Paris and Our Discontents

The hatred of terrorists is produced entirely within their own psyche.

The hatred of terrorists is produced entirely within their own psyche.

My anguish at the terrorist attacks last week in Paris has aroused some passionate intensity. Here is my response, which is more in the form of an op-ed piece than my usual expository postings.

As much as we despise the murderous maniacs of the Islamic State, they have, like us, a human psyche. The essential features of the psyche are remarkable similar across all races and national boundaries. Even the psyche of the mentally ill is similar to those in normal people, though, of course, the emotional dynamics of the former are more conflicted and intense. To some degree, everyone is challenged by inner conflict in the psyche, and most people are in the dark concerning these psychological dynamics that instigate emotional misery and behavioral self-defeat.

Before discussing those deeper dynamics, let’s consider a wider perspective on the human capacity for destruction. The mayhem produced by the Islamic State might be the leading edge of a growing disunity and disruption that is manifesting in the psyche of a great many people, producing a sweeping epidemic of destructive behaviors. Haven’t technology’s worst side-effects become the terrorism of nature? Isn’t capitalism, as it has mutated, terrorizing labor and the poor? Is it not fitting to suggest that America’s extremist politics have become the terrorism of democracy? Perhaps rank ignorance and widespread narcissism are terrorists of civic virtue.

This Age of Anxiety is convulsing now as terrorism and climate change magnify the stress. A new report finds that middle-aged white Americans are, in increasing numbers, dying from suicide and from drug and alcohol poisoning. Describing the report as a measure of our “existential despair,” Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman says “the truth is that we don’t really know why despair appears to be spreading across Middle America.” [Read more…]

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Unconscious Bias in Race Relations

Unconscious projection is a big player in racial tension.

Unconscious projection is a big player in producing racial tension.

Protests against the handling of racial tensions broke out this month on university campuses across the United States, and once again we find ourselves confounded by the deviltry of human nature. Why does skin color in 2015 still inflame animosities? Depth psychology provides us with deeper understanding of unconscious bias as a factor in racial tension.

Some white people remain intent on denying black people their humanity. These white people, unbeknownst to themselves, are not in touch with their own humanity. What exactly does that mean?

They don’t respect or love their own self. They’re burdened emotionally by self-doubt and self-rejection. They’re likely to be highly self-critical, and sometimes they despise themselves. Therefore, it follows logically that to love their neighbor as they “love” themselves is to dislike and perhaps to hate their neighbor.

Of course, they don’t usually hate their white neighbors—not all of them, anyway. Their animosity arises unfailingly for blacks or other minorities because they need someone or some group to which they can feel superior. Feeling superior is important to them because otherwise they feel inferior. Detesting others for their alleged inferiority is how they maintain an illusion of superiority.

The psychological mechanism of projection becomes a big player in racial tension. [Read more…]

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Acquiring a Feel for Natural Aggression

 Natural aggression is a positive force that provides personal satisfaction.

Natural aggression is a positive force that provides personal satisfaction.

Some psychologists claim that aggression is an undesirable trait. At Wikipedia, aggression is defined as an “overt, often harmful, social interaction with the intention of inflicting damage or other unpleasantness upon another individual.” Assertiveness is acceptable, these experts say, aggressiveness is not.

I disagree. Now, of course, I’m not discounting the value of assertiveness. And I obviously understand that some forms of aggression are completely unacceptable. But natural aggression can be seen and experienced as positive strength. It’s exactly the kind of verbal power and emotional force that’s needed to counter the aggression that’s often dished out by bullies, petty tyrants, and ignorant people intent on getting their way.

In this post I want to explore the subtle yet important distinctions between aggressiveness and assertiveness. The distinctions are important. We want to be as powerful as possible and trust that we’ll use that power wisely. Further along, I provide an example of the power and effectiveness of natural aggression.

A lot of people have a tendency to be passive and defensive. Often, though, they can swivel in an instant into reactive, angry aggression. Frequently, the passive person sees neither his passivity nor the inappropriateness of his reactive aggression. He often feels that his combative bluster is his saving grace. One passive fellow I knew polished his self-image with daily reminders of the aggressiveness he could muster when confronting people. His aggressiveness, however, was usually rude, demanding, and ultimately self-defeating. [Read more…]

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Defensiveness for Dummies

Chronic defensiveness is so irritating, like living on a village square where the town criers daily proclaim their innocence. Such squirmy avoidance is quite possibly the number one pollutant of relationship harmony.

It’s worse than a bad habit or disagreeable personality trait. Driven by inner conflict, chronic defensiveness is compulsive behavior. Fortunately, even dummies can overcome it by learning about the psychological dynamics behind it.

