The Lingering Pain of Old Shame

Why is it that old shame so often awakens in our mind?

Why is it that old shame so often awakens in our mind?

We have all experienced, like a punch to the gut, old feelings of shame for things that happened long ago. Everybody, or course, has committed past blunders or acts of negligence, cowardice, or foolishness. A lot of people hold on to these memories, and they continue to be inundated with waves of regret, embarrassment, and shame.

Even when people try to forgive themselves for old missteps, the memories can persist. Why would we continue to be haunted by such memories from the past? They only bring up—right in the present moment—a fresh new experience of the original shame or humiliation.

The answer to this question affords us an opportunity to see exactly how, in our unconscious mind, we produce much of our emotional suffering.

Jeremy, a client of mine, was lying awake in bed in the middle of the night. A recurring memory from 40 years ago crept into his mind. At that time he was almost fired after making a foolish judgment that cast himself and his company in a bad light. The memory seemed to hover over him like an ancient curse, and once again he found himself reliving the original shame.

“What’s this all about?” Jeremy now asked himself. “This event is ancient history. Why am I tormenting myself right now?” [Read more…]

Emerging from Shyness

Inner fears left over from childhood are the main cause of shyness.

Inner fears left over from childhood are the main cause of shyness.

Shyness is a remarkably common affliction. Experts believe the incidence of shyness in the United States is close to 50 percent—and rising.

Most shy individuals are not experiencing the problem at the acute level in which it becomes a social anxiety disorder. Yet even “gentle shyness” can be painful since it derives from the fear of social disapproval and humiliation.

It’s important to distinguish between shy people and introverts. Some introverts are shy, of course, but shyness is inherently painful while introversion is usually not. Shyness is rooted in fear, while introversion is largely derived from one’s preference for quieter, more solitary situations and experiences.

It’s also important to distinguish shyness from sensory processing disorder. People with this disorder experience varied unpleasant sensations due to how they process input from their own body and the environment. For this reason, they often avoid social situations—for instance, noisy parties and restaurants with strong smells—and can be seen as shy.

Shy people process social encounters through inner fear. Because of inner conflict involving unresolved issues from childhood—especially conflict that triggers inner fear—they’re inclined to see the people they encounter as being indifferent to them, disappointed in them, critical of them, or hostile toward them. [Read more…]

An Unconscious Factor in PTSD

Some detective work is involved in uncovering this unconscious factor.

Some detective work is involved in uncovering this unconscious factor.

I believe a psychological factor in post-traumatic stress disorder is being overlooked, one that might be a key to treating the painful, debilitating condition. Current treatments involving therapies and medications are not particularly effective, and the disorder is still not well understood.

This psychological factor operates unconsciously, and some detective work is involved here in uncovering it. The clues are found in the symptoms. The symptoms of acute, chronic, and delayed-onset PTSD are many. They arise following perilous experiences in which individuals felt intense fear, horror, or helplessness.

PTSD develops in some individuals following experiences of bullying, domestic violence, gun violence, sexual abuse, animal attack, and living in dangerous neighborhoods. PTSD has affected more than 15 percent of U.S. soldiers deployed since 9/11. The percentage of Vietnam War veterans affected by PTSD is double that number.

The symptoms involve the onset of troublesome emotions and behaviors. These include nightmares, flashbacks, rage, and addictions, as well as difficulty in suppressing disturbing thoughts and feelings, along with intense guilt for failing (or allegedly failing) to act appropriately or for committing harm to others.

As an overall effect, one’s old familiar sense of self—one’s psychological constitution—has been shattered. The stricken individual has no idea how to restore or reclaim that former self. [Read more…]

When in Doubt about Sexual Orientation

Unconscious conflict can block one's clarity on this issue.

Unconscious conflict can block one’s clarity on this issue.

A lot of young people are filled with doubt as to whether or not they’re gay. They focus on the question of their sexual orientation, but often this focus is misplaced. Often they’re entangled in unresolved self-doubt or self-alienation, and the question of their sexual orientation is just a “playing field” on which their issues of guilt, confusion, and indecision are acted out.

Many people, of course, have no doubt about their orientation and are perfectly happy with it. But others are highly ambivalent and often tormented. To minimize emotional distress, they’re better off making the right choice—whether they’re straight, gay, or lesbian—as soon as possible. But unconscious conflict involving self-doubt and self-alienation can block them from acquiring that certainty.

I received a lengthy email from a 21-year-old man who described many of the behavioral and emotional difficulties he had been experiencing, including anxiety, depression, guilt, and shame, as well as “a pretty bad masturbating routine, sometimes doing it four times a day.” He wrote in part: [Read more…]

Why Students Fail to Learn

Students can learn more easily when they unblock emotional issues.

Students can learn more easily when they unblock emotional issues.

Wouldn’t it be regrettable if an important new approach to learning didn’t include an understanding of the epidemic-level barriers to learning itself?

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has become involved in a program called the Big History Project, which has introduced a new approach to teaching history in hundreds of American high schools. This new approach establishes cognitive connections across varied subjects—from cosmology to archeology to globalization—so that students can acquire, as the program’s developer David Christian says, a “much better sense of the underlying unity of modern knowledge.”

The program challenges students to “synthesize complex information.” The aim is to enhance mental prowess of students and help them to appreciate more fully the interdependence of all life.

This is awesome! Seeing the world with more insight is vitally important. Perhaps the Big History Project can also inspire students to see themselves as well as the world more objectively. I hope the program’s developers incorporate depth psychology into the curriculum. Why? Because the subject exposes the roots of an extremely important concern of educational experts, namely the reasons why many children and adults are such poor students or learners. [Read more…]

How to Enhance Your Verbal Skill

The solution involves bringing our weak side into sharper focus.

