This week we spotlight one of our favorite episodes, "How Being a Good Person is Making You Miserable."
In the series about the personality, we discuss the concept of being"a “good” person and how the socially-accepted behavior is more about your conditioning than real altruism. In this episode, we share:
Watch the next Soul Session in this series on our YouTube Channel.
How Being A Good Person is Making You Miserable
Debra Maldonado, Robert Maldonado
Debra Maldonado 00:01
Hello, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions. I'm Debra Maldonado. I'm here with Dr. Rob Maldonado.
Robert Maldonado 00:08
Debra Maldonado 00:10
This is a continuation of our series on personality. We talked about personality tests, we talked about trauma, and how to overcome that in our specific opinions and theories on how to work with trauma. In this episode, we're talking about why being a good person is making you miserable. It may be shocking but we're going to talk about the personality of a good person, what does that mean? How can we really have freedom in our life over our behavior and stop feeling so judged and shamed in the world for doing something wrong, that kind of hyper perfectionism that happens in the world? Before we really get into it, I think we should define what personality is when we talk about personality.
Robert Maldonado 01:03
That's a good idea, always define your terms. What is personality and what is ego? There are a lot of different models of personality, of course, because there are different psychologies, or different psychological models of what a personality is. Our model, or the model that we use in our coaching is basically a Jungian model, which means it's a psychodynamic model, it's a model that is transpersonal. Meaning that really the aim is to go beyond personality, not to build up the personality. But of course, we need a personality, we need, like Jung says, a persona, in order to interact with the social world.
Debra Maldonado 01:58
A lot of people think that their personality is fixed. In essence, if you haven't done individuation, or Shadow Work, you pretty much are fixed. You identify with yourself as you always have and you perceive other people perceiving your personality that way. Upholding your reputation in a way?
Robert Maldonado 02:23
A lot of the energy goes into creating this persona, propping it up, making sure people accept your persona and that it looks good, polishing it up, and also keeping the shadow away, which we'll be talking about a little bit.
Debra Maldonado 02:44
We to talk about the persona, when do you think, how young do you think we develop a persona, when we develop this personality? Part of it is genetic as well. Don't we have this pre-disposition to be either hyper introvert or extrovert or creative?
Robert Maldonado 03:03
One thing we know in psychology is it's never one thing. Everything seems to be multifactorial, meaning a lot of factors are contributing to one thing happening. Especially personality or persona, because if you think about how complex a human being is, we require years and years of education, of caring, of socialization, in order to get us up to speed to what the culture is, how we were going to interact, how we're going to survive in the world.
Debra Maldonado 03:45
So would it be at birth? Even in uterus our personality is starting to form? I know some pregnant women will have different children, and their child acts differently in the womb than other children. There's this the more relaxed child or the more anxious child.
Robert Maldonado 04:03
I was around the premature babies and regular term babies through my work in the medical field. I can tell you, from day one, you get a sense that there's a personality in there. There's definitely these predispositions, like you say, which are genetic, epigenetic, familial inheritance. But the environment plays a big role in what the person does with those inherited traits, how they're going to develop and how they are going to come forth or be repressed.
Debra Maldonado 04:43
I was really outgoing when I was little, I was out going with my family, but when I was around people, my mother said, I would talk, I don't know if you can imagine that about me. She said I was speaking full sentences when I was eight months old, but then she was so proud of me, and a stranger would come and she'd be like “Debbie, sing that song”, and I just be shut up. I carried that into my social personality versus people that knew me. It took a little time for me to come out of my shell. How would you define me as introverted? Is it really true? Because once you get to know me, I'm not. We all have those types, depending on who we're around our personality can be different. As we all know, when we're with our parents, we're a different personality than when we're around our children or different relatives, or friends, at work we have this work persona. Right from the beginning it starts, and then where does the external or the environmental influence start to happen just right out of the attic, when the baby's born, they have the parent hold the child and nurture the child.
