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Portraits of the imperious self (6): the passive resistance of the imperious self

Portraits of the imperious self 6

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


In this new portrait of the imperious self, we analyse three common problems that we are usually reluctant to consider from an ethical perspective: depression, shyness, and weakness of character. Meet some of the passive manifestations of the imperious self.


As we have seen, it is through excess that the imperious self expresses itself when it pursues its desires beyond the limits of legitimacy. Such excess does not however always appear where one would generally expect it. Deficiency can in fact be in its own way a form of excess. It is important to make this clarification because, while anti-ethical behaviour such as aggression or arrogance stemming from a “surplus” imperious self is quite readily recognized as such, it may be more challenging, on the other hand, to consider the “lacks” – for example depression, shyness, fear, or weakness – as being ethical problems rather than simply psychological ones. It may even seem downright cruel to judge weakness by yardsticks of moral responsibility. It is therefore necessary to clarify this point through the examination of three problems that are rarely considered from an ethical perspective and that would even reluctantly be referred to as character “flaws”; these are depression, shyness, and weakness.


Depression is of course not to be understood here in its clinical sense, meaning in its form as an illness. The goal isn’t either to ease our conscience and mask our own lack of altruism by stigmatizing others and withholding our compassion or help with the excuse that they “should just get a move on and start making an effort to get over being depressed”. The objective is to analyse ourselves and spot the sources of our depression within. At closer glance, we may notice that this tendency to get depressed is often none other than one of the numerous facets of the imperious self, much like wounded pride, frustrated selfishness, jealousy, ingratitude, unwarranted expectations, excessive attachment to material values, and so on. Besides being a symptom, the tendency toward depression is one of the most powerful weapons of the imperious self against our ethical and spiritual development. Using life’s difficulties as excuses, but also taking advantage of the obstacles, mistakes, and failures that we inevitably encounter when fighting against such a ruthless opponent, it infuses our heart with discouragement: “I am not good enough anyway, it’s not even worth continuing, everybody is doing well except me…”. In the beginning, the temptation to give up manifests after certain particular setbacks. Then it begins to set in at the slightest difficulty. Little by little, using realism, modesty and humility as excuses, the imperious self starts sucking out all our positive energy. It undercuts any hope in us and the very will to progress.

Do not let yourself be deceived by the imperious self when it says “Now that you can’t pray as you should, you’d better not pray at all!” This is typical of the imperious self; it should not be listened to.

Ostad Elahi, Words of Faith: Prayers of Ostad Elahi, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1995, p. 25


Another tendency that we don’t realize is anti-ethical is shyness; its symptoms are not to be confused with those of modesty and discretion that are obviously positive traits. The type of shyness discussed here is that which the moralists have sometimes qualified as the arrogance of the weak. It can manifest itself on the outside in a form of reserve that some will associate to a delicate temperament, or to a secretive or reserved personality. Yet, in reality, it is sometimes the result of something far less laudable. The shy people we are dealing with here are egocentric at bottom, just like arrogant people. Their reserve, the difficulty they have communicating or even simply connecting with others is actually the sign that they take notice of others only insofar as they will find in others a reassuring and comforting reflection of themselves, a sort of extension of their own preoccupations and interests. We all carry within ourselves a seed of this shy personality. What makes the diagnosis more complicated though is that while arrogant people are self-assured and convinced of their superiority, shy people generally are not. Which is precisely why we tend to find excuses for them and are reluctant to see in their ways a manifestation of the imperious self. We tell ourselves that shyness is the sign of an insecure streak, of a lack of self-confidence that people are born with and is not their fault. Suffering from an inferiority complex is bad enough without incurring in addition the judgment of others! And yet, a lack of assertiveness is a fertile ground for the imperious self to wreak havoc, especially when it prevents one from opening up to others. Socializing, let us not forget it, is indeed one of the essential conditions for ethical work.

