Psychologist and author James Hillman suggests that it is our inferiorities that build up our souls. His view is that it is not our strengths that give us depth and character, but our weaknesses.


Ron Rolheiser, OMI


Many years ago, at a seminar on this subject with the renowned Polish psychologist Casmir Dabrowski, I asked “Can’t we also grow by being built up by our successes, by taking in positive affirmation and letting it purify us of our selfishness?”

His answer supports Hillman: “Theoretically, yes; we can grow through our successes, just as easily as we can through our failures. But I can say this, through more than 40 years of psychiatric practice I have rarely seen it. Almost always deep growth takes place through the opposite—our death, our losses, our dark nights of the soul.”

What has made us deep persons? What has taught us compassion? Our successes? The things we have been praised for? Those qualities of body or mind which make us superior to others? That perfect body that everyone envies us for? That athletic achievement that is one-in-a-million? That summa cum laude that is the envy of our classmates? That perfect home that is the envy of our neighbors? Have these given us soul? Are these what make us interesting?

To the contrary, our souls, precisely in so far as they have depth, strength, compassion and hold interest for others, have been shaped by something quite different: the fear that I am not smart enough, not interesting enough, that my background isn’t good enough, my phobias, my timidities, my plain and simple inadequacies, the humiliations I endure in my work, in my marriage and in my family that I am powerless to do anything about, the insults and taunts I received on the playground as a child:  these are what give me depth of soul.

These inferiorities, these humiliations, are not things to be cured from, things to be solved, things to be ignored, things to be buried as private and past shames. They are to be listened to. They are entries into the depth of our souls.

Inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation—forgers of depth, of soul, the voice of God!

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