March 19, 2010


Papiroflexia was created by Joaquin Baldwin at the UCLA Animation Workshop, 2007. Original Score written by Nick Fevola. 

I love this animation. Joaquin Baldwin's theme suggests, “Life is what we make it”. We can change our lives by changing our perceptions. No, we can’t fold up narcissists and turn them into gazelles. We can however, ‘set them free’ if they ignore stop signs and exceed cautionary speed limits. Let narcissists roam the hillsides and leave the safe driving to those who respect other people’s freedom as much as their own. In a cynical view, this film can be dismissed as ‘idealistic’. An unfeasible absurdity. Self-delusion comes to mind, maybe even fantasy. 

Still, Papiroflexia spoke to my heart because transforming my chubby self into a mama bear was far more validating than turning myself into an old cougar. Ha! Show me a good film and I’ll ruin it with personal metaphors.Since this film is sweetly idealistic, it’s the perfect way to explore ideals and values and touch on the topic of shame people feel for falling short of the ideal. It’s one thing to feel guilty about not measuring up to expectations; it’s downright poisonous to be ashamed of your self for falling short of perfection. Who isn’t? Imperfect, I mean.

Ideals are archetypes. There’s the archetype and then there’s the human emulating the archetype. There’s Godlike perfection and there’s mortal imperfection and any human being with a grain of commonsense knows falling-in-love-with-falling-short is mandatory to happiness and peace of mind. There’s no shame in failure if perfection belongs to the Gods and imperfection belongs to you. If you never learned this as a child, watch the Seven Voyages of Sinbad as many times as I did and you’ll forgive yourself for making mistakes. You might even forgive the Gods for sending Harpies to shatter your hubris. I was pretty clear, even as a kid, that people weren’t perfect. My mistaken assumption was that everybody knew they weren’t. Perfect, I mean. That everyone knew there were no Free Passes allowing a human being to Give Up and Stop Trying.

Having Ideals or Being Idealistic?

Being idealistic, on the other hand, is a black-and-white judgment. An idolized perception of the way things should be, or the way people should be. To hardcore idealists, you embody the ideal or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re clinically diagnosed as defective. That’s the idealistic narcissist’s perception of reality: that people either are or aren’t perfect, which leads to noxious and toxic behavior towards others and even themselves.

Idealism may be as non-pathological as naïve optimism about the inherent goodness of human nature having never encountered a not-so-good predator roaming the earth in human skin; but idealism can also be pathologically destructive. Idealistic narcissists stalk airports. Ruin marriages. Destroy families. Idealistic narcissists are dedicated to the way things should be because they’ve devalued and discarded the way things are.

Being idealistic is not the same thing as having ideals and accepting yourself (and others) as fallible. Good enough, I mean. Idealists are disappointed by reality, so focused are they on perfection being out there somewhere else…anywhere other than where they are, which means they are always chasing a dream, a perfect society, a perfect race, or a perfect relationship with a perfect soulmate. Whatever idealists achieve in their lives will be compromised by comparisons between perfection and reality: what should be, never what is.

Pathological idealists live in a fantasy world, imagining paradise while rejecting reality as inadequate. They have this weird perception that disagreements, differences, anyone refusing to see things their way or follow their plan means the whole of society sucks, any human organization sucks, and the best thing to happen is for the whole damn place to go up in flames. Not only do they pass judgment, they administer punishment themselves. Not that I’d be referencing divorce, the imperfect family, and perfect love. Soulmates, I mean.

“There is a difference between values and ideals. A value is something you recognize as good and worthwhile and that you choose to have in your life now by being willing to sacrifice other things. An ideal, on the other hand, is something you recognize as good that you want in your lives sometimes in the future, but you are not willing to sacrifice for it now. Values and ideals are often confused, but the difference is the level of commitment. Some couples say they value a good marriage, yet they do nothing to make their marriage better. So for them, a good marriage is an ideal, not a value.” ~Link to article

Narcissists may idealize family as an idea but they do not value family as a process. They idealize love as an idea but they do not value love as a process. Narcissists chase rainbows---expecting to find the pot o’ gold. They put more energy in the chase than they’re willing to invest in the families they already have. As if Love and Family are possessions, not hard work for each person falling-in-love-with-falling-short. 

The end of the ideal: divorce 

I was thinking about 1950’s sitcoms like Father Knows Best. Not very long ago, television portrayals of perfect families triggered my cynicism during a long and yea, traumatic divorce. Any hint or suggestion that Family was a safe place for kids to grow up---or that marriage was a safe place for partners to grow together (instead of apart), made me nauseous. My eyes rolled automatically. I smirked and uttered jaded comments like Roseanne Arnold’s famous quip: “Family is the F-word.” If a rerun of Father Knows Best came on television, it took every ounce of willpower to keep from throwing my rolling pin at the flat screen.