Robert Maldonado 05:57
Jung agreed with Freud in that the primary relationship with the mother is the really important one. Because from day one, you get a sense of what kind of world am I being born into. If your mother is caring and attentive and nurturing, you have that good connection with her early on, you start to get a sense that it's a friendly world, a nurturing world, it's going to be fine. Whereas if you don't, or there's this ambiguity about whether your needs are being met or not, your physical, emotional needs, then people develop personalities that are insecure.
Debra Maldonado 06:52
So when we talk about goodness, we are taught from our parents “Don't be a bad girl. Don't be a bad boy. That was bad. That was good.” We start learning these morally objectionable behaviors when we were young. We don't run around naked, we don't curse, we act polite around people, most of us were told to eat like a human being, not like an animal at the table. There's a lot of goodness and structure to basically helping your child grow up in the world and fit in.
Robert Maldonado 07:24
From the Jungian perspective that socializing aspect of fitting in, being part of the tribe, part of the community is really important, because that's the function of the persona — to give us an identity within the group. We're unique, but we're still part of the group.
Debra Maldonado 07:48
I was very talkative and my sister was very quiet. Do you think she was naturally quiet? Or could it be because I was doing all the talking that she took on another role? Can that happen in families where the roles of personality are based on who took that job? Who's the clown of the family? Who is the serious one? Or do you think it's more genetic and just happens? Or both? I guess you’d say both.
Robert Maldonado 08:17
There's different ways of looking at it. Certainly we know, as human beings, we're storytellers. We have an internal story, a self-narrative of what character we playing, how is my life playing out. If you're the hero of your story, then you're doing pretty good because you feel yourself to be guided by divine intuition or some force beyond your personality, that helps you. If you feel yourself a victim, it's the opposite, you feel the whole world is out to get you. All you're doing is spending your time defending yourself, hiding as much as possible, protecting yourself from the dangers out there in the world.
Debra Maldonado 09:19
When we think about becoming a good person, persona that's good, that's doing the right thing, everyone likes to do the right thing. We could have that intention to be good. When we're let down, we tend to also rebel and push back. Or we can be the black sheep of the family, or be a rebel. If in school the teacher never gives you that attention, you're trying to be good, and she always just has a vendetta against you for some reasons, she's projecting something into you. You can actually change your personality to be more of a troublemaker because it doesn't help to be good. So we do the opposite.
Robert Maldonado 10:03
This is a big debate, the nurture-nature debate that's been going on psychology for a long time. The latest research shows that it's pretty much equal. The inherited traits contribute about 50% of the variance in your personality, and the environment the other 50. It's always that brain-environment interaction that's going on. We were designed to adapt, to fit in, to find a way to relate to our environment and to make it work for us.
Debra Maldonado 10:46
And everyone's unique, we can't say that everyone that has experienced this will turn out this way. It's everyone's experience, and their genetics, and their parents, and their culture. There's a lot going into it. Let me ask you this question. What makes us, besides the social pressure of fitting in with the tribe, from an ego’s perspective, desire to be good? I guess, religious influence? Or is there something even more spiritual, and our soul wants to have a good intention?
Robert Maldonado 11:26
The Jungian model would say that the persona is the external face that we put for interacting in groups, in society. But the ego is the internal self awareness and self concept of the I. That’s that internal reality that we construct within ourselves, and that internal narrative as well. Goodness, from that point of view, is anything that helps me, the ego, the I, survive, fit in, feel secure. That works up to a certain point, Jung would say, because it helps us survive and develop a viable persona for ourselves. But if you persist in that, the ego is going to become essentially like a tyrant over your mind. Because it's going to demand more and more, in the sense that it is very self centered. In the beginning, it works because you have to be self centered. If you notice, as teenagers, it's all about me, what am I going to do? How do people see me? That's the right approach early on. But he says, as you develop, if you think about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, it goes from survival needs to social needs, but then to higher spiritual needs, like self actualization.
Debra Maldonado 13:08
Even contributing to society in a more spiritual way, a higher way.
