How to Recognize Good Psychotherapy

Effective psychotherapy uncovers inner conflict, defenses, and emotional attachments.

Good therapy uncovers inner conflict, defenses, and emotional attachments.

Psychotherapy can be very helpful—and, in some cases, essential—for success, self-fulfillment, and future happiness. But it can also be a waste of time and money if you don’t have a good therapist.

Regretfully, a majority of psychotherapists practice superficial methods that fail to uncover inner conflict, emotional attachments, and psychological defenses. I say this not to be critical but to provide some perspective concerning the current state of psychological services.

People seek psychological help because they’re troubled by moodiness, stress, anxiety, depression, and lack of self-regulation. Often they’re concerned about indecision, procrastination, lack of purpose, self-sabotage, and work or relationship failure. For the most part, these difficulties are produced by inner conflict in our unconscious mind or psyche.

To understand inner conflict, let’s consider the plight of people who are, to a chronic degree, moody or mildly depressed. Such individuals frequently harbor feelings of being disrespected or seen in a negative light. Often they’re having relationship problems. Their inner conflict produces this impasse: consciously, they wish to be admired and respected, but unconsciously they are attached to (and prepared and even compelled to experience) feelings of being seen in a negative light, as an unworthy person undeserving of respect. Unless this conflict is resolved, such individuals are very likely to continue to be troubled. [Read more…]

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Visions of Human Destiny

Enhancing consciousness involves seeing ourselves more objectively.

Enhancing our consciousness involves seeing ourselves more objectively.

Life’s great purpose, as I see it, is to become wiser, more loving, and more attuned to truth and beauty. This process involves a merger with growing consciousness.

Consciousness is an extraordinarily precious asset that we tend to take for granted. Of course, our consciousness can be broadened, which would enable us—among other benefits—to register and appreciate just how precious it is.

Enhancing our consciousness involves the process of seeing ourselves more objectively. Yet the human race is having trouble seeing what is vitally important to know about our nature. Even the brightest scientists among us have difficulty doing so.

This problem is evident in a recent book, The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind (Anchor Book, New York. 2014). Michio Kaku, the book’s brilliant author, stands in the vanguard of human understanding, yet still he fails to grasp human nature by the tail.

Kaku is a professor of physics at the City University of New York and a host of numerous television specials on scientific topics. He writes in his new book that consciousness, as experienced by Homo sapiens, can be summarized as a process that “creates a model of the world and then simulates it in time, by evaluating the past to simulate the future. This requires mediating and evaluating many feedback loops in order to make a decision to achieve a goal.” [Read more…]

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Tears of Self-Deception

Tears can be slippery accomplices in our willingness to suffer.

Tears can be slippery accomplices in our willingness to suffer.

How sweet it is to cry and water heaven with our tears, romantic poets are wont to say. Such poets venerate tears as “the heart’s own dew” or “summer showers to the soul.”

Yet the sources of our tears are as varied as the mixtures of water, salts, antibodies, and antibacterial enzymes of which they are composed. The rivulets upon our cheeks have their emotional sources in genuine happiness and joy but also in regret, sorrow, guilt, shame, and self-pity.

Tears can be used to deceive others—but also to deceive ourselves. Used as a psychological defense, tears can cover up the lies—or at least the fibs—we tell ourselves. It’s worth looking into this “slight-of-mind” because we become smarter and more insightful every time we catch a glimpse of how our defenses work.

Of course, it’s usually better to cry than to dam up emotions. Crying can be appropriate and healthy, especially when it’s experienced as a deep positive connection with one’s self or others. Tears can also be authentic responses to truth, beauty, kindness, and wonder.

Still, tears can also be slippery accomplices in our unconscious readiness to go on suffering over some unresolved issue. I provide an example below of a woman being deceived by her tears. [Read more…]

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Westerners Who Identify with Terrorists

Rage and violence emerge from the depths of inner conflict.

Rage and violence can emerge from the depths of inner conflict.

About 3,000 people from Western Europe have travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State terrorist group, and authorities are worried that young people in the West might increasingly become converts to extremist Islamic ideology.

Last week U.S. authorities arrested six young men from Minneapolis’s Somali community who were planning to join the terrorist group. The number of U.S. recruits to the Islamic State remains small compared with Europe, yet the threat here of increasing recruitment is worrisome.

Experts are struggling to determine why, psychologically, many young Westerners are tempted to identify with terrorist mayhem and brutality. Finding answers is challenging because the recruits, many of whom are college educated and come from middle-class families, don’t fit a typical profile.

