A Plague of Neurosis Upon Our House

We make our politics a script for the national staging of personal dysfunction.

People are in psychological crisis, and masses of us, steeped in the anxiety of helplessness and futility, are feeling marginalized and victimized. Making it worse, we take our pain out on each other.

Around the world the complexity of modern life contributes to personal distress, as does the effect on us of misguided leaders and anti-democratic forces in government and corporations. Yet our psyche, like a Model-T Ford sputtering along a superhighway, remains our primary weak spot.

Psychologically, we operate according to old-fashioned principles. We’re quick to blame others for allegedly causing our pain. We want to attribute our neurotic suffering to the stupid beliefs and rotten behavior of others. The more we blame the other, though, the more we dislike or hate the other and the less clearly we see the essentials of our predicament. We also suffer more acutely from our own unresolved negative emotions.

America, the world’s best hope for rousing leadership, finds its political process mired in an uncivil war. Americans are making their politics a script for the national staging of personal dysfunction. Behind this conflict, clamoring in the bedlam of our neurosis, swarm the demons of our dark side. [Read more...]

The Origins of Feeling Overwhelmed

An unresolved negative emotion can produce the feeling of being overwhelmed.

One sufferer described the misery of feeling overwhelmed this way: “Has anyone seen my brain? It ran off this morning flailing and screaming about being overwhelmed. I’d really like it back.”

As the comment suggests, the feeling of being overwhelmed can be agonizing. Paradoxically, though, the feeling is sometimes delightfully associated with love or with wonder, as when astronomer Carl Sagan contemplated “the overwhelming immensity” of the sky. For this post, however, I’m writing about the feeling as a disagreeable, painful experience. We can ease this form of suffering when we expose the source of the feeling in our psyche.

The feeling is widespread in modern life. Another person described a common rendering of the experience: “I constantly feel overwhelmed—busy, busy, busy! I ask myself, ‘How can I possibly get this all done?’ I’m living on the edge of chaos, and I tell myself, ‘This is crazy, insane!’ I go to bed, get up in the morning, and it starts all over again.” He later admitted, “Every day I load myself up with too many tasks and too much work, so I know I contribute to the problem.”

Feeling overwhelmed can sometimes be a normal reaction to very difficult circumstances, as in the plight of some single parents or the predicament of underemployed people struggling to pay bills. Still, our psychological issues can make challenging circumstances more difficult and painful than they have to be. [Read more...]

Teach Your Children Well

Better education teaches self-knowledge.

America’s future is at risk if schools do not improve, says a recently published report by the Council on Foreign Relations, a research and policy organization. This warning, in my opinion, can be rendered more precisely to include the dangers to the nation and the world if psychological education does not improve.

Superior education teaches self-knowledge. Such teaching penetrates into the psyche or unconscious mind, making conscious what has previously been unconscious. This self-knowledge is needed to break through the thick clouds of unknowing and self-doubt that trouble so many children. It’s what we all need to navigate through complex, perilous times.

Higher learning is fundamentally developmental, write Richard P. Keeling and Richard H. Hersh in We’re Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education (Palgrave Macmillan, New York. 2011). Such learning, say the authors, “inspires, reinforces, and reflects the growth and maturation of the learner as a whole human being.” This learning is not limited to the acquisition of new information. Rather, “it is centered in the potential for change in the learner as a result of engagement with new knowledge and experiences.”

Keeling and Hersh are writing about education at the college and university levels. Yet children at elementary levels can also experience learning as a transformative process. That will certainly be true if they are taught the basics of how emotional suffering and self-sabotage are created and held in place in our psyche. [Read more...]

Why We’re Quick to “Go Negative”

There’s a reason we’re so easily “ticked off.”

Comedian Bill Maher wrote an amusing article in The New York Times recently, asking, “When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like?”

In the article, Maher makes the point that we’ve become too easily offended and too quick to be outraged over nothing. It’s as if we’re eager to take everything personally.

Well, guess what? Unconsciously, we are indeed eager to take things personally. We jump at the chance to feel insulted, disrespected, or disgusted by what others say, even though their words may be only mildly inappropriate, or even just candid, and have nothing directly to do with us.

Why would we want to feel that aggravation? Obviously, we’re the ones who suffer with tension and stress if we get “ticked off” this way. Once triggered, we’re stuck with a negative feeling that can last for days. [Read more...]

8 Ways We Sabotage Physical Health

This post was written by my late wife, Sandra Michaelson, a psychotherapist and author. Her digital and paperback books on relationships and codependency are available at this website.

Our emotions influence health.

Many studies have shown that stress can cause disease and that suppressed anger or fear can make us sick. Negative thoughts and emotions depress us and affect our immune system.

So pain and illness can be seen as a manifestation of an embedded emotional conflict. We can use illness either to mobilize us for further psychological growth and enhanced physical health or to mire us more deeply in disease and a victim position.

Health problems often are an indication of a needed change in how we feel about ourselves and our lives. Illness can be a physical representation of forces in all of us that oppose our wholeness, victimize us, stop our progress, and render us powerless.

For example, the genital disease herpes can be a manifestation of a part of us that’s entrenched in feeling defective, contaminated, unwanted, unlovable, and rejected. This disease often represents an expression of unconscious sexual conflicts and feelings of shame and self-rejection pertaining to our sexual conduct and our sexual identity. [Read more...]