Robert Maldonado 13:13
What Jung would call transpersonal aspects of the psyche. If you remain as persona, if you persist identifying as your ego persona, then all you can do is build up better defense mechanisms, better I mechanisms, which is what we call narcissism, very self centered, very focused on the I. Even though the person may have good tendencies and want to express those good tendencies, it always is about augmenting and amplifying the I.
Debra Maldonado 13:57
When we say that if people don't transcend the ego, what really makes them miserable is because this persona has this desire to be good. When everything that's morally objectionable goes in the shadow, depending on their own unique subjective decision, how the ego regulates that is through guilt and shame. If we do something bad, we tend to feel shame or guilt around it. Also when we perceive someone else hurting us or harming us, the defense mechanism of the ego is “You did something bad to me, I want to shame you now. I want to make you feel guilty or something.” That mechanism works internally, but it also projects externally.
Robert Maldonado 14:48
If you notice those emotions and even the social pressure to conform and to fall in line, there’s nothing wrong with that, it works as a way of helping the individual fit in and making sure that the group survives because the individual is contributing to the group and going along with a group. But Jung says that that level of existence is a very primitive preliminary stage of your individual development, what he called individuation. Because if we're all only conforming, only looking out for ourselves, and not really being able to make choices beyond that, we're not really acting out of freewill, we're acting out of conditioning, out of the group's needs, and out of that need to conform to society. It's a limited ego reality that we experience when we're caught in the persona.
Debra Maldonado 16:03
A really simple example of this, we all have experienced this. Have you ever sent an email to someone, and they got triggered because they misread what you wrote, or they emphasized one word with the other because they're reading it from their own perspective? Then they yell back at you, and then you feel guilty. You probably don't do this, but there's a lot of us who obsess over “No, I can't believe I hurt that person's feelings.” You try to resolve that situation because it's a defense, “I want to not feel guilty, I have to resolve this.” That can make us really miserable because we could spend sleepless nights worried about what we said, what they think about us, they're going to tell other people who we are, that kind of obsession we've all come on. We've all experienced it one way or another. Maybe not you, Rob, I don't know.
Robert Maldonado 16:59
I started like everyone else. You start confused and projecting and trying to fit in and working on finding ways to adapt. That's just the natural way of existing.
Debra Maldonado 17:14
Another thing too, when I worked with single people, a lot of them didn't want to date because they said “I don't want to have to say no to someone that I'm not interested in because I don't want to be a bad person.” Even then it doesn't give them any freedom because they don't have the freedom to say “Sorry, this isn't a fit.” They feel like I'm going to hurt this person terribly, dating is painful. I said “If it's painful for you when someone breaks up with you, or is not interested in you, you're going to project that onto the person.” The best thing we can do is really work with our own mind and our own projections. We can be free and in that way we free other people too. Because you're not really connecting or really having intimate relationships if you're always worried that you're going to upset the applecart, someone's gonna get mad at you, walking on eggshells.
Robert Maldonado 18:04
Jung would see it this way. If we persist with this over identification as persona, which is okay in the beginning, or let's say, early adulthood, up until 25-35, between that age, if we don't find a way to transcend, to go beyond our persona, ego, then we get stuck essentially, the mind starts to turn against us, because we're not really employing its creative ability to its full extent.
Debra Maldonado 18:51
All that energy is just going to destruction versus creating something new.
Robert Maldonado 18:56
That's when people start to get into addiction, get into obsessive compulsive disorders or behaviors. Because all that creative energy is not really flowing. We're not expressing the full potential in the psyche. We're trying to constrain it, to make it very small to fit into the persona, ego structure.
Debra Maldonado 19:23
Sometimes I see a lot of people that have that “I can't be bad.” They’re almost the extreme. This is very rare, but I've seen this show up, where they make everyone else bad. Everything's bad and everyone's bad, because they can't be bad, “I'm good, and everyone else is bad.” That's another defense that actually creates lack of intimacy with other people because you're not going to trust anyone to get close to you, if you're always thinking the world is so terrible, people are so terrible.
