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The Idealized Self and Grace



In Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance, Terry D. Cooper explains how the idealized self interferes with the reception of grace.


"The idealized self . . . is an image of what we should be, must be or ought to be, in order to be acceptable. The idealized self-image is born out of the imagination and it is quite impossible to actualize. It is a romanticized portrait built on exaggerated self-expectations" (pg. 130).

"The creation and maintenance of the idealized self is primarily an unconscious maneuver. Riddled with a hounding sense of self-dissatisfaction and contempt, the psyche produces a simple survival scheme: If I am unsatisfied with my actual self, why not retreat into the lab of denial and create an ideal self? Why settle on who I really am? Instead, I can grant my imagination power to manufacture a suitable, though illusory, image. I can then twist my experience so that it matches the portrait I want. Again, it is precisely this process, carried out with intricate subtlety, that keeps us from experiencing our genuine self and robs us of the energies we need to pursue realistic potentials. Put more theologically, as long as we are chasing our idealized self and ignoring the realities of who we really are, we cancel the possibilities of the transforming power of "grace in the gut," that is, the kind of ontological acceptance that prizes us for the limited human beings we are. As long as the imagination controls how we perceive ourselves, the actual self is off-limits. And when the actual self is off-limits, grace cannot be received in the depths of our being. Instead, we desperately try to earn acceptance" (pg. 132).




Cooper, Terry D. (2003). Sin, Pride & Self-Acceptance: The Problem of Identity in Theology & Psychology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.




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