To be more precise: where is the ego to be found in this case? Precisely in our relations with others. Shyness often serves as an alibi for a hurt ego, or one that fears being hurt. What my egocentric shy self fears most in its interactions with others is that I might be confronted with a negative image of myself, an image that would not please my ego. In some extreme cases, the egocentric egos will be obsessed with themselves, always fearing to give away an imperfect image of themselves. They will prefer to avoid contact with others rather than risk exposing themselves to judgment. Stuck in the fear of not being liked or in their craving for love or admiration, they rarely consider that others may also need consideration or help! The awkwardness and lack of tact that is characteristic of very shy people, is also a tactic to avoid contact. Being entirely focused on themselves, they forget that others are also sensitive and also need help or encouragement. The idea, of course, is not to stigmatize those afflicted with pathological shyness—not more than it was in the previous case a question of denying the psychological and physiological causes for depression. Our purpose is to examine how a tendency to be shy can nourish our imperious self, and can in some cases, be seen as a symptom.

From a therapeutic perspective, my first ethical work as an egocentric shy, will obviously be to strive to break out of the prison of egocentrism in which I have progressively locked myself up, as this state is, much like any pathological interaction with the ego, a fertile ground in which the imperious self thrives.

Weakness of character

Being too nice, not being able to say no, not being able to defend our own rights, being incapable of defending a just cause, allowing others to crush us because of our cowardice, allowing others to victimize us out of weakness of character, being afraid of voicing our convictions—these are behavioural patterns that are as indicative of the imperious self as are aggression or anger. These attitudes are actually the signs of a lack of assertiveness and courage. They are obviously harmful to us, to our family and friends, and to those whose rights we do not sufficiently stand up for. They are also harmful to society in general because they encourage injustice and aggression in those to whom we give in. Finally, they are harmful to our soul and seriously hinder a balanced and healthy development of our Self, because they found the principles of our actions not on reason, righteousness, or divine contentment, but on the fear of others and the desire to be liked even if that means conforming to values that are not authentic at all.

Case study

I have a friend that I am very fond of and who has considerable influence over me. She is funny, intelligent, warm-hearted, simply put she is one of those people everyone wants to be around. Last Saturday, I went over to her house for coffee and she suggested I go along with her while she did her grocery shopping. She was tired and, unlike her usual self, a bit depressed. She said she had to go get a couple of items before the weekend and she didn’t have the courage to go by herself. I agreed, to make her happy and to help lift her spirits. I actually had plans of my own to go shopping with my husband but as it wasn’t anything urgent, I texted him to cancel and accompanied my friend instead.

When I got home later that evening, I noticed that my husband was annoyed. He reproached me for making last minute changes in our plans that we had set days ago. I answered a bit sourly that I had not done it on a whim but that I was trying to help a friend who was exhausted and needed my support. I actually turned the situation around and accused him of being selfish and incapable of putting the needs of others ahead of his own petty comforts.

Looking back, I realize today that I myself wasn’t entirely convinced of the reasons I gave my husband for cancelling our plans, even though they were quite sound from a moral standpoint. In fact, when I got home that evening, I really didn’t have that feeling one gets from having accomplished one’s duty. Truth be told, I even felt rather guilty. Now I see that the cause for that guilty conscience came from the fact that I have always been weak when it comes to this friend who has a strong pull on me. The real reason I agreed to go along with her that day was not that I empathized with her because she wasn’t feeling well, nor was it an ethical choice taken freely after having considered the best action to take in that situation, weighing my own rights, her rights, and those of my husband— I really hadn’t given any thought to the value of my action. I simply complied, without thinking, with an inner impulse that made me unable to deny this friend anything she wished; as if I feared that by refusing her anything, I would lose my special spot in her heart, or for other reasons still that I have not yet clearly worked out.

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  1. Parvin Fathi Jun 17, 2024 3:22 am 1

    By reading this article I found out that the shyness and lack of character are my weaknesses that I never thought about until now.

  2. Flamenco Jun 17, 2024 4:39 am 2

    Very helpful and I could relate and find symptoms of all 3 within me.

  3. A. Jun 17, 2024 5:59 am 3

    It is difficult not to recognize oneself in the 3 examples cited.

    When I was younger, I was shy and terrified of others’ feedback. But above all, in my imagination, as soon as there were other people, I thought I was the center of their attention, and this hallucination stymied my normal behavior for fear of displeasing them.

    The last example allows me to understand recent experiences better. I have a friend who is very charismatic, wickedly smart, has contagious humor, and is extremely witty. It is not by chance that he is the CEO of multi-billion dollar companies with tens of thousands of employees.

