About 200 articles are posted here, revealing the source of the most common behavioral and emotional problems. I am taking my summer break from writing, while still doing sessions and taking on new clients. Thank you all for your interest in this depth psychology.
We obviously don’t want our mind to jitter like a hyperactive oscillator, especially when our thoughts are tainted by anger, self-doubt, self-pity, bitterness, and defensiveness. It’s not a happy fate to become a worrywart, nervous wreck, or angry ogre.
When we become preoccupied with negative thoughts, our unconscious mind is the dynamo driving the process. In our unconscious, we have unresolved emotions from childhood that involve feeling helpless, deprived, refused, criticized, and rejected. We’re inclined if not compelled to experience ourselves and our place in the world in ways that recycle and replay such unresolved emotions.
Incessant negative thinking accompanies these unresolved emotions. This thinking often constitutes inner dialogue that tries to make sense of what we’re feeling. Often our thoughts are defending us from, or covering up, a conscious recognition of our own unconscious determination or willingness to experience our daily situations and circumstances through these unresolved negative emotions.
Almost everyone has intrusive, disconcerting thoughts at times, and these thoughts are often accompanied by anxiety and fear. Yet people might not realize they’re engaged in incessant negative thinking. Their dire considerations and grim speculations feel to them like normal mental processing. Their mind can be humming a low discordant tune they hardly notice, such as when they constantly feel that something has to be attended to, or when they dwell on some situation that they feel helpless to fix or improve upon, or when they’re preoccupied with the sense that some important benefit is missing from their life.
These are all passive experiences, in the sense that we let this negativity persist with no thought to stopping it or no idea how to stop it. If we don’t recognize our passivity, we’ll go on believing that everything’s normal, that our underlying disquietude is just the way life is and the way we are meant to be. [Read more…]
I’m delighted to say that all of my books are now available in paperback. Each book has also been updated as a Second Edition. All books are now available in both Kindle e-book and paperback formats at Amazon.com. They are all listed above in Books, with their links to Amazon.
It’s easy to feel that we’re the slaves of time, or at the mercy of time, or that time is a force of nature to which we are helpless or powerless. People sometimes see life as a block of time being chipped away, especially when they imagine their dreams of career and relationship fulfillment slipping away.
Of course, it’s true we can’t control the passage of time. Still, we’re inwardly conflicted when we turn that reality into a source of anxiety, stress, and frantic busyness.
Racing against time makes sense if you’re trying to save your town from rising flood waters. In many cases, though, people who experience life in a time-urgent way are drowning in emotional hot water.
Psychologists call this “excessive time-urgency” or “hurry sickness.” Unfortunately, mainstream thinking on the subject is simplistic and unhelpful. This simplistic approach is exemplified in this comment from a psychologist:
Excessive time-urgency is a problem in thinking. Everyone has some pressure to get things done. However, if you consider everything is equally urgent, you’re likely to experience stress problems. Rethink your view of time, how you relate to it, and what is really important to you. Place events and tasks in proper perspective.
This advice is unhelpful. First of all, to say that time-urgency is “a problem in thinking” is misleading. The problem is deeper. It arises out of emotional dynamics submerged beneath our conscious thinking. What we need instead of “better thinking” is insight that flushes out the source of the problem. [Read more…]
Past, present, and future walk into a bar. Suddenly everyone becomes very tense.
End of joke, in case you didn’t get it.
Really, it’s no laughing matter if you allow past, present, and future to walk into the barroom of your mind to argue, get drunk, and start a fight. You’ll become, needless to say, very tense.
Figuratively speaking, that big brawl erupts in our psyche when we’re preoccupied with painful memories from our past, or when we’re misusing the present to wallow in negative impressions, or when we’re anxiously envisioning a future laden with adversity.
We need to keep in mind, of course, that past and future are experienced by us only in the present moment. Writing 1,600 years ago in his Confessions, St. Augustine said, “There are three tenses or times: the present of past things, the present of present things, and the present of future things.” Because of inner conflict, however, many of us have a tendency to zoom around in an emotionally induced virtual reality of past and future, usually without any awareness of the detrimental effects of doing so.
The negative considerations and speculations that inner conflict dishes out compel us to chase after misery wherever we can find it. Many of us unwittingly jump into the past or the future—as we construe these “time zones” in our emotional imagination—whenever we get a chance to cozy up to some old hurt, negative emotion, or unresolved inner fear. [Read more…]
The best depth psychology is so potent that we instinctively become resistant to assimilating the knowledge. The insight upsets our sense of who we are, and we feel inner resistance because we don’t like, at least initially, that feeling of vulnerability and unsteadiness.
This inner resistance is mostly unconscious, yet we can learn to keep it in sight and thereby diminish its power to sabotage us. The resistance has many guises, including defensiveness, denial, and stubbornness. Resistance can also be expressed in the form of mocking or cynical words and thoughts, or as a whinny, sarcastic inner voice.
