Blinded by the Darkness of Trump

A person with a narcissistic disorder is desperate to cover up how he really feels about himself.

A person with a narcissistic disorder is desperate to cover up how he really feels about himself.

Many millions of Americans don’t realize that Donald Trump, their hero and standard-bearer, likely has a serious mental illness. Many experts in psychology assert (here, here, and here) that he is unfit to be president of the United States. I provide psychological evidence further along that speaks to the grave danger he represents.

Trump’s behaviors and personality attest to a narcissistic personality disorder. Symptoms of the disorder are outlined in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. The Manual says a narcissistic personality disorder is indicated when five of nine criteria are present. Trump would appear to have eight of the nine criteria: a grandiose sense of self-importance and readiness to exaggerate achievements and talents; a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, brilliance, and beauty; a belief that he is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other high-status people; a need for excessive admiration; a tendency to be exploitive for personal gain; a lack of empathy; a belief that others are envious of him; and arrogant or haughty behaviors or attitudes.

A personality disorder is a very serious level of dysfunction. Some of its symptoms even appear on the schizophrenia spectrum. I hesitate to attempt psychotherapy with people with personality disorders (ten disorders are listed in the Manual, including narcissistic personality disorder) because, through no fault of theirs, their resistance to inner progress is so formidable. I believe the Manual understates the severity of the condition when it says, “A personality disorder is an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment.”

Americans who feel aligned with Trump are, in my view, buying into and taking at face value the psychological defenses that Trump employs to maintain and even heighten his narcissistic outlook. They can’t see the danger he presents, in part because many of them are unwilling or unable to see beyond their own defenses, illusions, and denial. [Read more…]

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Understanding Inner Evil in Mass-Killers

Evil begins with inner conflict in the psyche.

Evil begins with conflict in the psyche.

Domestic mass-killers believe that the hatred they feel toward others justifies their murderous behavior. They don’t understand that other people and social circumstances are not the cause of their rage and hatred. The evil begins with what potential and actual mass-killers are doing to themselves on an inner level.

In this post I enlist depth psychology to explain these inner dynamics at play in the psyche of such individuals. Further along, I’ll look at the particular case of the mass-killer who struck last month in Orlando.

The following psychological dynamics and characteristics can converge as the “perfect storm,” producing an individual ready to embark on a mass-killing spree. Here are some of the major elements at play in the psyche of such individuals:

* Whether or not they are inflicted with a mental-health disorder, these individuals are nonetheless highly dysfunctional or neurotic. This means they are plagued by intense inner conflict, particularly in terms of how they absorb abuse from their inner critic and in terms of how they inwardly create the impression of being marginalized, insignificant, and alienated from self and surrounding society.

* They feel devalued, unworthy, and disconnected from their better nature. Hence, they lack sensitive or generous impulses or instincts toward others. Such an individual is highly thin-skinned and easily takes offense, meaning he is quick to interpret everyday encounters with others as if he is being overlooked, rejected, or disrespected. [Read more…]

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A Common Theme in Relationship Strife

We need to understand the deeper dynamics that can drive us apart.

We need to understand the deeper dynamics that can drive us apart.

Millions of couples are stuck in particular forms of relationship dysfunction that push them over the brink into painful acrimony and separation. Often they have no idea of the deeper psychological dynamics driving them apart.

These unhealthy relationship dynamics repeatedly lead couples into confrontations, defensiveness, angry words, and heartbreak. Each spouse or partner reacts to the other according to set patterns and emotional expectations, and they snipe at one another like hand puppets consigned to a tragic script.

Most relationships that disintegrate do so because of what people don’t understand about themselves. One of the most common and damaging scripts that couples act out involves this conflict: One spouse or partner habitually complains that the other partner is not being emotionally supportive enough, while the other partner feels that no matter how hard he or she tries it’s never good enough. In such instances, both partners have unconscious issues that feed the dissension between them.

Let’s look at the unconscious issues that plague each partner, starting with the partner who chronically feels unsupported. This partner can be, of course, either a man or woman. For this example, I’ll choose a woman (Sarah) as the partner who frequently and painfully feels emotionally unsupported. She’s constantly disappointed in her husband (Larry), and he’s convinced he can never hope to satisfy her and that he’ll always be a disappointment to her. Larry and Sarah both feel that their relationship, rather than growing and becoming more loving, is fatally drifting apart. [Read more…]

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Breaking Free of Inner Passivity

Inner passivity keeps us locked up in misery and self-defeat.

