Do you think you are a good person?
The mere fact you are choosing to read this means you’re wondering if in fact you are.
I find most people view themselves as “good.” Not perfect, but good. Most of us would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not regard themselves as a “good person.”
Yet how many people do you know that acknowledge the darker parts of their personality? Or their shadow self as Jung called it.
In short, the shadow is the “dark side”. Many people do NOT recognize the darker components of their personality.
Because most people tend to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of their personality, the shadow is largely negative.
The problem with viewing yourself as wholly good, without acknowledging your shadow self, is it can lead to unhealthy ways of coping.
As humans it is important to feel we behave and act in a manner that reflects our self-image. How can you stay congruent with your identity, if you view yourself as a good person, in absolute terms, when you inevitably do wrong? This leads to justifying bad behavior. It leads to distorting the truth and repressing emotions we do not have the courage to face.
When people view themselves as wholly good behave badly, they find ways to justify their behavior to themselves (and others) as to maintain their self-image of being “good” and keep cognitive dissonance at bay.
The truth is none of us are good people 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
We all are fallible, we all have moments of weakness, we all act out of character (this is distinct from people we may encounter with poor character who act this way over and over again over the course of our relationship with them). No one who walks among us does not behave badly from time to time. It is part of the human condition and part of why conflict is so common in our relationships.
Being a good person is a value many of us in all likelihood hold dear (narcissists and sociopaths excluded).
Yet how do we know for sure if we are in fact a good person? “Good” is a very relative term. There is no universal truth that defines what being a “good person” is and looks like.
Some people think they’re “good” because they don’t intentionally go out and harm others, and others believe they are good because they do superficial acts of kindness for others.
Yet if you believe yourself to be a “good person” program, consider the following questions:
Are you a good person if you hurt people but your intention was not to do so?
Are you a good person if someone tells you that you are causing them pain but you disregard how they feel?
Are you a good person if you constantly speak ill of others?
Are you a good person if you lie on your taxes? Lie to your spouse? Lie to your children?
Do you ever feel envy or jealousy towards other people? Do you feel resentment towards the people in your life?
Are you honest with yourself?
Are you a good person if you steal from the government? On whatever level you may be playing the game…
Are you good person if you cheat–on a test, partner, or someone else? If you cheat your company?
When you witness poor behavior in others (lying, judgement, dishonesty, self-deception), can you acknowledge those same impulses inside yourself?
Are you a good person if you wish bad on others?
Do you express rage and contempt towards others?
Do you consider yourself a good person without accepting the darker parts of your personality?
Are you a good person if you are unaware of the negative emotions that arise within you through the day?
Do you believe it is wrong to feel hatred towards the people you love?
In terms of behavior:
~Would you give up your seat for a disabled person or pregnant woman on the train?
~Would you stick up for someone being verbally berated?
~How often do you help someone with extra bags?
~Do you donate your time or money to causes outside of yourself?
~Do you hold the doors open for others?
~Do you offer words of encouragement and kindness freely to others?
All the questions give insight into your character.
Are you happy with how your answer these questions? Do you find you can make excuses for yourself to justify your OWN bad behavior/character flaws but have the habit of condemning others?
I don’t believe that any human being is bad through and through or good through and through. We all have some of each inside us. I do feel people’s character exists on a continuum–with character disturbed on one end and being virtuous on the other end.
The truth is some people have more good in them than bad.
The truth is some people have more bad in them than good.
It is important to know which person you are dealing with at any given time.
Maybe you’ve experienced this before: Dealing with someone who thinks he’s much nice or kinder than he really is. It can be hard to manage and maintain a relationship with someone who is not as good as he or she believes himself to be.
It can also be hard for people to maintain relationships with us if we are not a good of a person as we believe ourselves to be.
You need to be aware of the good AND bad in you. And others.
Viewing oneself as “good” explains a wide range of common defense mechanisms– denial, minimizing/justifying one’s own “bad”behavior, lying, becoming defensive.
The fact is our character is NOT set in stone—we are all capable of growing into a better person IF we are able to adopt a realistic self-image. We need to be able to look deeply into our shadow self if we want to move beyond the darker aspects of our personality.
We can see everyone feels justified in their own shoes. Every action that a person takes take, good or bad, they can always tell themselves it is justified – otherwise they would not be able to perform the act in question at all.
We all want to be our best, but many people wonder if it’s actually possible for people to become better–themself included. The answer is a resounding yes. There are always ways to improve yourself.
Some general suggestions for a path forward:
1)Support others. Contribute to things outside of yourself–the larger community. Offer kind words and encouragement to the people you encounter. Consider how your words, actions, and behaviors impact others. Do not enable the bad behavior of others at the expense of someone else. Do good and good will come back. We all eventually reap what we sow.
2)Let go of anger. Think before you speak. Words said in anger can only be forgiven, not forgotten. A mindfulness practice can help you to lower your baseline feelings of anger. Much of anger arises from ruminating over the past–past injustice, grievances, pain from long ago. Stress can up our ability to lash out in anger. Consider adopting stress management techniques to your daily routine.
3)Take care of yourself–mentally, emotionally, physically. Exercise, eating well, meditation, seeking out counseling…all lead to building a strong foundation for living a good life and empowering yourself to be a better person.
4)Learn to set boundaries—for others AND yourself. We talk often about setting boundaries with other people but you should have your own set of standards in how you will or will not conduct yourself. Example–you won’t scream at other people, curse people out, threaten people, smear people’s names to others, steal, cheat, etc.
5)Reflect on the following questions (Forbes):
~What, or who, is worth suffering for?
~What can my most aggressive judgments of others tell me about myself?
~Are my opinions of others fixed, or do they evolve? Is that fair?
~Does my daily routine reflect my long-term goals?
~What do the things I envy tell me about what I want to give myself?
~If I could meet the best possible version of myself in an alternate reality, what would that person be like?
If you feel like you are struggling to become a better version of yourself, counseling can be a way to figure out a plan for your life, moving forward.
To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):
Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC
Anew Counseling Services LLC
617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649