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The imperious self

By - Oct 29, 2009 - Category Conceptbox - Print Print - Version française

The imperious self

In brief: in Ostad Elahi’s model of the self, the imperious self is the source of impulses within the psyche that imperiously drive us to act against ethical and divine principles and to violate the rights of others.

Let us illustrate this with an example from everyday life. The following is Romain’s account of an experience relative to this point:

“I work in a large government administration and deal directly with the public. We are short of personnel, so the job isn’t easy and I have to juggle between answering the phone that rings every five minutes and giving information to people standing in line at the desk. I end up stressed and at the brink of being rude to people asking for information, especially when they need me to repeat or explain what seems obvious to me. I try to control myself, however, by telling myself that it’s not these people’s fault that we are understaffed, and that I also get anxious when I have to deal with government offices I am not familiar with, worried that I filled out the right forms and am standing in the right line and so on. I tell myself that it is their right to come to me with their questions. I try to remember this to get a hold of myself—which is not always easy and stay patient and polite.”

This experience brings to the fore the tension that resides within us between two opposite tendencies or “voices”. One of these tendencies is the voice of reason, founded on values such as altruism, or ethical principles such as “do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you”. It is this tendency that urges Romain to “get a hold of himself”—even if it is not easy for him—in order to stay patient and pleasant. This first tendency is a manifestation of what Ostad Elahi calls the “celestial soul.”

The other “voice” that stands out in this account corresponds to an unethical tendency based on selfishness and the desire to immediately act upon one’s harmful impulses (here, one’s aggressive impulses) taking into account neither ethical principles nor the regard we owe fellow humans and ourselves. Someone asks me an annoying question and being in a position of power I yield to my impulse and am rude, ignoring the rights of the person I am speaking with, who, after all, is a client of the government office that employs me, but also, more importantly, is a fellow human being. This second tendency corresponds to what Ostad Elahi calls the “imperious self.”

The imperious self manifests itself then through harmful impulses that are systematically opposite to true ethical values.

This first definition has the advantage of being simple because it evokes an experience we all can relate to:  the internal tug-of-war between two opposing voices. It is, however, incomplete as it does not take into account the complexity of this component that is essentially unconscious, and which can take on the most varied and subtle forms. This is why it is essential to learn to recognize it. And so, for example:

  • Not every impulse is necessarily the manifestation of the imperious self. The irritation and annoyance Romain feels in this objectively stressful situation are natural. These feelings are not in themselves the fruit of the imperious self. But if they drive him to act unpleasantly (and hence injuriously to others) or to develop an attitude of ingratitude and pessimism toward life (which is harmful to himself), then he has fallen prey to the imperious self.
  • Conversely, behavior or attitudes can appear to be reasonable, ethical or spiritual and in fact stem from the imperious self. Indeed, the imperious self is relentlessly putting unethical and anti-divine pressure on our psyche and we are not always aware of it. We can act in perfectly illegitimate ways under the influence of the imperious self, while convincing ourselves that we are perfectly within our “rights.”

Hidden behind manifestations of the most varied and contradictory sorts, the imperious self always represents the same tendency within us: the unethical and anti-divine. Its main function seems then to be to prevent us from progressing and growing spiritually. It is, however, crucial to understand that although what primarily defines it is its harmful nature, the imperious self is actually indispensable to the maturing of our celestial soul. The inner tension through which the imperious self manifests itself is necessary—without it there could be neither progress nor maturation. It is only through an active struggle against the unethical and anti-divine pressure of the imperious self that the celestial soul can reach perfection. The imperious self is then both an obstacle and a condition for the development of the self.

Characteristics of the imperious self

The imperious self can be described as follows:

1. Harmful to others but also to ourselves—  The imperious self is the adversary of the celestial soul and thus my adversary, because the true self is an emanation of the celestial soul. The imperious self not only stands in the way of the celestial soul’s progress and positive evolution, it attempts—by virtue of its own nature—to invade it and—if no struggle is upheld—to denature and poison it entirely.

2. Hostile and aggressive—  The imperious self likes to trample on others. It aims to expand the ego and thus seeks to neutralize anything that may get in its way.

3. Hyperactive and tireless—  The imperious self is by nature tireless, and requires no effort on our part. Motivated solely by the pleasure principle, it blindly seeks to satisfy its impulses and continues to do so unless the self keeps it in check and brings it under control.