Inner passivity keeps us locked up in misery and self-defeat.

Inner passivity is an unconscious realm of our psyche that’s very much “in our face” emotionally. I write a great deal about inner passivity, and I keep trying to bring this psychological aspect into better focus.

My readers keep asking me how, exactly, can they eliminate inner passivity from their emotional life. “Okay, I can see that it’s a problem for me,” they say. “Now how do I get rid of it?”

This message from a reader in Australia is typical of this feedback:

The symptoms you describe in your book, The Phantom of the Psyche, were almost a carbon copy of what I’ve suffered from my whole life. I loved the book, yet I’m still not sure what to do in daily life at a more practical level. The exercises in the book make sense but they seem a tad trivial when juxtaposed with the scope of the problem. Perhaps I’m asking too much of your book and that psychotherapy is really the only way to change things. Any thoughts on this would be great.

Good psychotherapy can certainly bring inner passivity and its symptoms more quickly into focus. Yet very few psychotherapists are going to address inner passivity directly. Here, in this longer than usual post, I offer some further direction for doing this on one’s own. [Read more…]

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Are You Hopeless of Ever Finding Love?

In any context, hopeless feelings can be traced to inner conflict.

In any context, hopeless feelings can be traced to inner conflict.

Hopeless romantics are frequently daydreamers, idealists, and poets—distinguished for their spirited passion and steady optimism. But another kind of hopeless romantic is stalled in lonely wretchedness.

Painful hopelessness stalks many people who, feeling unlucky in love, are convinced they’ll never find a loving partner for a committed relationship. These people have now activated a Catch-22: the more hopeless they feel, the more likely the psychosomatic side-effects of that negative emotion will make them less attractive to healthy people.

Often prowling in the psyche of such individuals is the sense that they don’t have much to give or to offer another person. Who they are deep down, it feels, is simply not enough to capture the love and devotion of others. “Sometimes I feel so broken,” one woman said, “that I’m sure the universe doesn’t care whether I ever find love.”

Hopelessness in whatever context it arises is a painful symptom of inner conflict. According to depth psychology, a person often fails to establish an intimate relationship because he or she is using the playing field of relationships as a way to replay and recycle that conflict. [Read more…]

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Words to Enlighten Younger Children

Younger children can be helped and inspired by depth psychology.

Younger children can be greatly helped by depth psychology.

Young children from six or seven years of age can be helped and inspired by the knowledge of depth psychology. Of course, it’s best presented to them in simple language.

Some basic thoughts and ideas are offered here concerning what young children can understand and learn about their psychological nature. I broached this subject a few years ago (Teach Your Children Well), and this new post tries to present the same concepts more simply. This post can also help adults to learn the basics.

Such knowledge might come across as mere empty words if the person who communicates doesn’t embody or personify the knowledge. The best guidance for young children might not be the words themselves but rather the emotional strength and kindly conduct of those who would instruct or teach them. In any case, the following statements can guide parents and teachers as they impart knowledge and wisdom to children. Some children can also read this content themselves and make good sense of it.

1 – Understand that we have an inner world of vanished memories and unrecognized emotions. This vital part of our nature is called the psyche. The psyche’s stirrings and dynamics strongly affect our mental and emotional life. These dynamics often operate beyond our awareness. It can be hard for us to see clearly enough what’s happening inside us. We want to become more aware of these inner dynamics so we aren’t limited or hurt by them. [Read more…]

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Deeper Reflections on Inner Passivity

Inner passivity is a hidden aspect of our psyche.

Inner passivity is a vitally important hidden aspect of our psyche.

A few years ago the actor and filmmaker Seth MacFarlane made a brave and honest observation about his inner life: “I wish I was better at taking in how great my life is, but that’s surprisingly elusive. I tend to be very hard on myself and insecure about failing no matter what happens.” Indeed, many successful people with confident personas are emotionally wobbly underneath.

Troublesome self-doubt of this kind is due in large part to inner passivity. This term refers to a hidden aspect of our psyche that can plague even the smartest people. Inner passivity blocks us from connecting emotionally with our authentic self and establishing inner harmony.

While inner passivity is a major source of our behavioral and emotional problems, it’s invisible to the naked eye or even to high-powered electron microscopes. If neuroscientists or physicists are unable to see it, how are everyday people supposed to get a bead on it?

We can often sense its presence in the chronic self-doubt and weakness of others, but we have a harder time seeing it in ourselves.