The solution involves bringing our weak side into sharper focus.

You probably remember occasions when you had difficulty saying what you wanted to say or expressing what was on your mind. Some people become tongue-tied on a daily basis. Even when they do manage to speak, they can feel their communication is incomplete or is somehow jumbled and inarticulate. People frequently have to rehearse the words in their mind before they speak, and then the communication doesn’t sound genuine or authentic.

It’s bad enough that this lack of verbal skill reduces the pleasures of social and workplace encounters, but it’s also frequently accompanied by painful experiences of embarrassment, regret, and shame.

One person with this difficulty commented: “I always feel that I want to say more and don’t find the right words and feel confused whether to say it or not. Now, at work, sometimes I feel I might have something useful to say in a certain situation, but the moment passes and it’s too late.” [Read more…]

Be Brave when Truth Comes Knocking

The best truths are revelations concerning human nature.

The best truths are revelations concerning human nature.

Dare I presume, like a guru on a mountain ledge, to speak about truth? It’s such an enchanting topic, one I can’t resist babbling on about. Still, I’m mindful (if not observant) of Lao Tzu’s words: “He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know.”

I was reassured about tackling this topic when a man, dressed in a monk’s brown robes and accompanying a child, showed up at my front door on Halloween night. Kiddingly, I asked him, “Are you the mad Rasputin?” He replied, “No, I’m Truth. And that scares everyone.”

Certainly, gentle John Keats wasn’t trying to scare us when he broached the subject of truth, producing a masterstroke: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — That is all / Ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.” I’ll try to say in 1,200 words what Keats said in eighteen.

Most of us claim to care about truth, and the pursuit of it ennobles us. Over the centuries we’ve established a nodding acquaintance with many noble truths. The best of these are revelations concerning human nature. They tell us why, for instance, we often doubt, distrust, and dislike ourselves and each other. Great truth reveals the beauty of our being and the truth of our essential value. Paradoxically, great truth often displays an ugly face, a blurred selfie of human nature that shocks our naïve self-image. Even when ugly, a truth that champions reality possesses raw beauty of its own. [Read more…]

What Warps the Mind of Domestic Terrorists?

Depth psychology exposes the terrorist mentality.

Depth psychology understands and exposes the terrorist mentality.

As we’re now seeing, a scattering of men and women in the West are being radicalized with a terrorist mentality that, like the Ebola virus, can be spread with devastating effects.

Like the germ of an idea, the terrorist mentality grows in the emotional and mental life of certain individuals until they’re prepared to turn murderously against their own countrymen. These individuals are typically more conflicted than their peers, and they have weaker psychological immunity to toxic and deadly irrationality.

The lone gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who this month murdered a soldier and stormed Canada’s Parliament before being shot and killed, was described by an acquaintance of his: “His viewpoint was bizarre. The guy was not deranged. He was articulate. He was intelligent. His rationale was warped.”

What inner process warps the mind? While usually intelligent, fledgling terrorists are typically steeped in self-alienation. Studies indicate that these individuals, even before they become recruits to terrorism, have more psychological and emotional difficulties than the general population.

In particular, the children of Islamic immigrants to Western nations can feel helplessly torn between two clashing cultures. Many of them would have identified with immigrant parents who struggled to fit in to a Western way of life distinctly different from that of their birthplace. Now they feel disconnected, insignificant, powerless, unappreciated, and unworthy. [Read more…]

Greed as a Mental-Health Disorder

Greed can be traced to conflict in the unconscious mind.

Greed can be traced to unresolved conflict in the unconscious mind.

During a recent discussion of narcissism on the TV program “The View,” Rosie O’Donnell was told that the condition is “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of self and their own importance and a deep need for admiration.” She replied, “That’s every celebrity I know, including me!”

That’s great candor from an entertaining lady. We might practice candor, too, by expanding our understanding of mental disorders to include the problem of greed. Both narcissism and greed produce personal and national self-sabotage.

Greed is a factor in the well-documented growing concentration of wealth in the United States. The super-rich claim to be deserving of their wealth, but it’s likely that greed—not wisdom, common sense, or concern about the common good—was a factor in the creation over the past decades of a “financialized” economy that unduly tilts the playing field in favor of those with the most capital to speculate.

Yet people don’t have to be rich to have the disorder; greed about money is all it takes. As a psychiatric diagnosis, it could be called the Great Gatsby Syndrome or, better yet, Wealth Accumulation Disorder.

Both narcissism and greed have their roots in profound self-doubt. Narcissism is self-aggrandizement of the emotional kind, while greed is self-aggrandizement of the materialistic kind. Narcissism (when it occurs as pervasive grandiosity) is listed as a mental disorder in psychiatry’s diagnostic manual. Why not greed? [Read more…]

The Core of Being

What do we need to know to access our core?

What we need to know to find our core.

We obviously become happier and more peaceful as we grow in wisdom and moral sensibility. How is the educational system helping people to do this? Some of the smartest educators say that they don’t know how to do it, even as a growing percentage of students show signs of deteriorating mental health.

The self-knowledge of depth psychology is our best insurance against self-sabotaging conduct that threatens our personal aspirations and degrades the quality of human life. Yet the most prestigious educational institutions in the United States have no particular training or learning processes in place to facilitate such evolvement.

William Deresiewicz, a Yale professor from 1998 to 2008, is quoted in an article in The New Republic saying that, “Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.”

Deresiewicz has published a new book, Excellent Sheep: The Misdirection of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, in which he argues that elite colleges, along with private and affluent high schools, have come under the influence of a commercial and technologically accentuated ethos that cultivates narcissism and personal aggrandizement. [Read more…]