Whoever is elected president on Nov. 8 has to deal with an acrimonious divide at the heart of the American union. To heal this breach, we have to become smarter about our personal psychology.
Everyone’s at least a little quirky and irrational. We often accept and like each other for the ways we’re different, peculiar, eccentric, and even weak. Americans are remarkable for generosity, honestly, and kind spirit. The country’s vitality is enriched by flamboyant, loveable characters. But the character of so many millions of citizens has darkened and blackened in the past few decades, to the point that the nation is drifting into self-defeat.
While dysfunctional people can often appear normal on the surface, they harbor deep grievances. They’re closing in on themselves, feeling bitter, mean, cynical, suspicious, and uncivil. Their thin-skinned psyche cracks open at the tiniest real or imagined offense to suck in the impression of being criticized, disrespected, refused, oppressed, or controlled. Enough Americans are doing this to constitute an epidemic of neurosis.
Being dysfunctional or neurotic has nothing to do with whether a person is liberal or conservative, rich or poor, black or white. All these groups are riddled with neurotics, who are everyday people in emotional pain due to unresolved inner conflict. The more intense their inner conflict, the more neurotic they are, and the more they are thereby likely to betray their own and the nation’s ideals.
Being “divided against ourselves” is a psychological condition that occurs both internally and externally. An axiom of psychology states that inner divisiveness generates outer divisiveness. Inner conflict and its accompanying neurosis are major factors in both personal suffering and in the animosity and hatred that contaminate the American union.
When we see the world predominantly in the neurotic language of conflict, oppression, and victimization, we help to create that very world. Our neurosis unites us in that so many of us share it, and it divides us by making our personal inner divide into a national one.
Hordes of people are neurotic the world over, but in the United States the American psyche has been force-fed a toxic moonshine of biased TV, radio, websites, and books by a political-media complex. Malice, divisiveness, falsehood, and “reasons” to be fearful are the main ingredients of this emotionally destabilizing intoxicant, which is served up by unevolved people who profit financially from the weakness of others. The forces of dissension and disunity have been commercialized. The conflicted psyche can’t handle this 80-proof negativity.
Human beings have always been challenged to be emotionally strong. As people deal with their inner divide, emotional fragility is as common as sore muscles and runny noses. Along comes the toxic, negatively slanted disinformation media, adding traumatic stress to struggling people, separating them further from their own essential goodness and that of their neighbors.
Toxic media hurts certain people for a specific psychological reason. The misinformation takes hold in their psyche because, unwittingly, they’re always desperately looking for excuses for why they’re unhappy and failing to fulfill their aspirations. The misinformation is seized upon to blame others for one’s misfortune and discontent. Because it feels so “good” to blame others, the toxic content even becomes addictive for some people.
It’s true, of course, that some injustice and hardship are being inflicted upon financially strapped “forgotten” people. Globalization has degraded their work, making much of it less remunerative, as well as mind-numbing and burdensome on the spirit. Yet neurosis itself makes it harder for people to be adaptive and self-reliant. As they are fed a diet of misinformation, they’re also more resistant to addressing their own dysfunction. Like toxic media, neurotic people are tempted to falsify reality. In doing so, they evade responsibility for their own self-sabotaging tendencies.
Neurotics on both sides of the political divide share this paradox of human nature: They want to live in freedom and harmony but they’re trapped in unresolved inner conflict. Often the conflict consists simply of the conscious wish to be smart and strong versus the unconscious readiness to experience themselves through the old default position of self-doubt and weakness.
Many politicians, themselves neurotic, use divisiveness as a strategy for building their base. Their neurosis means they take the path of least resistance: empowering themselves by taking advantage of the weakness of others.
Inner conflict, when unresolved, keeps negative self-concepts alive deep inside us. These self-concepts are themselves irrational because they’re not ultimately true about us: We’re better than that. To repeat, most of this negativity and irrationality are simply generated by inner conflict, which itself is a smorgasbord of many emotional and irrational ingredients.
Meanwhile, people use the allegedly insensitive or malicious actions of others as hitching posts to cover up their unwitting participation in self-defeat. This keeps them from seeing what they’re so reluctant to recognize, namely their propensity, and even stubborn willingness, to stumble into the pitfalls of self-negation, self-doubt, self-rejection, and self-defeat.
A “blame game” is instigated by those who have succumbed to the victim mentality. This blame becomes neurotic malice which proceeds to contaminate national unity.
Hardly anyone attributes America’s agonizing political divide to the inner conflict of so many of its citizens. Media outlets look exclusively to external causes to explain the dissension. The people themselves blame their problem on what they perceive to be the malice, insensitivity, stubbornness, and stupidity of others. Usually, people fail completely to see the source of the dissension in their own inner conflict. They’re usually not even aware of being conflicted. They deny the vital role their psyche plays in their life, and then they’re blindsided when painful emotions and self-defeating behaviors erupt out of the conflict.
This psychological source of our discontent is not widely recognized because modern psychology—with its emphasis on behavioral, cognitive, and pharmaceutical approaches—has cast aside, on the grounds of being unscientific, what psychoanalysis discovered: the existence within us of primitive drives and forces engaged in dominating the individual’s mind, emotions, and behaviors. Psychoanalysts, unfortunately, hadn’t understood some of the essential dynamics of this inner conflict. Not fully realized in themselves, they weren’t strong or wise enough to be more effective in healing their patients. Meanwhile, if neurologists are detecting signs in the brain of neurosis or inner conflict, they’re not speaking to it in ways that are helpful to everyday people.
The more we’re inwardly conflicted, the more we’re likely entangled emotionally in our own little hellhole of speculations, aggressiveness, denial, defensiveness, yearnings, indecision, confusion, worry, passivity, and fears. All this negativity fogs our mind. Now we don’t have what it takes to be objective or even rational. We aren’t able to position or orient ourselves wisely, assertively, and humanely in the world around us.
Inner conflict induces us to take things personally. Once we take something personally, we’re likely to begin making errors of judgment. People often become quite stupid. We’re more likely to be self-centered or self-absorbed. Meanwhile, each person is a microcosm in the collective consciousness, which means our national salvation must be attained one person at a time as we each struggle to become more conscious and more evolved. Everyone counts.