Inner passivity can be understood metaphorically as an undetected galaxy in the cosmos of the psyche. To grow psychologically, we need to discover this inner expanse so that we can claim it in the name of self-awareness and rationality. Inner passivity is located, according to classical psychoanalysis, in the unconscious part of the ego. [Read more…]

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Escape the Misery of Moodiness

Resolving inner conflict produces an expanded sense of freedom.

Resolving inner conflict produces an expanded sense of freedom.

“I drink and eat in moderation,” a client told me. “I go to bed at a reasonable hour. I love my wife and kids. The only thing I binge on is irritability and restlessness. I’m a bundle of blue moods.”

His blue moods, as he described them, were not agonizingly painful, yet he was weary of them and fed up with “the heaviness that rises and falls throughout my day.” Rarely did he experience a day completely free of the malady. It didn’t feel like depression, he said, but rather more like an intermittent gloominess, underlying angst, or, at worst, bouts of anxious distress.

Fortunately, his affliction didn’t qualify as a disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. This psychiatric term describes a condition in which a person has angry outbursts that occur, on average, three or more times a week, involving verbal rages and physical aggression. Rather, his moodiness indicates a less serious condition called generalized anxiety disorder. This disorder involves frequent experiences of three or more of the following symptoms: irritability, restlessness, muscle tension, sleep disturbances, tiredness, excessive worry, and difficulty concentrating or mind going blank.

In its diagnostic manual, American psychiatry doesn’t offer much in the way of an explanation for why and how a person develops or acquires this persistent moodiness. The manual does say in passing, however, that the disorder has been associated with “negative affectivity (neuroticism).” The depth psychology to which I subscribe attributes persistent moodiness to neurosis and explains how it arises.

All neurotics are subject to pronounced moodiness. Their psyche is an inner battleground between self-aggression (from the inner critic or superego) and inner passivity (located in the unconscious or subordinate ego). Moodiness is just one of many symptoms of this inner conflict. [Read more…]

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Answers to Questions from Readers (Part 3)

Inner work helps us to discover our authentic self.

Insight from inner work helps us to discover our authentic self.

Some of my readers send me emails with comments and questions about personal issues. Here I reply (in italics) to more of these emails. The topics here deal mostly with inner passivity.

Hello, I have enjoyed reading the posts on your website. I’m going through a really tough time. I’m beating myself up big time for purchasing a home that I truly don’t like. Somehow in my depression and obsessive search of a home, I made a huge mistake.

I’m past middle age, so I should have known better. Now I feel stuck. I so want to go back to the simple apartment we rented during our house search. My husband says we’ll have to stay in the home for at least a year, and he won’t discuss a time frame for putting it on the market. He adamantly does not want to go back to apartment living. We always had our own home, so I understand that.

I’ve had other depressive bouts. Most involved my helplessness over my first-born son’s serious mental illness. His life has been so very difficult. My heart will always break for him. I don’t know where to begin. Is there any hope for me?

Hi. I’m sorry for the difficulties you’re having. All of us need to be aware of our unconscious readiness to keep recycling negative emotions such as feeling helpless and trapped. If we don’t flush these emotions out of our system, they come back to haunt us. [Read more…]

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Emotional Fortitude for Anxious Times

We want to be strong emotionally to weather coming changes.

We want to be strong emotionally to weather coming changes.

The world is changing fast. We’d better be prepared. Survivalists stock up on food and guns. I recommend we stock up on mental and emotional health.

Becoming psychologically stronger is likely the best investment anyone can make right now. This strength puts us in a better position to weather social and environmental disorder and to establish the best solutions and policies going forward.

As we all know, civilization is staggering from the toxic effects of terrorism, mass killings, warfare, financial instability, resource depletion, population displacements, social and international dissension, incompetence, corruption, and, of course, climate change. We might be spared utter calamity, but overall conditions may well worsen before they get better.

Climate change alone, psychologists tell us, has been shown to increase citizens’ rates of anxiety, depression, and traumatization. “These symptoms,” they say, “can exist for years after experiencing the loss of homes, livelihoods, and community resources” from storms and floods. The medical journal, The Lancet, reports that mental-health disorders are among the most dangerous of the indirect health effects of global warming.

These effects can be felt even when we haven’t yet experienced direct loss from weather events. Troubling many of us is an underlying anxiety, as well as a sense of helplessness and guilt, concerning the degraded planet we’re leaving to our descendants. Those who deny the scope of the crisis might be at risk of degrading their humanity and descending into mental mediocrity or even stupidity. [Read more…]

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