I explored this subject in an earlier post, What Warps the Mind of Domestic Terrorists. That post explained how some individuals are drawn to violent rebellion in order to cover up or defend against their underlying self-doubt and passivity. Recruits to terrorism, I wrote, embrace an ideology that idealizes aggression and defiance in order to deny (cover up or defend against) their emotional entanglement in feelings of being a person of limited value and significance. As a defense against their own readiness to feel devalued, they begin to experience anger and hatred toward those who allegedly discount their value. [Read more…]

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A Decisive Look at Indecision

Can concrete steps be taken to climb out of chronic indecision?

Can concrete steps be taken to climb out of chronic indecision?

Chronic indecision has got to be one of the most painful symptoms of inner conflict, turning sufferers into queasy question marks stooped in a wilted crouch. Okay, maybe that’s a bit graphic—but you get the point.

I’ve written an earlier post on the subject (Indecisive No More), but one reader wanted me to say more about how to overcome this symptom.

He asked: “Are there concrete steps to break this pattern of chronic, debilitating indecision once you recognize what is going on? Are there real action steps that you can address in your writing?”

Suppose I were to give him a highly recommended concrete plan of action to inspire decisiveness. Would he decide to follow that plan? If he happens to come across another recommended plan of action, how will he decide which plan to follow? If he finally chooses one concrete plan over the other, will he decide to stick to that plan when the going gets tough? It’s pretty obvious that indecision turns concrete steps into wet cement.

When we venture into our psyche to get to the roots of indecision or other kinds of dysfunction, we require only one plan of action: we have to make conscious what has been inwardly weakening us and causing our self-doubt. [Read more…]

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Neurotics on Capitol Hill

Congress's dysfunction can be understood as the collective effect of the neurosis of individual members.

Congress’s dysfunction can be understood as the collective effect of the neurosis of individual members.

Democracy rests on the wisdom and mental health of the people. Yet emotional and behavioral dysfunction is rampant across the land, starting with legislators in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Congress has a 16 percent approval rating for a reason: a significant number of its senators and representatives, in my professional judgment, are neurotic. As a result, their influence on our democracy is destabilizing, contributing to growing dysfunction. (Bipartisanship in Washington may have eroded in recent decades for reasons outlined here.)

Conventional wisdom claims that this dissension is largely due to hardening ideologies and the corrupting influence of money. The problem can also be understood and potentially reformed through psychological insight. We can expose the neurosis that mires many Democratic and Republican politicians in dissension and causes them to be seduced by power and prestige.

A neurotic individual, tangled in inner conflict, produces an overflow of negative emotions and behavioral self-defeat. Neurosis is present in a person according to the degree of his or her immaturity, arrogance, self-centeredness, self-deception, stupidity, stubbornness, callousness, righteousness, ruthless ambition, cynicism, distrust, fearfulness, entitlement mentality, oversensitivity to feeling criticized or disrespected, and willingness to distort facts and blame others.

Neurotics are inwardly conflicted. They are at war with themselves. Much of their energy is absorbed by conflict. Divided against their own self, they produce divisiveness at every turn. An assemblage of neurotics in an institution such as the U.S. Congress will invariably produce unhealthy conflict among members, leading to outcomes that produce national dissension, widespread suffering, and self-defeat. [Read more…]

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Inner Passivity Impairs Leadership Skills

Poor leadership is largely defined by a lack of self-awareness.

Poor leadership is largely defined by a lack of insight and self-awareness.

Researchers have found that inept bosses and supervisors are defined more by the important steps they do not take rather than by any overtly disagreeable conduct on their part. For the most part, these executives and managers don’t see or imagine what they are failing to do. Their failures are sins of omission rather than a result of crass behaviors.

These findings, as I interpret them, provide another example of how depth psychology can help people overcome everyday missteps and failures.

The research findings, posted online at the Harvard Business Review, analyzed the behavior of 30,000 bosses and managers. The findings were based on direct reports as well as on assessments from their peers. The researchers combed through 11,000 of the worst-performing of these managers, and they identified ten features that were common to mediocre or failing performances. Each of these features, as I see it, can be traced in significant part to the existence in the psyche of inner passivity.

Inner passivity is the hidden psychological aspect through which we become entangled in self-doubt and indecision. It blocks even the smartest people from achieving higher levels of performance. Inner passivity accounts for most of the ways in which we can be emotionally weak. Unfortunately, people usually fail to see or detect this passivity in themselves. (Read, Lost in the Fog of Inner Passivity and Our Messy Mix of Aggression and Passivity.)