Robert Maldonado 19:56
That's what Jung calls the shadow essentially. Whatever you find morally objectionable, you have to repress in yourself and deny in yourself and project it outward. You see it in other people, and it irritates you, it triggers you, you feel morally outraged at other people. But it's within you, you're defending against those elements in your own psyche.
Debra Maldonado 20:29
In a way we know we can be like that. But we are trying to fool ourselves like when we know one day we're going to die, all of us have experienced other people dying in our life, but we shut it out in our brain, it's not gonna happen to me, I'm gonna live forever. We do that with the shadow elements, we know we tend to be that way, but for most people, they don't even realize it. They feel like “I know I have that capability of having a little bit of that. But I'm denying that, I don't want to look at it.”
Robert Maldonado 21:03
That's the hard part about the shadow, Jung says, because it requires great moral courage. That's a direct quote, facing your shadow requires great moral courage. What is he implying there? He is implying that it's going to require you to really grit your teeth and say “Yes, that's part of me as well, what I'm seeing in others as terrible, I'm capable of that.”
Debra Maldonado 21:34
Is it about judgment than actually you being that?
Robert Maldonado 21:40
I would say the ego’s definitely judging that as bad. Because it's not that the ego does anything wrong or evil. A lot of people blame the ego and make the ego something terrible. It's simply doing its job, it's doing its function of making sure you're able to fit into the world. Especially when you're a kid, you're not able to reason and rationalize about morality. So instinctually, it helps you understand this is the way people behave, I have to fit in this way. If there are tendencies in me that don't fit in, don't help me fit in, I have to repress them, I have to hide them and deny them. But they don't go anywhere, they simply go into your shadow.
Debra Maldonado 22:28
Wouldn't you say that ultimately, if we look at goodness and badness, if you put all those traits in your own personal category, we're not really either of those things. Because they're really just words. They're labels, they're very light, they don't have any solid, objective meaning to them. We live as bad is this terrible, solid thing that we have to wear, like a burden on our chest, or our forehead for the rest of our life, or even someone not liking us, we're unliked or unloved? The Shadow Work and individuation is really so that we're not so attached to the persona of being good and aren’t scared of what we perceive as being bad. Then we're able to merge them together and make a decision outside of those two things. It's outside of our conditioning. It's what we push away and really say “If I didn't have to be good and didn't have to be bad, how would I act? How can I be free and make a free choice?” Would we freely give because we want to? Are we giving because everyone expects us to?
Robert Maldonado 23:41
Here Jung is essentially developing a spiritual psychology, spiritual but not religious. Because he would say religion is essentially coming from the outside, because it's a moral code that's handed down to you by culture. It says “Here are the commandments, here's what you should and shouldn't do.” That's external. That's not coming from within you. He says individuation means you have to find that within yourself, what is morally good in you, or how can you define that goodness within your own psyche, within your own understanding, so that you're expressing that spirituality from within, not borrowing it from the culture saying “If I follow these commandments, that means I'm spiritual, good.”
Debra Maldonado 24:39
If I give and donate, and be kind to others, what if I am unkind, that's bad karma. Bad karma is going to come around. When we talk about karma, there's no outside force that saying “This is good, this is bad.” You're your own judge and jury. When it says “You're good”, you're good. If you don't feel guilty around something, if you don't feel bad about being successful or asking for what you want, it's not going to have that emotional trigger. If you do, it's in your shadow, you feel guilty and conflicted about it.
Robert Maldonado 25:23
Almost all spiritual, mystical traditions say that it's not about morality. It is important in the beginning, of course, because in order to cultivate and develop yourself, you need some structure, some guidance.
Debra Maldonado 25:49
The basic rules of living?
Robert Maldonado 25:53
You can't be breaking the laws or getting into trouble all the time because that won't allow for a peaceful mind that is able to focus on higher knowledge. But it says, once you start to get into that spiritual practice, you realize that that external moral code is a good start. But you have to get to the point where you don't need it anymore.
Debra Maldonado 26:22
Is it like the eight limbs of yoga? Right actions, right words, in Buddhism they talk about that.
