Merton on being defined by who you ARE, not what you DO. I don’t know if this problem bites women as hard, but it’s a serious problem for most men.
When a man constantly looks and looks at himself in the mirror of his own acts, his spiritual double vision splits him ijto two people. And if he strains his eyes hard enough, he forgets which one is real. In fact, reality is no longer found either in himself or in his shadow. The substance has gone out of itself into the shadow, and he has become two shadows instead of one real person.
Then the battle begins. Whereas one shadow was meant to praise the other, now one shadow accuses the other. The activity that was meant to exalt him, reproaches and condemns him. It is never real enough. Never active enough. The less he is able to be the more he has to do. He becomes his own slave driver-a shadow whipping a shadow to death, because it cannot produce reality, infinitely substantial reality, out of his own nonentity.
Then comes fear. The shadow becomes afraid of the shadow. He who “is not” becomes terrified at the things he cannot do. Whereas for a while he had illusions of infinite power, miraculous sanctity (which he was able to guess at in the mirror of his virtuous actions), now it has all changed. Tidal waves of nonentity, of powerlessness, of hopelessness surge up within him at every action he attempts.
Then the shadow judges and hates the shadow who is not a god, and who can do absolutely nothing. Self-contemplation leads to the most terrible despair: the despair of a god that hates himself to death.
-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, Ch.7 Sec.2