What Warps the Mind of Domestic Terrorists?

Depth psychology exposes the terrorist mentality.

Depth psychology understands and exposes the terrorist mentality.

As we’re now seeing, a scattering of men and women in the West are being radicalized with a terrorist mentality that, like the Ebola virus, can be spread with devastating effects.

Like the germ of an idea, the terrorist mentality grows in the emotional and mental life of certain individuals until they’re prepared to turn murderously against their own countrymen. These individuals are typically more conflicted than their peers, and they have weaker psychological immunity to toxic and deadly irrationality.

The lone gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who this month murdered a soldier and stormed Canada’s Parliament before being shot and killed, was described by an acquaintance of his: “His viewpoint was bizarre. The guy was not deranged. He was articulate. He was intelligent. His rationale was warped.”

What inner process warps the mind? While usually intelligent, fledgling terrorists are typically steeped in self-alienation. Studies indicate that these individuals, even before they become recruits to terrorism, have more psychological and emotional difficulties than the general population.

In particular, the children of Islamic immigrants to Western nations can feel helplessly torn between two clashing cultures. Many of them would have identified with immigrant parents who struggled to fit in to a Western way of life distinctly different from that of their birthplace. Now they feel disconnected, insignificant, powerless, unappreciated, and unworthy. [Read more...]

Greed as a Mental-Health Disorder

Greed can be traced to conflict in the unconscious mind.

Greed can be traced to unresolved conflict in the unconscious mind.

During a recent discussion of narcissism on the TV program “The View,” Rosie O’Donnell was told that the condition is “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of self and their own importance and a deep need for admiration.” She replied, “That’s every celebrity I know, including me!”

That’s great candor from an entertaining lady. We might practice candor, too, by expanding our understanding of mental disorders to include the problem of greed. Both narcissism and greed produce personal and national self-sabotage.

Greed is a factor in the well-documented growing concentration of wealth in the United States. The super-rich claim to be deserving of their wealth, but it’s likely that greed—not wisdom, common sense, or concern about the common good—was a factor in the creation over the past decades of a “financialized” economy that unduly tilts the playing field in favor of those with the most capital to speculate.

Yet people don’t have to be rich to have the disorder; greed about money is all it takes. As a psychiatric diagnosis, it could be called the Great Gatsby Syndrome or, better yet, Wealth Accumulation Disorder.

Both narcissism and greed have their roots in profound self-doubt. Narcissism is self-aggrandizement of the emotional kind, while greed is self-aggrandizement of the materialistic kind. Narcissism (when it occurs as pervasive grandiosity) is listed as a mental disorder in psychiatry’s diagnostic manual. Why not greed? [Read more...]

The Core of Being

What do we need to know to access our core?

What we need to know to find our core.

We obviously become happier and more peaceful as we grow in wisdom and moral sensibility. How is the educational system helping people to do this? Some of the smartest educators say that they don’t know how to do it, even as a growing percentage of students show signs of deteriorating mental health.

The self-knowledge of depth psychology is our best insurance against self-sabotaging conduct that threatens our personal aspirations and degrades the quality of human life. Yet the most prestigious educational institutions in the United States have no particular training or learning processes in place to facilitate such evolvement.

William Deresiewicz, a Yale professor from 1998 to 2008, writes in a July, 2014 article in The New Republic that, “Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.”

Deresiewicz has published a new book, Excellent Sheep: The Misdirection of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, in which he argues that elite colleges, along with private and affluent high schools, have come under the influence of a commercial and technologically accentuated ethos that cultivates narcissism and personal aggrandizement. [Read more...]

The Folly of Modern Psychology (Part I)

The failure of modern psychology could sink us all.

Modern psychology is on a collision course that could sink us all.

Civilization is collapsing in the Middle East. Accord between Russia and the West is in shambles. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe. Political and social dissension runs high in America. Totalitarians in China tighten their grip.

This dissension, disorder, oppression, and mayhem are fueled by human passions, particularly negative emotions such as anger, fear, intolerance, and hatred. Why is such unreason still raging among us? The human race should be doing better. It’s almost 70 years since the end of the Second World War and the signing of the United Nations Charter when a new standard was unveiled for civilized behavior.

