When Eyes Are Blinders of the Soul

Our eyes can easily go looking for things that make us upset, angry, or dissatisfied.

One way to diminish our suffering is to become conscious of when our eyes go looking for something that upsets us. Another way is to be watchful of what our imagination is up to.

Just as sponges can soak up dirty water as easily as clean water, our eyes can also take in impressions from the world around us that leak misery into our soul. We like to think we use our visual faculty in pursuit of pleasure, but we also use it to entertain old hurts, grievances, and longings. Our eyes go looking for pleasure and stimulation—but also needlessly for ways to suffer.

Groucho Marx famously asked, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” The drollery is delightful, yet our eyes are suspect nonetheless. Our eyes, along with our imagination, quite readily go searching for things to worry and brood about. Through our eyes and imagination, we can be tempted to look for sights or impressions that stir up within us negative emotions relating to deprivation, refusal, helplessness, rejection, and unworthiness.

The writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.” He meant, of course, that we’re emotionally blocked from seeing objectively. [Read more...]

How Deeper Insight Relieves Stress

It's important to understand the sources of stress in our psyche.

As I sit at my desk writing about stress, I can feel some tension stirring in my body. Outside my home office where I write, construction workers are noisily building a new house. Work will go on next door for a few more months. No doubt I’ll feel the nuisance of the noise at times, but I don’t really expect to feel much tension or stress. For one thing, stress is largely related to unresolved negative emotions—and I’m happy to see this lovely new house being built. Moreover, if the noise gets too loud I can head off to the nearby town library and park myself in one of its secluded corners.

Stress is synonymous with suffering. It’s on a par with tension and anxiety. We experience stress when we add the tonnage of our unresolved emotional issues on to the back of normal everyday challenges.

Yet people are generally determined to ignore the inner causes of stress. They want to blame stress on external factors. In its latest annual survey on stress in America, the American Psychological Association says that money, work, and the economy continue to be the most frequently cited causes of stress. [Read more...]

When Money Enriches Our Suffering

Money is a counterfeit coin for measuring our value.

Money is important—it’s the grease in the economic machine. Some of us, though, get that grease all over our clothes, hair, and skin. When our body is overlaid with it, and every pore sealed up, the smear of cold cash turns our humanity blue.

Money can be greasy to the touch, whether we have a lot of it or a little. A shortage of it provides us with the opportunity to feel deprived, refused, helpless, abandoned, unworthy and unloved. A big stash of it enables us to feel smug, intolerant, greedy, and fearful of losing it. We can use money to feel elation and to know despair. Like sex, romance, and food, it offers us a smorgasbord of positive and negative emotions.

How do plain old dollar bills get so entangled in our emotional life? All of us have unresolved conflicts in our psyche that produce emotional and behavioral difficulties, including self-doubt. This sense that we’re lacking in value is a widespread human weakness. For many of us, it’s part of our identity. Sometimes it’s just a vague, uncertain sense of uneasiness. Giving up (or letting go of) this self-doubt can be difficult, even when we know we’re good people trying our best to do what’s right. [Read more...]

The Common Ingredient in Human Misery

Inner passivity determines, in varying degrees, our happiness and vitality.

What do binging, hypochondria, and hoarding have in common? On the surface they appear to be unrelated. Yet all three of these behaviors have the same source in our psyche.

That source—inner passivity—is an unconscious sense of identity situated in our psyche that determines, in varying degrees, our happiness and vitality. I make the case in many of the posts at this website that inner passivity contributes to a wide range of dysfunction, including depression, addictions, compulsions, phobias, cynicism, obesity, procrastination, anxiety disorders, criminal behaviors, and so on. Now I’m adding the three above-mentioned symptoms to the list.

Before I get into that discussion, some background is helpful. As I’ve been saying, the clash in our psyche between inner aggression and inner passivity is a main cause of our unhappiness and suffering. This claim is based on clinical findings from classical psychoanalysis that have been ignored by modern practitioners.

Fortunately, one side of this clash between inner aggression and inner passivity does get some recognition from mainstream psychology. [Read more...]