Discovering Your Wounded Idealist
Dear Neil: I seem to have developed a jaded, cynical and sarcastic way about me, and I have been told by others that I come across negatively.
I can see this behavior in myself. For some reason I have become judgmental and critical—of other people and of myself—and I have developed this sarcastic , biting humor toward others and bitterness toward life.
But I didn’t used to be like this. I have always been more the happy-go-lucky, Devil may care, que será será type. What happened to me? Why do I have an attitude problem, and what can I do to regain my happier spirit?
Jaded in London, Ontario
Dear Jaded: Ron Potter-Efron, in the book Stop The Anger Now (New Harbinger) has a theory about this: that inside a cynic you’ll discover a wounded idealist. A wounded idealist is someone who once believed that the world was a good place. “Someone who had positive goals, dreams to follow, hopes for the future. But then something happened. Perhaps a single awful experience, such as a death, trauma, betrayal or a loss. Maybe a long series of disappointments—illnesses, lay offs, relationship breakdowns—that ate away at the idealist’s optimism like acid on the soul.
Slowly you find yourself developing a layer of defenses around the pain, a layer of sarcastic remarks, cynicism, put downs and a jaded attitude. Inside are the buried hopes, dreams and positive goals. But on the outside is a layer of anger and bitterness.
Others see the outer layer, the defensiveness, the negative attitude, the jadedness. But your hope remains alive deep inside of you. Waiting.
Does this describe you? Might you be a wounded idealist? If so, the first step Potter-Efron suggests in overcoming your negative attitude is to carefully look at the painful experiences you have gone through that may have contributed to your becoming more sarcastic, cynical, defeated and hopeless. What led you to this attitude? When is your hidden idealist allowed out? How often? Who knows this wounded idealist within you? What wishes, hopes and dreams have you been hiding under that layer of cynicism, sarcasm, jadedness and negativity?
Now comes the challenging part. What could you do to recommit yourself in going after achieving those dreams, desires and goals—or in creating some new ones for yourself?
In other words, I am suggesting to you that your cynical, jaded, negative attitude will largely evaporate if you recommit yourself to your dreams and wishes, and go after making them happen with spirit and gusto.
Of course, we all have to adjust our goals and dreams from time to time, because some prove unrealistic or too difficult in to achieve. If that scenario fits your life experience, you might have to tweak or modify your goals to reflect what’s realistic, possible and more readily achievable.
Our dreams don’t give up on us. It’s we—because of disappointments, failures, mistakes, bad luck or whatever—that give up on our dreams. If you’ve given up your dreams, of course you’re going to be negative, jaded and bitter.