The Bittersweet Allure of Feeling Unloved

The evidence suggests that we unconsciously indulge in feeling unloved.

Though it’s mostly unconscious, many people have a strange affinity for feeling rejected, abandoned, and unloved. Yes, this idea flies in the face of common sense. Who would want to bear the pain of feeling unloved any more than what life might force upon us?

Our psyche is an inner realm that, like the outer cosmos, doesn’t always adhere to the etiquette of common sense. If we’re willing to investigate all the nooks and crannies of our psyche, we come across some startling truths that defy common sense.

Our affinity for feeling unloved is one of these truths. Feeling unloved is familiar to many of us. We can easily get used to that feeling. Sometimes it even defines us. We won’t know ourselves or recognize ourselves without this old hurt. We can easily identify with ourselves as victims of rejection and other forms of cruelty or unfairness inflicted upon us.

In fact, there is evidence that we can even begin to indulge in these negative feelings. Sometimes the feeling arises in the familiarity of bittersweet self-pity. We can’t climb out of the pits of “poor little me.” It’s as if we’re determined to be loyal to our suffering self or don’t know any other way of being. We drag ourselves down into unhappiness, depression, and ill health when we cling to this false (yet emotionally powerful) impression of who we are. [Read more…]

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How Inner Fear Becomes Our Worst Nightmare

Our inner fear is dangerous because we project it outward into the world

Diminishing our fear is vitally important because fear can cause enormous suffering. It might also have the potential to destroy humanity.

The nuclear arms race is, in part, propelled by the fear that we will be attacked and destroyed by our enemies if we do not invest substantial amounts of our wealth in national security. We haven’t understood clearly enough that much of our fear is inner fear, which is a symptom of unresolved inner conflicts.

Inner fear is projected outward, causing us to “see” dangers in the world that we believe validate our fear. People are typically resistant to doing the inner work that eliminates such fear. Hence, their unresolved issues require them to see or create enemies (or imagine dangerous, overwhelming situations) in order to account for their fear.

It’s true, of course, that bad people exist in the world and we need to protect ourselves from them. But we must not do so in a self-defeating manner. Through psychological dynamics, we can contribute to the undesirable outcomes that we fear the most. Fearful people unwittingly create the circumstances through which their fears become more real. For instance, the technology that we pour into our advanced weapons systems spreads throughout the world for others to use against us. At some point, the danger becomes overwhelming. [Read more…]

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The Problem with Positive Psychology

We won't be authentic if we fail to penetrate into our unconscious mind

Most everyone is looking for happiness. The shopping malls of the self-help industry feature thousands of different methods, beliefs, and practices for finding it. Many of these approaches are of limited value, and we do ourselves a big favor by avoiding them.

According to Martin E.P. Seligman, founder of positive psychology, people who apply his method “are the people with the highest well-being I have ever known.” Seligman’s approach encourages us to apply determination and grit in order to increase our positive emotions and relationships. We flourish, he claims, when we focus on engagement, accomplishment, and a sense of meaning. His latest book is titled, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Free Press, New York, 2011).

Seligman’s approach can produce a temporary boost of happiness, or an illusion of it, but it doesn’t deepen our spirit, soul, or psyche. It risks turning us into smiley-faced puppet people instead of real and authentic individuals who are evolving through deeper awareness. Positive psychology advocates a kind of willpower-on-steroids programming that insists we can feel fulfilled and happy by believing we are making it happen. This system does not appreciate how, through unconscious conflict in our psyche, we compulsively replay and recreate unresolved negative emotions. [Read more…]

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Respect, Disrespect, and Self-Respect

When we possess true self-respect, no one can make us feel disrespected

A client of mine, Jill, complained that she was feeling disrespected by her husband, Jack. Indeed, he often mocked her and spoke to her sarcastically. He also had difficulty expressing his affection and appreciation for her. He had been raised in a family whose members had been notoriously disrespectful to one another.

To improve their marriage, Jack has to do his part to become a more considerate person. But Jill has an issue here, as well. She could easily feel disrespected. She too had been raised in a family where the parents had been lacking in their respect for their children. In addition, her siblings had often been mean and mocking toward one another.

There would be no point in either of them blaming parents or siblings for their current difficulties. With insight, Jack and Jill can live happily together. [Read more…]

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Neither a Procrastinator Nor a Dawdler Be

Procrastination produces both emotional anguish and self-damaging inactionProcrastination is such a maddening trait that literary scribes have bestowed upon it an abundance of witty attention. William Shakespeare weighed in more than once, as in Henry VI, “Defer no time; delays have dangerous ends.” Here’s a list of 180 procrastination quotes, but reading them might be, well, to dawdle.

Procrastination produces both emotional anguish and self-damaging inaction. Interestingly, the main culprit in procrastination is largely unrecognized. Depth psychology, however, can penetrate our psyche to expose this culprit.

Before identifying the problem, here’s some background. We harbor in our psyche what psychoanalysis calls the unconscious ego. As the term obviously indicates, this part of our ego is unconscious. We also have a conscious ego that is plenty troublesome. This conscious ego is a pale shadow of our authentic self, and it tends to be thin-skinned and ridiculously petty. But our unconscious ego is even more of a nuisance. Its main effect is to render us passive, so that in certain situations we can quickly feel overwhelmed, helpless, confused, indecisive, and apathetic. Procrastination arises as a behavioral consequence of these negative emotions.

