was telling me that I should stop talking. So I tried to somehow revert my statement in a gentle way, but it was to late.

    After reading this article, I came to know that I have developed a sense of revenge toward my former business partners and this needs to be fought!

    Thank you for this helpful article.

  8. Yan Mar 13, 2021 12:07 am 8

    Dear A.

    My pleasure.

    I’m actively working to fight against pride. I have seen, and I am currently seeing enough damage caused by it to my soul and to my material life.

    I try to work on the following on a daily basis and wanted to share.

    1- At least twice a day, do not express my disagreement with others’ opinions, actions, ideas (no matter how absurd I think they are) unless in a life-and-death situation or when really necessary (when my sound reason requires me to do so)!

    2- At least twice a day, unless I’m explicitly asked for “my opinion”, I should keep it to myself and let others express themselves. (The world won’t stop if I keep quiet, while my ego constantly whispers the opposite!)

    3- Do not use fixed-opinion grammar such as: certainly, obviously, absolutely, definitely, unless really necessary. Instead use more humble adverbs such as: probably, likely, it seems to me, it appears to me, it occurs to me…
    (How can I be certain about something, when it already turned out that I have been so wrong – sometime up to 180 degree – about so many things, while I wrongly felt certain at the moment?)

  9. yocto Apr 05, 2021 1:53 pm 9

    If I was the painter, I would draw the portrait of the imperious self in all black. At least that is how it feels to me. Complete darkness. It is as if it wasn’t at the center of Cain and Abel story, the very first human beings! It is as if it didn’t viciously ruin Barsisa’s life. It is as if the darkness has not taken over. It is as if our backs are not against the rope. But I can hear Him saying the most beautiful words: “Don’t be afraid, go and fight, I am your Creator, and I am there with you.”

  10. LA Oct 01, 2021 1:10 am 10

    It is truly great to find here such in-depth guidance on recognizing the imperious self and the modalities to fight it!
    In every example presented in this article, I have found myself a weak culprit…
    The clear acknowledgment to feel its negative work within me is but a start – the important part is to fight against it as relentlessly as wholeheartedly, with the determination to always remember my actions must be aligned with those of a true human being,
    Many many thanks!

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