The Invisible Wall of Psychological Resistance

Resistance is no longer invisible once we start to see it operating in our psyche.

Resistance becomes visible once we start to see it operating in our psyche.

As the client of a depth psychologist back in the mid-1980’s, I acquired a copy of The Basic Neurosis by Edmund Bergler. My therapist told me the book was important, and I was determined to read it. I did so for five or six pages and then, inexplicably, put it aside.

Over the following weeks, I occasionally remembered the book and my intention to read it. But by then I couldn’t recall where I’d put it. I finally came across it six months later, tucked into an excellent hiding place, out of sight in a back shelf in my office.

In a classic case of psychological resistance, I had hidden the book from myself! I had not wanted to learn what it insisted was true, that unconsciously we’re ready and willing to participate in our own misery.

Psychological resistance is like an invisible wall that stands between aspiring individuals and the actualized self they desperately want to become. Bringing this resistance into view is vitally important to our personal development.

People continually bump up against this wall, get knocked back on their duff, get back up, and incomprehensibly repeat the procedure ad infinitum. We don’t even know we’re bumping into a wall. We’re just left feeling confused, dazed, and disoriented, unable to make any sense of recurring self-defeat or self-sabotage. [Read more…]

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Cognitive Therapy’s Flawed Premise

Psychology needs to shine light on the source of distress and dysfunction.

Psychology needs to shine light on the source of distress and dysfunction.

People struggling to realize their potential or find inner peace often turn to psychotherapy. Yet they find themselves wandering without much guidance through a marketplace of mental-health offerings and claims, lacking the knowledge to distinguish good therapy from bad. More than 150 different psychotherapies are offered in the United States.

In this post, I present some insights concerning cognitive behavioral psychotherapy (CBT), which has become one of the most available forms of treatment. My intention here, as well, is to show important distinctions between CBT and the depth psychology that I practice, particularly as these distinctions apply to clinical depression. This post is twice the length I usually write, and it gets a bit “technical,” so be prepared for some heavy-lifting.

Cognitive therapy, which attempts to address “distorted thinking” by replacing it with rational thinking, originated more than 50 years ago. By the 1980’s, it was merged with the techniques of behavioral therapy to become CBT. This therapy now is widely offered, perhaps in part because it’s a simple, straightforward method for psychotherapists to learn and practice. It offers, as well, a limited, controlled expenditure for insurance companies. I look upon it as the fast food of mental health.

Cognitive therapy originated out of the work of Dr. Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who became convinced in the late 1950’s that depression was not being effectively treated by psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysts believed that depression was caused by anger or hostility toward the self (self-aggression). Unfortunately, these practitioners were insufficiently effective in their treatment of depression because they were addressing only the aggressive side, not the passive side, of the primary inner conflict that produces the malady. [Read more…]

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Dealing with Election Aftershock

Don't grieve the election outcome. Sublimate your energy instead.

Don’t grieve the election outcome. Sublimate your energy instead.

This post is written especially for people who, having voted for Hillary Clinton in the U.S. elections this past week, are still feeling miserable. For those of you who voted for Donald Trump, congratulations! I hope he does a great job.

Seeing how I am about to address liberals sympathetically, let me first reassure conservatives that my political bias doesn’t interfere with the professional integrity of my services. It greatly helps us all to feel united when we understand that the conflicted psyche, when dishing out emotional pain, doesn’t care whether we’re conservatives, liberals, or independents. Nor does your psyche care who your psychotherapist votes for.

I am pretty liberal, for sure, and so I wasn’t immune to the surprise outcome of the election. After watching the returns on Tuesday night, I went to bed with unease and deep concern.

Since then, however, I have been doing some of my best sessions and best writing. This content will be published here in coming weeks. I have simply refused to worry or to suffer over the fact that Mr. Trump will be the new president and that Congress remains in Republican hands. I feel strong and self-assured. [Read more…]

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After the Election: Healing the Divide

We have to become smarter about our personal psychology.

We have to become smarter about our personal psychology.

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. [Read more…]

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Collapsing into Helplessness

A sense of helplessness. when emotionally embellished, makes things more difficult for us.

A sense of helplessness, when emotionally embellished, makes things a lot more difficult for us.

James E. Holmes’s spiral notebook helps us understand his descent into madness. Holmes, a neuroscience graduate student who killed 12 people in a 2012 mass murder spree in a Colorado movie theater, had covered page after page of his notebook with the single handwritten word Why?