Robert Maldonado 26:31
Patanjali, the Yoga Sutras, the Buddhist—
Debra Maldonado 26:37
The ten commandments in Christianity.
Robert Maldonado 26:39
All of them would agree essentially that the moral code is important for beginners to get on the path.
Debra Maldonado 26:49
Individuation doesn’t mean we throw out the moral code, and start killing people and acting reckless and intending harm on others.
Robert Maldonado 26:57
Exactly. Because you need to get on that path of righteousness in a sense, you're intending to do good. You start with whatever's available to you. Often those codes are available to us through culture, through religion, through our parents or our teachers somehow. They help us get on that right path. But if you stop there and only say “I have the moral code, and therefore that's good enough for me”, that's not real spirituality, that's religion.
Debra Maldonado 27:34
Following the rules. It's not really you're not choosing, you're just conforming.
Robert Maldonado 27:41
It might keep you on the straight and narrow. But psychologically, and this is where Jung psychology is transpersonal, meaning that spirituality is about transcending your ego, not about making it better, not about making it appear good to others.
Debra Maldonado 28:06
Like spiritual bypassing, I'm so peaceful and loving and kind, and then preaching posts and going crazy on social media. I was like “Wait a minute, are you the same person that is speaking peace and love? All spiritual people sometimes can get into that, where they deny their own humanity. When we talk about the good and bad — if we're in conditioning, it's literally when you say it's impossible to follow those moral codes all the time, because we're conditioned to be human and make mistakes, we're flawed, and the ego’s flawed. We're always going to trip up on ourselves and say the wrong things to people, and people are going to say the wrong things to us. To understand what that means, that it doesn't make you a bad person or them a bad person is like having higher understanding.
Robert Maldonado 29:11
If you stay with a moral code and you're still in persona, what's going to happen is you're going to build up a huge shadow. Because the more good you present yourself to be to the world and to your self narrative, your I narrative, the more the shadow is going to be growing in energy. It's going to take its revenge on you essentially, sooner or later. You see people that are big preachers or big moralists, preaching out there to wipe out a certain evil, especially people that point fingers at other groups.
Debra Maldonado 29:57
Get rid of them, ship them out of the country.
Robert Maldonado 29:59
That's shadow projection, they are very caught up in the shadow. Eventually the shadow overwhelms them, it makes them trip up, it makes them fall from grace.
Debra Maldonado 30:15
Even in general, we have to have compassion for each other because not everyone is going to do Shadow Work. People are going to act out of alignment with where your subjective moral needs are or moral code is. Some people think it was rude to ask how much money you make or how long have you been married, do you want children. These kind of questions where someone has to be such a nosy person or bad person for asking me that. People are just acting out of their own conditioning. That's a simple example but even people that steal or do really terrible things, it's not that they're intending to be bad, it's more the conditioning has led them to act out in that way.
Robert Maldonado 31:07
It gives you definitely a different perspective on things. This is why it requires great moral courage because real compassion is not saying “I know you did wrong or you did wrong to me, therefore I forgive you.” That's still an ego. You're still identifying as persona ego and saying your persona did something against me or bad to me, therefore I have to forgive you, that makes me a better person.
Debra Maldonado 31:45
I'm a good person. You harmed me, I'm gonna forgive you. Because I'm a good person, I'm spiritual and I'm gonna forgive you. I'm evolved, I have a higher consciousness than you. It's less about that because that still has a judgment to it.
Robert Maldonado 32:01
Still very much in a social judgment level. Real compassion, really the psychological mechanism of real compassion is to understand that when we're caught up in persona ego, when we're acting out of our own karma, out of conditioning, we're not responsible. If my parent or somebody in my past experience harmed me, if I understand their true motivation was out of conditioning, out of their karma, I don't blame them in particular. I can see that they were caught up just like I was caught up in that experience of conditioning, of karma, of expressing that frustration or the anger or whatever is going on with them. That absolves them really of their sin.
