Of The Dark Side: Insecurities, Temptations, and Self Control

May 2, 2010 § Leave a comment


People present to society the side of their personality they want to be seen. This could be their positive and selfless traits; it could be their aggressive and powerful qualities. This is learned from childhood on, as a kind of defense mechanism. Beneath this social side lies a lot of insecurities, weaknesses. As a child, we see that letting people glimpse these weaknesses can only hurt us or raise doubts. So we cover them up with something approximating the opposite. The word personality comes from the Latin persona, meaning mask.

Someone who is always cheerful, pleasant and eager to help most often is concealing a lot of hidden aggression, resentment, anger. This will often come out in actions that are subtly passive aggressive and sabotaging. Another person is very correct, politically–they eat the right things, they support all of the right causes, they drive a Prius. But behind this is a powerful desire to do the opposite, to let go, to experience some chaos. Yet another is blustery and aggressive, seems intimidating. This person is concealing a lot of shyness and frailty; they secretly yearn to be led and dominated. On the most obvious level, the person preaching vociferously against homosexuality is disguising their own longings.

According to Freud, the negative side in our character comes to our consciousness in a positive form. It is the only way to deal with it. In other words, the very thing we protest against is most often exactly what we want.

-Robert Greene, The Dark Side

Robert Greene is the author of The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction. His beliefs are highlighted by the recent scandals of the most well-respected, and well-paid sports superstars. Tiger Wood’s constant emphasis on living a life of strict values have largely spiralled out of control. Could his cold, impersonal nature on the on and off the playing field reflected a personal struggle with temptation?

The last of five great Roman emperors, Marcus Aurelius, was known to have consciously denied himself temptation and lust to abuse his slaves for sexual gratification. He was a lifelong student of Stoic philosophy. Nero (also an adopted heir to the throne) on the other hand, lead a life of excess and indulged in a power-consolidation through the murder of his mother and rivals.

Much of what we know about Stoic philosopher Seneca was through the Letters he wrote. Yet history also tells us that he amassed a considerable amount of wealth during his term in office as Nero’s tutor. Seneca was also charged with adultery, thirteen years before he became Nero’s tutor. Is this the “darker side” that Greene hints at, or does this merely prevent the stoic philosopher from becoming one-dimensional?

I do agree with Greene for one thing: we all have our own insecurities – the thing that keeps us awake once every few nights, distracted from work, or having a pleasant day.

Some however, turn insecurities into a source of inspiration, muse or potential for life’s best work.

Psychologist Carol Dweck‘s passion for understanding the growth mindset seemed to have stemmed from a childhood experience (insecurity?) of being judged as “unintelligent”.

Roger Federer often spoke of his tennis youth as one that was untapped potential, late blooming, and frustration. It seemed to have paid of for his playing style in spades now.

But what makes a Tiger Woods different from a Roger Federer? How does one overcome temptation or keep self-control?

Even within the world of tennis, we see the Stoic like life philosophy taught to Rafael Nadal on and off-court, contrasting with the exuberance of youth, indulgence of passions by upstart Ernests Gulbis.

What counts as a repression of desire, as opposed to a redirection of focus (self control)?

Are one and both the same? If so, will self control lead to regression, having our darker side eventually being released, only stronger?

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