The term “self-importance” is a bit of a misnomer because it is not the true Self but the false self to which it refers. In actual fact we could say that giving importance to the (true) Self is the antidote to what we usually mean when we talk about self-importance.
Self-importance arises when we see ourselves as separate individuals and when we have one or more unhealed emotional wounds. Self-importance can manifest in a number of different ways including:
- Believing that we are superior to others
- Believing that other people should do things the way we do them
- Believing that there is only one way to do something and that is our way
- Believing that we are special in some way or that we have been chosen by God
- Setting rules for other people to follow
- Talking about ourselves excessively or being in the habit of criticising others
Self-importance can manifest in obvious ways – such as people showing off, talking about how great they are or putting other people down – but it can also manifest in more subtle ways which may be less obvious to spot.
For anyone who overcomes challenges on the spiritual path and believes that he now has something worth sharing with others, self-importance can grow without his realising. Having done a certain amount of spiritual development work the tendency can arise to want to be a teacher to others who have not yet mastered what we have done. This desire to teach can be a form of avoidance from engaging in further development work of our own. Becoming a teacher can be a safe haven from the emotional wounds within which we find too painful to deal with. Instead of looking deeper within oneself, the temptation can arise to focus on the apparent lack of development of others. Many spiritual teachers like to demand a certain amount of obedience from their disciples or students – this can become a way in which the teacher can feel better about himself and acts as a substitute for healing his own unresolved emotional wounds. Some spiritual teachers will display their self-importance – and also their wounds – by creating a kind of co-dependency between themselves and their students. This co-dependency is a symptom of the fact that the teacher secretly doesn’t want his students to graduate because he fears someone else becoming better than he is. In very subtle ways the teacher will encourage his students to “keep themselves small” and feel that they always need to defer to his greater knowledge or seek his help whenever they are met with a challenge.
When we look at the different ways in which self-importance can arise, it becomes easy for everyone to think of someone they know who displays some of these characteristics, but our own self-importance will be harder to spot, therefore it can be good for us to cultivate humility and practise mindfulness so we are open to seeing how our own sense of self-importance might manifest. Just because we can’t see our own self-importance doesn’t mean it is not there. In fact if we become too fixated on what we see as someone else’s self-importance, that can be a sure sign that we too have self-importance which we have not yet realised.
Of course it is easy to see outward expressions of self-importance when someone is declaring how great they are, but could it be that outward expressions of someone saying how bad they think themselves to be, are also manifestations of self-importance? If we consider the definition of self-importance to be giving importance to the ego or false self at the expense of the true Self, then self-deprecation or false humility could also be seen as expressions of self-importance. This area of enquiry has many subtleties to it, so I will leave it to the reader to ponder further on the subject without further direction from me.
*** This chapter is taken from my book The Light Within ***