Even when we try as gently as possible to discuss an issue, the defensive person often goes negative: “I don’t want to talk about that!” or “It wasn’t even my fault because …” or “Why are you talking about this again!” or “I haven’t had time to take care of that!” Often their words are expressed in hurt, indignant, offended, or angry tones of voice.

Sometimes, in contrast, the defensiveness becomes self-pitying or pathetic when, for instance, a person says repeatedly, “I can’t change the past;” “I try so hard;” “No matter what I do, it’s never enough;” or, “If only I had known in time.” Defensiveness becomes entangled in self-doubt or self-reproach, as in, “I’m just a hopeless case;” or, “I can never figure out the right way to do it.”

We’re certainly upset when the person we care about or love is suddenly erecting these kinds of emotional roadblocks to deeper connection and intimacy. Then again, we might be the culprit ourselves, the grumpy or self-pitying dispenser of an ever-ready defensiveness that is very upsetting to others. [Read more…]

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Exposing the Roots of Emotional Suffering

This knowledge is deep and very liberating--yet easy enough to assimilate.

This knowledge is deep and liberating–yet easy enough to learn.

If you like psychology, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re having a hard time with life, this is the website for you. The psychology here is profound. You won’t find anything else like it online.

The knowledge is deep—and very liberating. As a psychotherapist, I’ve seen the great benefits of acquiring this knowledge. As a former journalist and science writer, I make it easy to assimilate.

What’s so special about it? That’s difficult to say in a few words. If you read some of the articles available here, you’ll get a good sense of what this depth psychology is all about.

In a nutshell, this knowledge challenges you to see yourself in a whole new light. You’ll see how good and beautiful you are, yet you’ll also begin to understand that you have—deep down inside—some issues or conflicts that you would be wise to make conscious.

Don’t be afraid. This stuff won’t bite you.

Through this knowledge, we learn to practice inner governance—or self-regulation—of our emotions and behaviors. Let me use the concept of democracy to explain. In an ideal democracy, people have the power and they use it wisely by electing the best political candidates to represent them.

Democracy goes astray, however, when the people lose sight of what’s going on behind the scenes. They’re not informed about what’s being done in their name. And they may not be vigilant enough to investigate. On a personal level, this is what happens to each of us. Too much is going on behind the scenes, in our unconscious mind, that we don’t know about. [Read more…]

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Who Wants to Be a Celebrity?

Fans of celebrities settle for crumbs at the banquet of their own greatness.

Fans of celebrities settle for crumbs at the banquet of their own greatness.

Lots of people feel unrecognized and unappreciated. They experience themselves to a considerable degree through feelings of being unworthy and unloved.

When such people spot a celebrity in the flesh, they have an emotional reaction that usually varies according to their self-esteem and also to the degree in which the celebrity is famous. A celebrity’s ranking on the billboards of stardom determines his or her status in their eyes.

If the celebrity they see on the street is the local TV weatherman, their eyes might soak him or her up for an instant or two, and then they’ll probably go about their business with a minimum of emotional disruption. However, if the celebrity is a high-flying Hollywood movie star, their eyes fasten like rivets to this person. They’re likely to slip into a woozy state of disequilibrium complete with rapid pulse and sweaty palms.

The lower one’s self-esteem, the greater the emotional thrill that’s experienced in the presence of a celebrity. The ubiquity of celebrities is a cultural anomaly that flourishes under the auspices of the low self-esteem of the masses. Low self-esteem also signifies more time spent fantasizing about being a celebrity. Many celebrities, meanwhile, are emotionally dependent on the adulation they receive from us. [Read more…]

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Say Goodbye to Your Regrets

We can be very resistant to letting go of our regrets.

We can be very stubborn about clinging to our regrets.

“I don’t think I can every let go of my regrets,” a new client sadly remarked. She was saying, indirectly, that she didn’t know how to live without her grief, sorrow, and self-recrimination.

Regrets are precious to the dark side of our psyche. They’re used, as well, by our psychological defenses, as I explain further along.

Sure, we might say we want to be free of all regrets. Deep in our psyche, nonetheless, we cling quite stubbornly or perversely to them.

Who in their right mind, we wonder, would want to be the stooped-over bearer of old regrets? The extra tonnage on our emotional life obviously produces unhappiness. Yet many millions of people carry this burden to the grave. This suffering is completely unnecessary. All that’s needed to drop this heavy load is the right self-knowledge.

“Never look back, unless you’re planning to go that way,” Henry David Thoreau famously said. Unfortunately, a lot of people do plan to go that way—or, more accurately, are compelled to go that way—in search of their favorite varieties of suffering, thanks to hidden dynamics in their unconscious mind. [Read more…]

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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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