Sometimes resistance employs humor and wit, along with mockery and sarcasm, to reduce to absurdity the inner reality uncovered by depth psychology. I illustrate this here with a teaching story. Inner resistance is personified in this story as a sassy, skeptical black sheep. For entertainment value, this black sheep is a lively character who injects comic relief into an otherwise serious subject. The story begins:
A young shepherd, who’s taking night classes to become a psychotherapist, approaches his flock to deliver his daily lecture on the secrets of happiness. Accompanied by his sheepdog, he often talks directly to his one black sheep, the wittiest member of the flock. The shepherd, who can be a bit preachy, begins his talk, while the black sheep bleats annoyingly at the dog. [Read more…]
My late wife, Sandra Michaelson, had great insights into the passive side of human nature. She wrote extensively about passivity in her first book, The Emotional Catering Service, a book about codependents and enablers that was published in 1993.
The passivity in our psyche is possibly the greatest menace to our personal and collective progress. Yet we have a hard time recognizing this passivity in ourselves. It’s elusive, like a phantom in our psyche. Our challenge is to bring it into focus. We need to see how it blocks us from connecting with our authenticity, intelligence, and power.
The Emotional Catering Service exposes many of the ways in which people are handicapped by their passivity. Both women and men, of course, can be enablers and codependents. Yet Sandra’s book, I believe, can especially help many women to become more self-assured and confident. More than ever, our world needs an upsurge of feminine perspectives and values to counter masculine tendencies that, at their worst, are insensitive, self-centered, and destructive.
I’ve just completed a light editing revision of Sandra’s book, which is now available as an e-book or paperback at Amazon.com. Here is an excerpt: [Read more…]
Readers often send me emails with their comments and questions. The seven queries that I respond to here deal primarily with inner passivity. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of inner passivity, you might first read this post. My responses to the queries below are in italics.
Hello. I’ve just read and re-read your article, Defensiveness for Dummies. I recognize that I’m very defensive, and this defensiveness has led to problems in many of my relationships.
After reading the article, I remain confused about the relationship between defensiveness and inner conflict. In particular, I don’t follow you when you say that aggressive defensiveness is a form of inner passivity. I understand defensiveness and aggression as very active, not passive; they are action rather than inaction. Indeed, I sometimes struggle in your articles to understand your use of passive, though I sometimes think I am understanding. How does passivity defend? Thanks! – L.B.
I’ll try to help you understand. Keep in mind that inner passivity is a challenging concept, and it can take a while for it to come into focus in our mind and then within us at a deeper level. We can recognize inner passivity through a variety of symptoms, one of which is chronic defensiveness. Such defensiveness is a passive feeling associated with self-doubt. Usually all you’re doing with defensiveness is reacting to your own insecurity. You feel that someone is holding you accountable and that you’re obligated to defend yourself. In being defensive, you’re reacting to a gut feeling of being wrong, flawed, or bad. [Read more…]
Protectors of democracy, look deeper into the unconscious mind if you want to eliminate the alternative facts now contaminating public discourse.
We need to uncover and understand the inner conflict that makes our psyche a breeding ground for perversions of truth, as well as for personal discontent and national dissension.
The biggest conflict raging in America and the world might be the one taking place in the human psyche between rationality and irrationality. In our psyche, the irrational side is powerful in its own right, in part because we’re markedly prepared, through inner resistance, to cling to our delusions, defenses, and distortions of reality.
Researchers have been showing for decades that reason and evidence are frequently unable to change the minds of everyday people. As journalist Elizabeth Kolbert writes in a recent issue of The New Yorker, “any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational.”
The pervasiveness of irrationality is consistent with the prevalence of neurotic behaviors in the population. Symptoms of this emotional weakness include poor ability to appreciate and respect oneself, difficulty in changing self-defeating behaviors, a compulsion to recycle painful memories, a recurring sense of victimhood, a need to blame others, and resistance to fulfilling one’s potential. [Read more…]
Is that really you, reading these words? Or are you just a body double or stand-in for your authentic self, a clone of the identifications you make with other people? If so, you might want to learn more about how psychological identifications influence your sense of self.
Through the process of identification, we unconsciously assimilate aspects or attributes of other people, and we’re transformed to some degree by what we have absorbed.
This is okay if we’re identifying with the best attributes of others—such as their kindness, compassion, wisdom, and strength—as long as we remain our own person and know our own mind. However, much of the time we unknowingly identify with the flaws or weaknesses of others, especially the ways in which they’re being passive, needy, and disrespecting of themselves.
Not all identifications are about other people. We can also identify with our social and professional standing, with our wealth or poverty, and with our intelligence or the feeling that we are lacking in it. People also identify with their personality, body-image, athleticism, mind, and ego. Such identifications limit our intelligence and our capacity for wisdom and happiness. For this post, I’ll narrow the discussion to the identifications we make concerning other people.
Often the aspects or attributes we assimilate from others consist of negative emotions such as feeling deprived, refused, controlled, rejected, criticized, and unloved. These identifications represent our unconscious determination to hold on to these varieties of pain and suffering. [Read more…]