    Because of his captivating personality, on several occasions, I made decisions whose objective was to be his close friend, to please him, rather than to respect the rights of those around me ( my wife, in particular).

    Unlike the example cited in this article, this friend of mine sometimes behaves very unethically (cheating on his wife systematically), and I have observed on several occasions that he tends to dampen my enthusiasm for ethical work. After spending a little time with him, I leave amused by his stories and humor but spiritually cold.

    1. Coco Jun 17, 2024 6:18 pm 3.1

      Very good analysis. Your observation, “I thought I was the center of their attention, and this hallucination stymied my normal behavior for fear of displeasing them” helps me to realize that it is my imperious self that is behind a similar hallucination which too often impacts some of my thinking and my choices.

  4. JAMES Jun 17, 2024 4:55 pm 4

    I never thought that depression could be one of the facets of the imperious self and that my own periodic tendency toward depression is one of the most powerful weapons of the imperious self against my ethical and spiritual development. But looking back with a deeper sense, I can now start to see how the effects of my depression leaks into my general mood effecting my minute-to-minute ethical behavior when interacting with the world outside my head.

    One of its first manifestations is in my mood, lack of patience and on occasions lack of general sympathy when interacting with others.

    I have felt how it infuses my heart with discouragement, giving the imperious self an open angle to tinker with faith and gratitude.

    The article points at analyzing ourselves to spot the sources of our depression within which leads me to understand I can recognize the root and try and tackle it by taking a pragmatic course of action and asking the One for help and guidance.

  5. Coco Jun 17, 2024 5:59 pm 5

    Thank you for this valuable article. Some of these manifestations of the imperious self have eluded me as to their insidiousness. It is somewhat new to me to recognize them “as being ethical problems rather than simply psychological ones”. This article has alerted me that these are not just undesirable characteristics from a material standpoint but are in fact a clever ruse of the imperious self and as such, it is importance from a spiritual standpoint to fight against these weaknesses.

  6. mahnaz Jun 17, 2024 8:25 pm 6

    Thank you so much for the amazing articles.

  7. Mahnaz Jun 17, 2024 11:47 pm 7

    This article helps me to learn more and to do better. Thank you very much.

  8. SEO Jun 19, 2024 2:30 pm 8

    Thank you for this amazing article. It shone a light for me on the cunning manifestations of the imperious self and the reflection of all three behaviors depression, shyness, weakness of character in myself. I am even more encouraged to fight against these manifestations and to work harder.

  9. LA Jun 21, 2024 7:43 pm 9

    Truly eye-opening article – thank you!
    In-depth Attention-Dialogue will be key to working on it.

  10. Be Happy Jun 24, 2024 1:28 pm 10

    Thank you very much for the fantastic article.
    I started a new job for some time, where i had to be trained in different IT systems. There was not a well mannered tone between my colleagues. One day i asked my colleague a question and he replied: “I have said it to you twice” in a rude tone. I said yes, that’s correct, but is was a month ago. This person has worked at this place for 20 years, and is the one with the most IT knowledge in the office. I got angry inside, because i was not able to defend my own rights. I just pretended to work, but inside I would think “this idiot and fool, he look like a scarecrow”, etc.
    When i got home, it was still pounding in my head. how to defend my right. So i decided the next day to sent a polite email to everyone, also my boss, to explain how tones are and how rude there are. (also about a female colleague). After 5 minutes my boss called. She proved me right in everything I had written. She said: glad you can understand what I have been through with her for almost 20 years. And my other colleagues also proved me right, so the atmosphere changed to much better.

  11. Bob Jun 25, 2024 3:31 pm 11

    Thank you for this enlightening essay. These case studies help me see some of my own weaknesses that I have to fight against.
    The weather was hot here yesterday and my wife insisted in walking later in the evening when it gets cooler. I prefer walking in the morning as I get tired later in the day, winding down for the evening, being an early sleeper, but she wanted to walk last night later than I preferred. I reluctantly acquiesced and walked with her but I was sulking, angry, and non communicative for most of the walk. This pattern is becoming familiar to me, and now I see it is my imperious self pushing or pulling me into a state where I want revenge for being forced to do something I do not want to do. I get angry but do not want to show it, although it is very obvious to others. Hopefully I can see this tendency clearer in the future and fight against it when it arises.

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