4. Rebellious—  The imperious self viscerally resists all our attempts to control it and free ourselves from its hold. At a more fundamental level, it stubbornly and systematically pits itself against anything that contributes to the development and growth of our celestial soul (that would weaken its domination over us), such as true ethics, spirituality, or attention to the divine.

5. Sly—  If it cannot win by force, the imperious self will resort to underhand methods to assure its domination. It can notably infect our judgment and cause us to adopt false lines of reasoning or even mimic the voice of the soul.

6. Invasive— If we do not actively struggle against its propensity to colonize the whole self, it eventually takes control of the three other components (the ego, the super-ego, and the super-id). It is naturally driven to dominate our psyche, to get us to adopt its values and think and act in accordance with its interests.

7. Irresponsible—  The imperious self, with its impulsive operational mode, is a blind and therefore irresponsible force that cannot answer for itself. The conclusion that can be drawn is then that it is not “evil” in itself. It is the responsibility of the self to locate it, control it and avoid its effects. It is then useful, as weights are useful to an athlete striving to develop muscle mass.

8. Unethical and anti-divine—  The imperious self is unethical, because it is the source of all our impulses, all our emotions, all our thoughts and all our harmful actions, which tend to infringe on the rights of others or our own rights. We speak ill of someone—it is the imperious self; we are impatient, aggressive and irritable—it is the imperious self; we are jealous—it is the imperious self; we are haughty, we want to show off and prove our superiority—it is the imperious self; we judge and look down on others—it is the imperious self. It is the imperious self again—though in another guise—when we are cowardly, weak or incapable of defending our rights; when we let ourselves become depressed (except in clinical cases that are beyond our control); when we want to drop everything; when we brood over pessimistic thoughts or look at life from an exclusively negative point of view. The imperious self is, moreover, anti-divine, because it is at the source of all thoughts or actions that push us to cut our ties with the Source (real atheism). It is also the imperious self that drives us to imagine God and spirituality not as they are, but so as to suit us (which leads to fanaticism, dogmatism or spiritual laxity).

What the imperious self is not

The imperious self is not the body. It is an extension or complication of the earthly soul or id. Struggling against the imperious self therefore does not involve mortification of the body or the refusal of legitimate pleasures. The body is to be respected and cared for as a creature that has been entrusted to us—nothing more, nothing less.

The imperious self is not a substance. It is not a separate entity, a seed of evil or—with reference to a familiar image—a sort of little devil that would exist independently within us. The imperious self is not a substance, an entity in itself; its nature is relational. It is the result of a functional problem, namely a dysfunction of the id—either in excess or in default. The imperious self appears when we give free rein to impulses liable to harm others or ourselves, when our relations with others suffer from some form of excess or default. As soon as a strong self manages to regulate these excesses of the id, the imperious self disappears, just as a functional illness disappears when the imbalance that is at its source is successfully resolved.

In practice, however, it is helpful to refer to the imperious self as a separate entity, even personifying it, if need be—attributing to it actual unethical intentions or even a “voice” that is opposed to the voice of conscience. It then becomes possible to imagine it as an adversary against which we must struggle, and whose tricks we must foil. This kind of narrative is quite necessary in practice, as it’s hard to fight against an abstraction.


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11 comments

  1. Blake Nov 01, 2009 11:24 pm 1

    Thank you for sharing this valuable piece of Ostad Elahi’s knowledge about the “self”. It is evident that without the appropriate help along with personal practice it would be impossible to recognize, identify and attempt to control this enemy of the “self”.

  2. Erin Nov 02, 2009 7:54 pm 2

    I find this picture of the 2 components of the self very clear. I found it very helpful in trying to identify the different faces of the imperious self in myself which is no easy task.

  3. Montrose Nov 03, 2009 10:44 pm 3

    This as a wonderful website with invaluable information that can help me focus on my psyche vs. the unimportant aspects of myself. The mind and thoughts are truly what make us human or not, depending on our choices and behavior, and this excerpt of the imperious self is a testament to that. Thank you for sharing and providing.

  4. Desmond Nov 08, 2009 9:22 am 4

    Thank you for sharing this highly educational article. The example you provided struck a cord with me. Though I do not see all to many clients as the person in the example, my work is at times stressful. Now, I’d like to be a source of ‘positive impact’ in my work environment, however, with deadlines and such I am sometimes not as patient as I would like to be. I will definitely try to do better from now on.

  5. Mat Nov 13, 2009 3:45 pm 5

    This is a great article, specially where the characteristics is defined and explained. Lately, I’ve had struggles within myself. Reading this article helped me to find three faces of the imperious self in me which were hyperactive, rebellious, sly. Now, I will try to be more careful and hopefully by paying attention to the Source will get through. Thanks again.