According to the authors of the study, the ten features or flaws can be difficult to recognize. They’re “not the kinds of flaws we instantly recognize, either in others or in ourselves,” the authors say. “And they’re not the kinds of things people call out, since there’s nothing explicit that draws attention.” This observation describes the nature of inner passivity: it is difficult to see in ourselves and others. What we are likely to see instead (and what we experience, usually in a painful way) are its many self-defeating symptoms. [Read more…]

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Hidden Dynamics of Racism

Depth psychology sheds more light on racist behavior.

Depth psychology sheds more light on racist behavior.

News commentators have been trying to figure out what motivated a group of white University of Oklahoma students on an outing earlier this month to sing a racist chant laden with anti-black slurs and a reference to lynching.

The episode made national headlines after it was captured on video, and it led to the expulsion of two students, the disciplining of a few dozen more, and the closure of the university fraternity to which they belonged.

The students have apologized and appear contrite. Yet they probably don’t fully understand what possessed them to behave so badly. Commentators have attributed the action of the students to racism, bigotry, and cultural influences. But the episode can be understood, for the edification of everyone, at a deeper level.

The students were unwittingly expressing a hidden aspect of human nature. In varying degrees, all of us can feel vague doubts concerning our intrinsic value. At times, many of us feel deep inside a sense of being flawed, unworthy, bad, and insignificant. This is not something people readily talk about.

This impression can consist of a deep-down suspicion of being a fake, a fraud, a nobody. The existence in our psyche of this negative sense of self can, when acute, produce shame, anxiety, and guilt. People instinctively cover up or defend against the realization of how emotionally attached they can be, how identified they are, with this irrational impression. (The origin of this painful sense of self is discussed in an earlier post.) [Read more…]

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Unconscious Factors Fuel Abortion Fight

Behind the abortion debate is the great issue concerning human consciousness.

Behind the abortion debate is the great issue of human consciousness.

The abortion fight won’t go away. This month the United States Senate failed to create a fund for victims of sexual trafficking because an abortion provision had been inserted into the bill. Meanwhile, legal challenges are proceeding in many states over recent legislation that restricts the constitutional right of women to have abortions.

Deeper psychological understanding of this conflict can help to resolve it. For starters, we have to talk about abortion without becoming so uncivil and confrontational. The abortion debate is very emotional because, behind it, a larger battle is being waged over issues of submission, compliance, and control over the minds of women and men.

I’m not interested in changing anyone’s position on the abortion issue. I only want to bring a few psychological ideas to the debate. These ideas may be helpful and stimulating to people who are ambivalent or undecided, as well as those who are firmly in one camp or the other.

So what’s going on in our unconscious mind? Some people unconsciously identify with the fetus. Identification is a psychological process through which we “get into the skin” of people or creatures in order to feel what we imagine they’re feeling. In doing this, we often experience a painful, negative emotion. This identification takes place because we’re compelled to experience whatever is unresolved in our psyche. People can be identifying with the fetus as a “person” who isn’t wanted or valued. Such painful feelings correspond with unresolved hurt in their own psyche. [Read more…]

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The Two-Minute Inner Workout

This workout helps us to assimilate vital knowledge.

This workout helps us to assimilate vital knowledge about ourselves.

I’ve refined the knowledge of depth psychology into seven principles. Reading these principles over on a daily basis—as a kind of two-minute inner workout—is highly recommended.

These principles are boiled down to about 400 words, so it only takes a few minutes to slowly read the content. But a person could take a lifetime assimilating the knowledge behind the words.

What are the benefits of doing this every day? We’ve got remarkably thick skulls when it comes to learning depth psychology. Our instinct is to reject self-knowledge: it’s so unsettling to the inner status quo. It changes our sense of who we are, and we’re afraid to lose that old familiar sense of self, even when the old self is infused with pain. By facing inner truth each day in the form of a two-minute inner workout, we can overpower our resistance.

So read slowly and ponder the significance of this knowledge. The real trick is to begin to understand how this knowledge applies directly to you. The intent is to turn the knowledge into self-knowledge.

These seven principles don’t mess around—they zero in on what gets us into emotional trouble. They identify the processes through which our negative emotions are most easily aroused. Becoming stronger emotionally is a process of recognizing and overcoming our deeper negativity. We learn how we have unwittingly been producing and holding on to various forms of suffering. [Read more…]

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