Our challenge is to become more conscious of this part of our psyche. We can start by giving it a name: inner passivity. In our psyche, the primary conflict is between inner aggression (as represented by our inner critic or superego) and inner passivity (as represented by our unconscious ego). These two conflicting aspects of our psyche are always butting heads, frequently producing inner voices or feelings that we repeat in our mind as if the words or feelings are our own. [Read more…]

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Prose to Shatter Writer’s Block

A lifeless imagination withers the spirit.

There’s nothing more painful than having writing talent—yet being blocked from expressing it. A lifeless imagination withers the spirit of the aspiring scribe. The problem is called writer’s block.

Writer’s block and other creativity blocks are symptoms or consequences of one or more unresolved psychological issues. Such issues hinder many varieties of self-expression and satisfying achievement, whether in the arts, sciences, mass media, or other endeavors.

The challenge is (1) to solve the mystery of whatever is blocking you, and (2) to have the will to move forward against the resistance you will feel in working through the issue or issues.

In the case of literary fiction, writers produce their content by way of their intelligence, knowledge, and unconscious mind. Often the richest and most original content emerges from the unconscious mind. The flow and quality of this content is influenced by the writer’s shifting psychological dynamics. The work of art itself becomes, in part, a dramatization of the writer’s unresolved inner conflict (or neurotic difficulty). In other words, the writer’s creative powers are somewhat at the mercy of unconscious defenses and counter-defenses. The writer is trying to settle an inner conflict, and the quality of the book hangs in the balance. [Read more…]

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Stop Smoking through Psychological Insight

Insight can crush the craving

I started smoking cigarettes when I was 17 years old. Luckily, I stopped within six years. I had become one of the “nicotine slaves” Willie Nelson sings about in his anti-smoking song, “Smoke Smoke Smoke that Cigarette,” who at the Golden Gate make St. Peter wait while they puff another cigarette.

I know now that smoking is a psychological addiction as much as a physical one. I started because I thought it was cool and would give me status among my peers. So low self-esteem—a psychological issue—got me started. We can also have psychological reasons why we can’t stop.

Deep psychological insight reveals a fascinating aspect of the smoking problem.  The nicotine in cigarettes does indeed create a strong physical addiction, yet a psychological addiction coexists along with the physical one. Insight into this psychological component can also help people to stop drinking, smoking marijuana, and taking hard drugs.

Smokers often appear to enjoy their addiction, and many of them claim the activity gives them considerable satisfaction But the satisfaction is somewhat of an illusion. What possible satisfaction is available from engaging in an activity that typically produces less pleasure as the risks and symptoms of ill health increase?  The satisfaction is at best second-rate if not third-rate. [Read more…]

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The Secret Allures of Pornography

An addiction to pornography produces guilt, shame, and other suffering

Lots of people, men in particular, are addicted to pornography. They are sexually aroused by the visual stimulation, and they return compulsively to the activity, looking for that pleasure. However, it’s often a pleasure that comes with a price. Many feel shame after feasting on the stimulation. They might also feel guilt if they have a partner who is being kept in the dark about it. They can also feel bad about themselves because they can’t stop the voyeuristic activity.

Pornography has dimensions to it of the impersonal, mechanical, tawdry, and boring. So how does a person become addicted to such voyeurism?

Several hidden psychological components are at play. When the consumption of pornography is addictive, it means the individual is acting out his inner passivity. He doesn’t have the power to act consistently in his best interests. This is the same inner weakness that leads one to be indecisive, to procrastinate, and to feel overwhelmed. This individual replays an unresolved emotional issue that involves the feeling of not being in charge of his or her own life. Such individuals frequently find themselves in fixes in which they are lacking in self-regulation, as with compulsive gamblers and those with obsessive-compulsive disorders.

All of us can suffer with guilt, confusion, worry, and anxiety whenever we are losing what may be life’s greatest struggle: to maintain self-regulation of behaviors and emotions. [Read more…]

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How Deeper Awareness Can Eliminate Shame

Shame is largely a mystery to those people who suffer from the painful affliction. It’s even a mystery to psychological experts who struggle to define it. However, we can get clarity and understanding about it when we go deep into our psyche.

Better yet, with deep awareness we can completely eliminate shame and its accompanying suffering.

Let’s first discuss the surface aspects of this negative emotion. Shame is more than just the awful feeling that one has done something wrong. With shame, a person often feels that he or she is a phony, fake, or imposter. Sometimes the person feels like a complete loser or utter failure as a human being.

We can be entirely innocent of wrong-doing, yet still feel shame. Examples include feeling shame in association with sexual functions or deficiencies, elimination processes, social ineptness, impressions of being looked down on by others, and allegedly being ugly or clumsy. Hence, we often feel shame for emotional, irrational reasons.

Shame is also frequently associated with one’s behaviors or actions. Drug addicts, alcoholics, and compulsive gamblers can feel great shame in the aftermath of their self-defeating behaviors. So can individuals who lack self-regulation with food, shopping, video games, pornography, or other compulsive activities. Shame can certainly be an appropriate emotion when someone does something truly disgusting or perverse. [Read more…]

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