Sixty million people were killed in World War II. Was it all in vain? Why haven’t we met the challenge to live up to the reasonable expectation that we might now, finally, be smart enough to live in peace and harmony. I blame the problem largely on modern psychology. It has failed to teach people the essential facts about human nature. [Read more...]

The Scoop on Intimate Partner Abuse

We need to look at the deeper psychological issues that precipitate domestic abuse.

Deeper understanding is needed of the psychology behind domestic abuse.

The problem of intimate partner abuse has received wide attention following incidents involving National Football League players. Yet media discussions of the subject tend to deal with superficial considerations. Little is being said about the deeper psychological issues that precipitate and fuel the abuse and violence.

Both the perpetrator and the victim are involved in agonizing behaviors that mirror inner conflict in the psyches of them both. What drives the perpetrators, usually men, to be so cruel and brutal, and why do so many women remain in these abusive situations? What do we need to understand that’s common to the various forms—physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, and economic—of intimate partner abuse?

Most articles on the subject seem to consider the intimate psychology of warring couples as a forbidden topic. One article, a research review published earlier this month by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, discusses this problem of domestic abuse and the empowerment of women exclusively in terms of their levels of income, financial stability, and educational achievement—yet even that discussion is framed mostly in statistical terms.

While the problem is complicated, a deeper look at psychological dynamics turns up important facts. An abusive relationship puts on display two of the primary elements in the human psyche—aggression and passivity. A couple that’s trapped in a cycle of abuse is acting out the inner conflict that each experiences in his or her psyche. This conflict is between self-aggression, as administered by the inner critic, and inner defensiveness and self-doubt, as experienced through inner passivity. [Read more...]

Tormented Mothers, Endangered Babies

Inner conflict plays a major role in maternal mental health.

Inner conflict plays a major role in maternal mental health.

Thousands of mothers are plagued on a daily basis by intrusive thoughts in which they imagine or see themselves doing harm to their children. The problem was highlighted this month in two articles (here and here) that appeared in The New York Times.

In these thoughts or mental images, the women consider dropping their infant or child from a building or bridge, suffocating or abandoning the baby, throwing him or her against a wall, or wrecking their car with the baby inside.

Only a very small percentage of women act on these impulses, yet the suffering of those who regularly entertain such thoughts is nonetheless considerable. Their emotional state can also affect their bonding with the baby, the health of the baby, and the wellbeing of their family.

Scientists attribute such maternal mental health problems to an interplay of genes, stress, hormones, and disrupted brain chemistry. Unfortunately, these experts are not paying much or any attention to depth psychology. They’re failing to see or appreciate the role that inner conflict plays in creating this mental and emotional suffering.

Recent studies indicate that, within one year of giving birth, at least one in eight women, and as many as one in five, develop symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Women suffering from these conditions are more likely to experience thoughts or impulses to harm their children. A dozen states, moved to action by occurrences in which a mother kills herself or her baby, have passed laws encouraging screening, education, and treatment. [Read more...]

Terrific Knowledge for Trying Times

This book is a revision, with new writing, of the material on this website.

This book adds important new writing to the material on this website.

My latest book can now be purchased at Amazon.com. It’s an e-book, so you can download it and start reading right away.

The 391-page book is titled: Psyched Up: The Deep Knowledge that Liberates the Self. It’s a complete revision of the material on this website. The content has been reorganized and fashioned into a coherent whole, and insightful new writing has been added. It’s now easier than ever for everyday people to understand this incredibly valuable knowledge.

This book, I believe, is a breakthrough in the communication of depth psychology. I was a journalist and science writer before becoming a psychotherapist, and all my experience, knowledge, and communication skills are poured into this book.

The content makes liberating insight available to all, and it helps us to be really smart about what’s vitally important to know. Reading it, you’ll understand yourself more clearly than ever, and that knowledge can help you to fulfill your dreams and aspirations.

I hope you’ll buy a copy for your own benefit. And I hope you’ll help me get this valuable knowledge out to more people by mentioning it to friends and on social media.

Stung by Ingratitude

For some, the sting of ingratitude is very painful.

For some, the sting of ingratitude is painful and difficult to recover from.

