How Could They Do This to Me?

So many of us have spent years trying to shed the negative self-images that were instilled in us by our parents or by other figures in our formative years. What does A Course in Miracles have to say about this? This issue is not addressed in the Course, but it was directly addressed in the early dictation of the Course, in material published in Ken Wapnick’s Absence from Felicity (see p. 269-272 in the first edition, p. 261-265 in the second; all quotes below come from these pages). This is amazing material; I wish it had been included in the Course. If it had, all of our lives might be a little different today. I’ll boil it down to seven points:

1. Your parents did not create your self-image.
However much it feels as if our self-image was given to us by our parents, without our having any say in the matter, Jesus disagrees: “Parents do not create the [self-]image of their children.” How this is true will be explained in the following points.

2. You have gone through a long process of deciding which of their perceptions of you to keep and which to reject.

Jesus implies that you were originally prone to accept your parents’ view of you because of the obvious inequality between you and them, which was due to their greater maturity and strength. He points out, however, that this sense of inequality “does not last unless it is held onto.” As you grew older, you embarked on a lengthy process of deciding what to do with their perceptions. “No one has adopted all of his parents’ attitudes as his own. In every case, there has been a long process of choice, in which the individual has escaped from those he himself vetoed, while retaining those he voted for.”

3. Why give their misperceptions so much power? Why give them approval for their misperceptions?

Part of the context for this material is that Bill’s father had visited Bill’s new office and apparently had verbally trashed it. Though Bill was an adult and his office was for his job as head of the psychology department, he reacted as if he were still a child. He felt extremely hurt and kept saying, “How could he do this to me?” “The answer,” according to Jesus, “is he didn’t.” Jesus then asked, “Why should anyone accord an obvious misperception so much power?” Later, he pointed out that by responding to his parents’ misperceptions as if they were true, Bill was “giving them approval for their misperceptions.” Again, one might ask, why do that?

4. They did not really do anything to you. They did not hurt you. This fact exonerates them.

If the previous points are true, then Bill’s parents did not actually hurt him. Jesus makes this point by referring to the resurrection. He said that its whole purpose was to “demonstrate that no amount of misperception has any influence at all on a Son of God.” This frames the resurrection as a kind of real-life parable, a parable about all of us. In the parable, after everything his crucifiers did to him, Jesus (who represents all of us) emerged completely unscathed. The point of the parable is that no matter what anyone seems to do to us, we have not really been hurt, and so they are exonerated.

5. You accepted their misperceptions of you in order to blame them.

This is the hardest hitting part of this material. Jesus speaks of our eagerness to internalize our parents’ misperceptions of our worth and then says, “This tendency can always be regarded as punitive.” In other words, we only embraced their negative image of us in order to have just cause to punish them. It is as if we grabbed their cigarette out of their hand and ground it into our arm so that we could spitefully say, “See what you did to me?!” We played the victim in order to gain the right to victimize, which is what the ego always wants to do.

6. Any image of you is a misperception. You are not an image.
Our parents may have misperceived our athletic ability or our level of honesty, but the main way they misperceived us was simply by holding any sort of image of us at all. Our reality is beyond images, beyond form. Therefore, any image of us is false. Jesus says tersely, “If you side with image-makers, you are merely being idolatrous.” The solution is not, as we all assume, to make a better image of ourselves, but to go past all self-images and touch our true nature as the Son of God.

7. It is your duty to refuse to let others dictate who you really are.

This material concludes with a line that I think every Course student should memorize. In fact, I would encourage you to use it now: Think of someone whose perception of you has been annoying you, and then repeat this line. I’ll put it into first person to make it easier to use in this way:

It is my duty to establish beyond doubt that I am totally unwilling to side with (identify with) anyone’s misperceptions of me, including my own.