Debra Maldonado 33:00
You're cultivating compassion for your own self to be free of the anger or the resentment toward that person. But then you're also freeing them. You're working on your own self compassion for when you make a mistake. I remember one time I felt really guilty about an exchange I had with someone, and I talked to you about it. I'm like “I should have said this, I shouldn't have said that, a good person would have done differently.” You said to me “Debbie, you acted exactly as you needed to, because it gave you such a lesson in just something you needed to see.” It just freed all of that pressure when you told me that. This happened 10 years ago, I remember like a load had been lifted off me because when we do something or someone accuses us of being a bad person, we tend to want to fight it, you could feel your ego trying to defend it, even self punishment and regret, we could spend our whole life in regret. It's just a terrible state in your mind to be in. When I was able to say “This really got me to a point to see a part of my shadow, I free her from her judgment or whatever she was going through, I understand she was acting out of a conditioning.” I'm free, they're free, and it's just a better way to do it than the old way which is put them in the stockade in the center of a town, throw food at them or punish them publicly in some way. Now they talk about the social media being the kind of town hall of shame for everyone who does something bad. God forbid you do something, then it gets viral on the internet. How we can create a more compassionate culture is if we let go of this idea that we always have to be such a good person. It sounds so weird. We shouldn't want to have to be a good person, we should cultivate the desire to always do no harm, but not be attached to our personality being seen and known as good. Would that be a good way to think about it?
Robert Maldonado 35:12
The great philosopher Laozi says, when you define goodness, you're defining badness, you're giving birth to badness already. You're creating that split, you're saying this behavior is good. Therefore, even if you don't mention the bad, just by defining something as good, you're implying that there is a badness already. That dual nature of our existence is always playing out. Jung is simply pointing out that if you're not aware of that duality, you're going to be blindsided by the opposite side of the coin, the shadow.
Debra Maldonado 36:04
I always find that the more attached you are to being a certain way, there's always some little trickster that's going to come out and go “You think you're so good?” They're gonna really get you. If you don't work with it on the small level, it's going to keep building up, then it's going to have a bigger impact. Karma is really not an external judgment, it's really what you put out, you get back. It's really what you're seeing as your own mind, not what society believes about you but what you believe about you, what’s your own perception of yourself in the world. This as an object in the world going to be defined by what you decide, not by the world. That's another great quote by Jung. “The world will ask you who you are, and if you don't know, the world will tell you.” This is that good person, that attachment to “I need the world to see me a certain way.” No, you bring what you want to be in the world and out of your choice, but you have to do your shadow work or you are not in control.
Robert Maldonado 37:11
We see personality as highly complex, a lot of different angles to it, a lot of different factors that play into it. But we need a model like Jung’s that is broad enough, comprehensive enough to give us an understanding of why we're choosing goodness in the social context, and what are the things that we're pushing away, so that we can be aware of the shadows that we're creating.
Debra Maldonado 37:46
I guess one last exercise you can think about is think about someone that you judge harshly in the world as being bad. That's your shadow. Meet your shadow. It's not that you are like them. But there's something in you that's pushing that away. Examine, what is that? Why does that person trigger me? Why is that keeping me safe by making that person wrong? What do I do? How do I define myself in comparison to that person? What are the two sides of the coin? I like to use the two sides of the coin, it makes it really easy. They're a taker, I'm gonna give. What is about that person that gets under my skin, or a type of person? You're really starting to see that they're your best friend because they're showing you something that you can't see directly. It's the mirror reflection in the hologram of the world.
Robert Maldonado 38:44
That's a good way to put it.
Debra Maldonado 38:46
Next week we are going to talk about becoming your true personality. We’ll talk a little bit about the whole individuation process when it comes to transforming your personality. This was a really great talk today, I really enjoyed talking about being good and being bad. We'll see you next week on another episode of Creative Mind Soul Sessions. Please, if you haven't, subscribe below on our YouTube channel. If you're listening to our podcast, please make sure you leave us an honest review. We love those reviews. It gets people motivated to listen and get this great content. We will see you next week. Have a wonderful day.
Robert Maldonado 39:27
Thanks for watching.
Debra Maldonado 39:28
Take care. Bye bye.