Overcoming Incompetence and Its Miseries

The reward is less suffering

One way to be happy (or happier) is to operate in the workplace at a higher level of competence and effectiveness. Performing at our best is a great source of pleasure. Performing at our worst is, well, just ask Dilbert.

The comic strip featuring that forlorn character and his experiences of workplace incompetence is said to be the most photocopied, downloaded, faxed, and emailed in the world. Obviously, people are well aware of the pervasiveness of the problem. At least the comic strip’s ridicule of such incompetence blunts the misery a bit.

Incompetence involves, as one writer put it, “a positive genius for selecting the wrong approach to a given problem.” Yet being incompetent or acting stupidly are not inborn tendencies or weaknesses. We humans are plenty smart enough. The problem stems from unresolved psychological conflicts that limit and impair our creativity and intelligence.

These conflicts soak up a lot of our mental processing. The processing is used counter-productively to generate rationalizations, denials, and other defenses. It’s ironic, but through unconscious, self-defeating processes we are quite efficient at producing inefficiency. Dilbert would love it! [Read more…]

Three Great Truths from Psychology

Psychology needs a consensus on its basic principles to illuminate the truth

Psychologists are failing to identify and teach the essential truths of psychology, the basics that help us to minimize emotional suffering. Experts on the subject of the mind can’t make up their minds about their profession’s most important knowledge. They are too invested emotionally in their own pet theories as they battle one another on the field of competing ideas.

Of course, our mind can’t be expected to produce or assimilate absolute truth about the human condition. We usually settle for practical truth, which is the best approximation of reality that our experience, intelligence, and soul-searching identify from among competing ideas. Ideally, learned experts would have produced by now a consensus of the best psychological knowledge. Yet consensus has not occurred in the field of psychology. Scholars, academics, and researchers are blinded by the radiance of their own ideas, while essential truths float by invisible to the people.

Three discoveries by Sigmund Freud deserve to be identified as essential facts or practical truths. These discoveries revealed the existence in our psyche of the dynamics of transference, projection, and identification. In psychological circles, these dynamics or processes are identified only as psychoanalytic concepts. Yet millions of people suffer unnecessarily because they are ignorant of these inner processes. The knowledge needs to be well taught in our schools so it can begin to benefit individuals and society. [Read more…]

The Hidden Cause of Clinical Depression

Psychological insight fends off depression

Crippling confusion governs our treatment approach to the mental-health epidemic of clinical depression. Typically, sufferers who ask what causes their depression are told it’s a mysterious and complex brain disorder.

This answer does a grave disservice to millions of suffering Americans. So-called experts have dragged depression sufferers into a limbo of ignorance, dependency, and escalating misery. Meanwhile, with no cure in sight, the percentage of Americans taking anti-depressants has grown by 400 percent in the last 23 years.

Many factors can contribute to depression, including social circumstances, environment, diet, exercise, genetics, and seasonal weather effects. The problem is that a major cause of depression—the inner conflict described below—is almost completely overlooked by the prevailing medical-model treatment approaches. Wikipedia has an 18,000-word entry under “Major depressive disorder” (clinical depression), and only about one percent of that content (180 words) approaches the psychological heart of the problem—and even that is couched in vague terminology.

Through depth psychology, we learn that our psyche is a battleground between inner aggression (as represented by the inner critic or superego) and inner passivity (as represented by our self-doubt and subordinate ego). Much of our thoughts and feelings, whether conscious or unconscious, are reflective of one or the other of the points of view of these opposing factions in our psyche. [Read more…]

Terrorism and the Death Drive

Understanding the terrorist's psyche

The front page of today’s The New York Times has a photo of the aftermath of a suicide bomber’s horrific attack on a group of Afghan Shiites who were taking part in a religious ceremony. Human perversity sometimes seems unfathomable, but we must keep trying to make sense of it.

Terrorists provide clear evidence for one of Sigmund Freud’s theories. Freud was right about a lot of things for which people have been reluctant to give him credit. He insisted that the human psyche harbors a death drive, a self-destructive instinct and unconscious desire to embrace death.

Freud put forward the idea after observing the horrors of World War I. He wanted to explain the human compulsion to engage in personal or collective acts of self-destruction that produced such suffering. The death drive, he explained, can often override the pleasure principle, the instinct or drive for pleasure, progress, and harmony.

While terrorists are overtly entranced by death, the impulse toward self-destruction operates more subtly in many of us. Daredevils and people who engage in dangerous sports or reckless driving are driven by the thrill of flirting with death. Reckless behaviors of other sorts—involving finances, relationships, violence, and alcohol and drug addictions—can also indicate a flirtation with our own demise.

For now, let’s stick to the psychology of Islamic terrorists. (Domestic or home-grown terrorists will be considered in a separate post.) What are some ingredients of their painful death drive? What produces this instinct, drive, or impulse in the psyche of these fiendish individuals? [Read more…]

Welcome Aboard the Voyage of Self-Discovery

Embarking on the voyage of self-discovery

Centuries ago, explorers launched the Age of Discovery. Now it’s time to launch the Age of Self-Discovery. Our vessel is in need of favorable winds. Storm clouds of worldwide calamity are gathering on the horizon.

Global warming and nuclear weapons proliferation are two thunderheads of approaching destruction. Humanity’s response to these dangers has amounted to “the social psychosis of denial,” as one social reformer calls it. Psychologists have other names—learned helplessness, normalcy bias, and motivated blindness—for our tendency to deny approaching or existing danger.

We are likely to deny reality to the degree that we are in denial of important aspects of our human nature. As David Brooks of The New York Times puts it: “. . . the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.”

If we deny our own nature, how can we expect to save Nature? If we don’t care to know ourselves, we won’t care enough about saving our planet.

If we stop denying our nature, what will we discover about ourselves? Depth psychology contends that inner aggression and inner passivity are two dominant influences in our psyche that shape our personality and perceptions. I believe that our better nature, our courageous self, is entangled in the conflict between inner aggression (the superego or inner critic) and inner passivity (the unconscious or subordinate ego). We haven’t broken out of social psychosis because our humanity is trapped in this inner conflict. [Read more…]