When You Feel Bad About Yourself

Why do we carry feelings of being inherently wrong or bad?

One common form of suffering involves the feeling of shriveling up inside from allegedly being bad, unworthy, flawed, and defective. Such people can go through life anticipating being seen by others in a negative light. They expect that they might, at any moment, be exposed as a fake or a phony.

Some of us feel this nauseating sense of self every day, and others only occasionally. The disagreeable feeling is often a lingering shame associated with one’s fear that some embarrassing fact about us will become public knowledge or that we’ll appear foolish or inept in a public situation.

We can be convinced mentally and emotionally that this pain, which originates in our psyche, signifies some wretched, hidden flaw or loathsome defect at the core of our existence. Hence, we might be unable to establish friendships and intimate relationships because we don’t feel worthy of being admired and loved. As Groucho Marx put it, “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”

Often, we have no inkling where the bad feelings come from. Our parents might have treated us with kindness and respect. We might also know—mentally at least—that we’re honorable and good. Still, we’re hurting at the core of our being and can’t figure out why. [Read more…]

Cultivating a Life of Disappointment

Disappointment is up!

Strange but true, many of us actively cultivate a life of disappointment, meaning we unconsciously look for ways to feel disenchanted, disheartened, and dissatisfied. Whoever would have thought that we humans, so sensible and smart according to conventional wisdom, would be harboring such a self-defeating proclivity?

Well, we’re full of mischief, for sure. But some of our antics, including our flirtations with disappointment, can leave us bruised and bloody. When we expose our misadventures in our unconscious mind, we won’t so easily succumb to emotional temptations that degrade the quality of our daily life.

There are so many little ways to feel disappointed. I had a client who always counted the money leftover in his wallet just after he had bought something. When I told him that behavior meant he was looking for the feeling of disappointment, he objected to the idea at first. But as he thought more about it in the weeks that followed, he said, “It’s true. I can sense it—it’s subtle, but I almost always have a sense that the money that’s left in my wallet will be less than I’m hoping.” [Read more…]

Lost in the Fog of Inner Passivity

Inner passivity causes us to feel overwhelmed by events and to experience self-doubt.

All of us have in our psyche an aspect or feature that goes by the name of inner passivity. This hindrance to our creativity, self-fulfillment, and humanity may be the most difficult thing for us to see and understand about ourselves.

Inner passivity produces a wide range of reactions to situations and events, including the tendency to go through the motions of daily life taking everything for granted and feeling that our options are limited. This negative influence on our state of mind is a huge problem for many of us. It can block us from creating a sense of direction for our life and prevent us from achieving fulfillment and happiness.

When inner passivity contaminates our psyche, we can, among other symptoms, feel overwhelmed by events and situations, experience acute self-doubt or become reactive in the face of authority, interpret neutral situations as confrontation or conflict, and find that our attempts at logical or rational thinking churn unproductively in loops and circles. We’re easily lost in the fog of inner passivity, to the point where we don’t even see the fog.

This condition had me in its clutches forty years ago when, as a journalist, I was unable to consolidate my intelligence and imagination to see how I could grow and flourish in my work. I couldn’t produce a vision of accomplishment and success. [Read more…]

The Private Joke behind Our Laughter

Humor is often produced in our psyche by the conflict between self-aggression and inner passivity.

Insight is a good thing, and insight into where our laughter comes from not only can spare us a lot of misery but is worth a laugh in itself. Still, as one witty writer said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” Despite the risk, I’m putting humor and laughter on the dissecting table. I love humor as much as any cutup, and obviously I have no wish to fracture its funny-bone or to see it croak.

Humor, bless its existence, is often a byproduct of the clash in our psyche between inner aggression and inner passivity. The voice or “intelligence” of inner passivity (our unconscious ego) often produces humor for the purpose of deflecting and reducing to absurdity the harsh pronouncements and judgments of inner aggression (our inner critic or superego). The recent online “Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium” between TV personalities Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly serves to illustrate this point.

Stewart, the easy-going liberal humorist and host of “The Daily Show,” sees and relates to the world from the perspective of inner passivity. He generates much of his humor by cleverly mocking the pretentions and inconsistencies of the establishment and the Right Wing. O’Reilly, in contrast, [Read more…]

Why We Fear and Hate the Truth

We downsize the mystery of life and package it into bite-size convictions.

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened. – Winston Churchill.

We fear and hate many of truth’s disclosures because they’re often accompanied by narcissistic insults. What’s a narcissistic insult? It’s a bulletin from reality that, while capable of smartening us up, offends our ego. To avoid such insults, we cling to our illusions and limit our intelligence and inner freedom.

History records how truth has threatened our self-regard. People of the 16th Century ignored the new scientific findings and clung to their ego-gratifying illusion that the earth was the center of the universe. Three centuries later, Charles Darwin delivered a narcissistic insult when he considered the likelihood that man had descended from ancient apes, a prospect that horrified the proud architects of the Industrial Age. Four decades later, another profound narcissistic insult was leveled when Sigmund Freud contended, in The Interpretation of Dreams, that much of our mental and emotional life at any given moment is unconscious. Our ego, that self-centered me that pretends to know us intimately, was gravely insulted. George Bernard Shaw remarked soon afterwards: “All great truths begin as blasphemies.” [Read more…]