Cynicism is disturbingly funny when everything you believed to be true about marriage and family turns into a cosmic joke about naiveté. What a gullible fool, what an idiot! I believed Father Knew Best and Mother Knew Better. So after deconstructing the ideal family from a feminist, Freudian, Christian, and John-Inner-Child-Bradshaw perspective, I started reassembling what it meant to be a family and this time, gleaned a much deeper appreciation for the power of ideals to guide our lives. Especially when we aren't looking.

To me, ‘Home’ is a sanctuary from the fragmentation of work-self and real self: the place where people are soothed by intimate familiarity, where self-protective defenses dissipate and healthy boundaries are respected. I always placed a high value on home-and-family, evidenced by my commitment when times were tough and love was leaner than a pound of Oscar Meyer turkey bacon. Despite the problems (and if you’ve known narcissists, you realize relational problems exceed the average person's comprehension), the ideal of family was embedded deeply enough to keep me focused on the bigger picture. That's the awesome thing about ideals. You don't even know they're there. For some of us, we don't even know what ideals and values are until they’re ‘shattered’.

I found a great article listing 13 basic Ideals most people appreciate as archetypes for human behavior: Beauty, Duty, Freedom, Happiness, Health, Justice, Logic, Maturity, Order, Power, Victory, Virtue, and Wealth.

We don’t place equal value on every ideal, selectively choosing which ideals carry the most weight. For instance, you won’t catch me living in a house that isn’t beautiful…modest maybe, but Beauty will be maximized. I’ve always valued Duty, too; but let me define Duty as ‘responsible’, not martyrdom. That’s because Freedom is on my short list. Power is moving up the ranks having been relegated to the number 13 spot for too many years to call it mentally healthy.

Transforming Obstacles to Wisdom

Divorce meant I could no longer assume the ideal family would naturally result from a literal representation. If you look around my dinner table, you’ll see two divorced women, a single adult daughter, and one male teen-ager, a Motley Crew very unlike Father Knows Best.

My task post-marriage was to balance the ideal of family with pragmatic realism which meant transforming people, porcelain dishes and placemats into a truer construction of ‘family’ based on meaning. Not literal objects. It was a trick of the mind and it probably sounds silly to anyone who didn't define family as an organization headed by a Dad and a Mom with two and a half kids and a couple of stray cats. Reinventing ‘family’ meant transforming what appeared to be an irreconcilable fragmentation into a truer meaning of family. We still call ourselves A Family despite our dissimilarity to the cultural ideal.

Divorce was like being pushed in a bottomless lake with my hand basket laden with values and ideals scattered like garbage across the water. Heavy weights like cynicism, hopelessness, and despair were tied to my feet like giant boulders. A small pebble of self-loathing was bound next to victimization. It’s not easy to swim when your feet are weighted down and you can barely keep your head above the waves. If that happens to you, reach for the closest floating Ideal from your basket and hang on for dear life.

Power: the belief in my ability to save myself from drowning. Duty: no two kids deserved being left in a mess without their mother. Justice was out of reach but Wealth came floating by---support was abundant if I was looking. With enough ideals to hold me steady, treading water eased into a butterfly stroke. Cynicism morphed into optimism, self-trust, and confidence. We can turn heavy weights into life preservers; allow loss to become gain, a failure to become success. We can transform our lives by integrating ideals and values and living true to the person we were, are, and will be in the future.

Ideals, and the value we place on those ideals, inspire us to keep trying to do and be better. Good enough, I mean. Not perfect.



Self-Exploration: Identities, Values, Experiences, and Goals. You may enjoy this worksheet I found on the web. In the aftermath of crisis, it's challenging even knowing what your ideals and values might be---so twisted have they become in the N-relationship. Being true to yourself is the healing process but you first need to find out who that self really is. Defining your values, beliefs and ideals is a good way to get started restoring your integrity. Ideals

Sheri and Bob Stritof, Be True to Yourself in your Values and Ideals

1 comment:

  1. CZ, Another beautiful gem! I cannot believe no one commented on this. The title snagged my eye. I see here you write, with more nuance than I did in my post last week about the history of the nuclear foo, about the ideals that are supposed to go with it:

    "Narcissists may idealize family as an idea but they do not value family as a process. They idealize love as an idea but they do not value love as a process. Narcissists chase rainbows---expecting to find the pot o’ gold. They put more energy in the chase than they’re willing to invest in the families they already have. As if Love and Family are possessions, not hard work for each person falling-in-love-with-falling-short."

    This is SO true. I've been trying to say versions of this that you put with such clarity here. "They idealize love as an idea but do not value love as a process." I think this is why I get so pissed off when "gestures" come to replace the process of love. I wish I'd noticed this post before writing my "screw gestures" post. This site is just an endless treasure trove.
    There, that's another dose of my admiration. Cannot believe no one said anything about this. It's beautiful and well written. You are going to be pushed some more to get this material into a book one day. I mean it. Love CS


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...