  6. Matttt Nov 19, 2009 11:34 pm 6

    Thanks for this great article! It was very clear. When one tries to explain and point out the characteristics of the “enemy”, then can be more conscious on the battle field. It is fascinating how much information one can acquire by ignoring what is against his ethical values, but ignoring or denying is the most challenging thing to do. I have to dig inside to find out the “whys” and “hows” of my system and block whatever it is on the rout of my understanding of truth. again, marvelous article!

  7. Ali Tinat(Zoghi). Dec 10, 2009 3:16 pm 7

    Once more Ostad Eahi’s model of the self and its various modes and modalities, in this instance the wild and untrained “Imperious Self” or the animal instincts within us all, is being focused upon and analyzed with absolute clarity. This is achieved by providing the actual everyday life experiences, followed by a detailed mapping of the duality within us—Imperious self vs. Angelic soul—plus Characteristics of The Imperious self, and finally what the Imperious self is not.
    I find articles such as this a great source of hope, help, and support due to the fact that it provides one with a criteria upon which one can with absolute ease diagnose and measure one’s own place in regard to one’s own daily acts and ethical values. I therefore am thankful to all of you good people who put so much time, energy, plus love in order to make our world a better place to live. To me, this is the ultimate act of altruism for only by changing oneself into a better person, one can change the world.

  8. Liliane Dec 27, 2009 6:34 pm 8

    The subtlety and depth which the author of this article analyzed the manifestations of imperious self in the example of Romain’s hard work condition (paragraph 8) was very interesting for me because I usually find myself working in difficult work environments and could never undersand why I am in this situation. In my current work, I have to do two to three times more than what I was hired for. In this past year I worked very long hours and most weekends. The accumulated fatigue makes me more and more irritable. Like Romain I was aware of my negative attitude with people and tried to refrain from being unpleasant with others. Needless to say that it is very hard, almost impossible to control the instinct of aggresivity, even though I don’t deal with customers and my interactions at work are limited to occasional discussions with colleagues.

    I realized after reading paragraph 8 that I completely missed another manifestation of negative impulses, which is more important for me than the consequence of a kind of negative attitude that everyone at work seems to share – that is an attitude of ingratitude and pessimism toward life. I had begun to think that it is normal to complain, considering my difficult work environment. Now I realize that even if I change my work (which is very difficult in this economic environment) I may still have this attitude of pessimism as I had it in most of my career. Therefore, regardless of my work environment I need to work on my attitude of ingratitude and pessimism toward life. Any suggestion on how to do that is welcome.

    What motivates me is to realize that I had better change for I suspect that I will continue to find myself in difficult situations until I learn how to deal my ingratitude and my pessimism.

  9. Calvin Dec 27, 2009 9:46 pm 9

    The article seems to infer a number of buried challenges. The trials and tribulations of everyday life appear to act as a catalyst for the imperious self to act. Not to mention, the imperious self can use its innate ability to trick us via reasoning that appears justifiable. How does one find motivation to undertake such a tireless process on a daily basis?

  10. Emily Dec 28, 2009 5:09 pm 10

    I struggle with the internal tug of war between the two inner “voices” on a daily basis, and especially experience it in my relationships with certain co-workers and members of my family. Although, I know what the correct moral and ethical behavior is, I find it difficult to implement it in my relationships with them. It was instructive to learn that not every impulse is necessarily unjustified (e.g., irritation and annoyance created by people around us). Rather, how we confront these impulses is what matters.

  11. Roxanne Jan 01, 2010 12:59 am 11

    Recently I had an encounter with a friend who benevolently criticized me about how my pride and the feeling of superiority I have towards others, is evident in my behaviors, even though I may think others may not notice it. At first even though I thanked her for her honest comment, deep down inside, I was hurt and in denial. It took me a few days to realize that she is right. Then my imperious self approached me, making me feel depressed and ashamed of my worst flaw, that is, pride. But very soon, I realized after a discussion with another friend that this pessimism and feeling of hopelessness is not the voice of my soul, it’s the imperious self that is affecting my line of reasoning as if I had supposed to be flawless and now that I have found out about my flaws, I have to become depressed and sad. Whereas my soul voices the truth, the truth that we are all full of flaws and only God is flawless and as long as we are aware of our imperfections and ask God for help to do our utmost efforts to improve them, we are aligned with our soul’s voice not our imperious self’s voice.

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