Neglecting to say “Thank you” can infuriate the best of men. Did someone deny that courtesy to Shakespeare? If so, he let his characters do the talking. Viola proclaims in Twelfth Night, “I hate ingratitude more in a man / Than lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness, / Or any taint of vie whose strong corruption / Inhabits our frail blood.”

Shakespeare wasn’t finished. His King Lear thundered, “Ingratitude! thou marble-hearted fiend, / More hideous when thy show’st thee in a child / Than the sea-monster.”

Not all of us, fortunately, are so painfully stung by ingratitude. Benjamin Franklin apparently took it more in stride, observing that, “Most people return small favors, acknowledge medium ones and repay greater ones—with ingratitude.”

Yes, most of us have felt some sting from the ingratitude of others. Often the hurt is remembered and experienced anew many years after the offense. For the sake of our equanimity and peace of mind, what ought we to understand about ingratitude?

King Lear’s “hideous” disgust for a child’s ingratitude is misplaced. Young children quite naturally have little sense of gratitude. They tend to take for granted the benefits of food, clothes, toys, and loving kindness. Seeing this ingratitude, parents sometimes wonder if they’re spoiling their children. Children are often prodded: “Say thank you now!” They say the words but don’t necessarily register the feelings. [Read more...]

How to Be Your Own Inner Guide

Acquire vital self-knowledge, and it will guide you well through life.

Acquire vital self-knowledge, and it will guide you well through life.

Some people can begin to overcome their emotional and behavioral problems without needing to see a psychotherapist. Still, by all means find one if you have the time and money to get personalized psychological help. If you have a diagnosable mental disorder, you should definitely be under the care of a psychotherapist or psychiatrist or both.

Professional help can certainly speed up the process of overcoming painful difficulties with career, relationships, and daily living. However, most therapists will not address your deeper conflicts, defenses, and attachments. It grieves me to say it, but many therapists only succeed in comforting you in your pain. They don’t help you to vanquish it.

Many people can, on their own, make inner progress with the method and knowledge that I describe in my books and at this website. People acquire knowledge by studying the material and learning how it applies to them directly. In the discussion here, I offer the essentials of how this can be done. (The previous post—“Does Inner Growth Require Practical Steps?”—also covers this topic.)

I’ve written earlier about this essential knowledge, and it bears repeating in this new context. Two distinct levels of negative emotions need to be recognized. One level consists of the symptoms. These symptoms are the result of inner conflict that’s occurring at a deeper level in our psyche. The symptoms tend to be more conscious, while the deeper level of emotions is mostly unconscious. The challenge is to go deeper and become more conscious of the source of the symptoms. This is how the problems can be fixed once and for all.

Let’s start by listing some of these symptoms. They consist of negative emotions as well as self-defeating behaviors. [Read more...]

Does Inner Growth Require Practical Steps?

Is deeper insight enough? Or do we need something more?

Is deeper insight enough? Or do we need something more practical?

Is insight into our personal issues enough to speed inner growth? Or do we need to follow a comprehensive program that includes practical steps or strategies?

A visitor to my website asked, “Once we understand some of the principles of depth psychology, are there practical steps we can take to overcome the loathsome condition some of us find ourselves in?” He went on to write, “Just having deeper insight doesn’t seem enough to me. It sounds kind of a vague notion.”

Many people do wonder about this. Let me respond to this question by rambling on here—or typing away—and seeing what I can come up with that might be helpful.

First of all, strategies (or practical steps) can’t really be separated from insight. Acquiring insight is the best strategy of all. And the best strategy calls for more insight. They operate as one. Moreover, life itself offers structure and practical steps. What we learn in the way of insight flows and circulates through the moment-by-moment experiences that make up daily routine.

If there’s any one good strategy, it’s to keep the insight in focus. Learn it and remember it. Insight can dissolve if we don’t capture it. We can do this by writing it down on notes or in a journal and referring back to it regularly. We then have to begin to apply it to our everyday experiences. Acquiring the insight in itself is a grand achievement. Depth psychology has a certain vagueness or obscurity about it, especially when we apply it to ourselves. It’s a complex subject, ideally fitting the complex creatures we are. We need to apply all our intelligence to bring it into focus. [Read more...]