Identity, Self-Esteem and Delusions
  • Sun, 04/03/2016
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Belief in oneself, one’s abilities, and one’s dreams implies, in turn, belief in the almighty Creator who gives everything its due proportion, and who guides His creatures. Delusions, idle fantasies, and superstitions are the opposite of true belief in oneself. They are destructive to a person’s self-identity, debilitating to confidence and initiative. They breed pessimism while faith in Allah inspires optimism.

People can be victims of their own nonsensical notions. After turning 6o, a man started lamenting: “My life has passed. There is no time left for me to achieve anything else.” Whenever anyone suggested something for him to do, he would shrug and say: “Where is the time for me to accomplish it?”

He had a friend of equal age who had a positive, optimistic attitude. He did not want to die ahead of time. The fact that he was nearing the end of his life spurred him on to redouble his efforts and seize very opportunity he could. As a result, he was healthier overall and lived a longer, happier life.

There was a man who had an overblown idea of his own importance. He began imagining that the security apparatus in various countries were tracking him down and seeking to eliminate him. He began to examine his food and drink, and suspect everything at every location. He would tell people he was being watched by the KGB and the CIA and a long list of other intelligence agencies.

Once I saw a man in prison. He did not have anything or anyone to help him, nor even any means to pay his bail. However, he was speaking in a strangely confident manner about the role he played to form one country’s government, remove a president from another, and cause instability in a third.

An inflated sense of self can help a person to be confident and optimistic, but when it leads to delusional ideas, it can be debilitating. Some people even imagine themselves specially chosen by Allah to guide humanity. In some cases, medical attention is required to determine whether the person is suffering from schizophrenia.

A young woman insists that she suffers from a serious disease and that there is something that feels like a snake in her stomach. It then becomes known that her sister and grandmother imagined they suffered from diseases that no doctor could diagnose. Ultimately, their imaginary diseases led both of them to real physical debilitation.

There is an old fable about a man who met the Plague on a country road and asked: “Where are you going?”

It answered: “To the city. I have to kill five thousand people there.”

Some days later, the wise man again met the Plague. “You said you were going to kill five thousand people, but you killed fifty thousand,” he accused.

The Plague replied: “No, I’ve killed five thousand. The others died from fear.”

When people watch those around them falling to their death from disease, they begin questioning and groping for answers in desperation. Except for those few who are blessed with exceptional mental strength and personal courage, people break down under such frightening circumstances.

A man sees spectres and shades and hears their voices everywhere. He tells the people around him about it, but they never hear or see anything out of the ordinary. He is nonplussed by this fact. He just assumes that he alone has been chosen for this special purpose. How can it be otherwise? Why should he doubt the evidence of his own senses? It must be that he is privy to the world of the jinn.

Indeed, the jinn are part of Allah’s creation. We read about them in the Qur’an. However, they are part of the unseen. This has not stopped their being the subjects of many stories and fairy tales. They are also a source of fear for weak-minded people who fall easy prey to misgivings and superstitions.

Fear of imaginary future dangers is a common affliction. People have nightmares about vicious future wars. Some people imagine they have a sixth sense where they know something bad is down the road. Sometimes this extra sense indicates that their spouse is cheating on them and they ignore every indication in their lives that everything is okay. It is enough to vindicate their sixth sense that once they had such forebodings and got into a car accident on the same day. But when they speak about it to someone, it is as if they always know when danger is around the bend.

Why are some people susceptible to baseless suspicions? Inner weakness and lack of self-confidence make people prone to misgivings, doubts and uncertainty. By contrast, having strong religious faith, confidence, and self-knowledge are qualities that help people shrug off their baseless fears.

A crisis or sudden tragedy, like the death of a loved one, a failed business venture, or the end of a marriage, makes people desire any solace, no matter how doubtful, to escape the immediate pain and distress. The same can be said for demanding times, like taking an exam, proposing to a prospective spouse, getting ready for a wedding.

What we say affects how we think and behave. The Prophet said: “When a child of Adam gets up in the morning, all the limbs humble themselves before the tongue and say: ‘Fear Allah for our sake because we are with you: (i.e., we will be rewarded or punished as a result of what you do). If you are straight, we will be straight; and if you are crooked, we will become crooked’.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhī]

Some children are told that they are disappointments, prone to failure, or that their futures will be bleak. Those who constantly repeat these things to themselves when they grow older can unwittingly make them come true. At the same time, those who repeat positive statements about themselves, but refuse to believe in what they are saying, never realise the full benefit of those positive words, but they still get some good out of it.

We are not playing into false notions when we tell ourselves we are happy and that Allah is watching over us. Happiness is always within our reach. We have to search for it within ourselves and be prepared to seize upon it when we find it.

Do not speak about how you are going to be happy in the future. Speak about how you are happy right now. If you are happy with your spouse, your children, or your work, come out and admit it. Allah says: “And as for the blessings of your Lord, proclaim them.” [Sūrah al-Duhā: 11]

Do not go overboard worrying about the “evil eye”. We know that it is a true phenomenon, but we also know that relying upon Allah is true. Those around you are not always jealous and vindictive. Many of them are your well-wishers.

If you do not find a lot of good things in your life, you can speak about the blessing of your resolve, fortitude, and patience, and your heroic efforts to realise your dreams.

False Notions about Women

Some of the worst, most debilitating falsehoods that ravage the self-esteem of their victims are the stereotypical notions many men entertain about women.

These ideas are perpetuated among both men and women in many cultures. They are promoted by advice columns and passed on via social media and SMS messages.

One person who wanted to send me such derogatory messages excusing himself by saying: “I just want to make you laugh and let you see them so you can critique them.”

One of these false ideas is the belief that women are never happy with anything. Those who promote this idea like to cite from the Prophet that a woman might sometimes say to her husband when she is angry: “I have never seen any good in you.” They are taking his words out of context. He is only mentioning something that women had a habit of saying in a moment anger to their husbands, not something they believe in their hearts or that they feel all the time. At another time, the same woman might easily say: “You mean the world to me.”

When the Prophet made that statement, he was just giving an example of the negative things people are in the habit of saying unthinkingly. He meant it to benefit all people, to give them general encouragement to be careful in what they say and improve themselves in the process.

It is wrong to doubt a woman’s religiousness, think that women are naturally untrustworthy, or believe that the woman is less than the man. None of this is accurate. Actually, in my experience it seems that women have a stronger inclination to religiousness than men have. There are numerous circumstances wherein women uphold prayer, worship, and ethical conduct, where men often succumb to drink or excessive behaviour.

I am not trying to stir up a war between the sexes. Men and women are two sides of the same coin. I am trying to dispel some very general false and widespread notions that some people treat like scriptural truth. Even the notion of a woman’s guardian in Islam is misunderstood and abused. It is not a role of overseer where a woman’s behaviour is monitored and policed, and where she is kept in her “proper place”. Rather, it is a role of protector, to safeguard the woman from those who would harm her or transgress against her.