In repeatedly writing Why? in his notebook (illustrated here), Holmes was desperately asking a question he couldn’t answer. Evidence suggests he was asking imponderable questions such as why do we exist, why does life exist, why should we matter in the great scheme of things. (His notebook brimmed with what his defense lawyers called “a whole lot of crazy”—delusions about death, human worth, and “negative infinity.”) Anyone who struggles relentlessly to come up with definitive answers to such questions faces the prospect of feeling painfully, profoundly helpless. (That’s why religions encourage people to deal with such questions on the basis of faith.)

Psychologically, we can make sense of what happened to Holmes. We can see clearly what he was doing to himself in the lead-up to his shooting spree. In a process of mental and emotional breakdown, he was falling into the passive side of his psyche and spiraling into a painful sense of utter helplessness. In doing so, the danger existed that he would flip to the other side and become manically aggressive.

This existence of inner passivity is not peculiar just to people with mental illness. We all have a passive side of our psyche, and it can lead us into emotional weakness and self-doubt, thereby creating serious behavioral difficulties. We benefit greatly by seeing and understanding this part of us. In the case of Holmes, meanwhile, we are able to study the role that this passivity plays in the development of mental illness. [Read more…]

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Solve the Mystery of Your Suffering

Some detective work is needed when investigating your psyche.

Some detective work is needed when investigating your psyche.

To solve the mystery of your suffering, you have to do some detective work. You also have to gather your courage and your wits as you embark on this hero’s life-changing journey.

Guided by the three exercises below, you’ll be taking a plunge into your psyche and the emotions and memories it holds to explore hidden recesses for clues and insights into this mystery.

You’ll be looking at your emotions and motivations, your relationship and family history, and the deepest feelings and beliefs you hold about yourself.

If you’re serious about learning something complex—and you are very complex—you have to put in study time. Your choices are to solve the mystery of your suffering, or to condemn yourself to a life half-lived or worse.

It’s a good idea to make notes and keep a journal. You might even want to have a spreadsheet to organize all the evidence and clues. Keep in mind that some emotional discomfort—resistance especially—is involved in doing these exercises.

To expose inner truth, we have to overcome denial and resistance, and be prepared to shift away from our old identifications. Such discomfort, while usually fleeting, is a prerequisite for personal growth and insight. In previous posts, I’ve written explicitly about this process here, here, and here.

So gather up your detective wiles, set aside some evenings, and dig in. It’s time to bid adieu to suffering. [Read more…]

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Answers to Questions from Readers (Part 4)

The road to inner freedom.

The path to inner freedom.

Readers often send me emails with their comments and questions. Here I answer three of them, edited to remove identifying details. My responses are in italics.

My life has been a struggle for many years. The negative emotions I experienced (mostly being viciously manipulated and disrespected by relatives and other people) are still present.

I always had the impression (even before reading your articles) that I was somehow choosing to be involved in those negative emotions and experiences. However, I did not have the proper understanding of the inner dynamics of this process. Certainly it is very difficult to accept the notion that I’m making inner choices in order to experience those bad emotions: this is extremely humiliating. I mean, it really is humiliating to recognize that I am choosing to hurt myself over and over again in this manner. What do you think about this? –DK

You are feeling what most people feel when presented with this knowledge. It’s very common to feel humiliated or offended when we first consider the possibility that we’re choosing unconsciously and repeatedly to indulge in certain negative emotions.

We experience this sense of humiliation mainly because our conscious ego is so offended at the revelations of this depth psychology. Our conscious ego, which operates rather like an old software program, is of course just one aspect of our total self. Yet a great many people identify with their ego and experience so much of their life through it. We can feel as if we are our ego. Absorbing depth psychology means, however, that we get access to some of the hidden operations, enabling a bigger self to emerge. Even though this benefits us greatly, we still experience resistance to the process. [Read more…]

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An Insightful Case of Self-Injury

As many as two million Americans harm themselves each year.

As many as two million Americans intentionally harm themselves each year.

It’s worrisome and disheartening to realize just how many people around the world regularly engage in self-injury or self-harm. They cut or burn their skin, pull their hair, scratch and interfere with wound healing, bang or hit the body, or swallow sharp objects or toxic substances.

Experts say that up to two million Americans, most of them teenagers and young adults, commit such acts each year. The psychiatric profession, meanwhile, has been unable to pinpoint a cause for why these individuals feel compelled to harm themselves.

Obviously, these people are emotionally troubled. Increased risk is found in individuals with borderline personality or bipolar disorders, yet many sufferers do not have a recognized mental disorder. Often they were sexually or verbally abused in childhood, and they experience themselves as failures and misfits. They usually describe themselves as being bad, unworthy, defective, and deserving of punishment.

As I attempt to show in this article, the behaviors of the people involved in self-harm, along with their emotional turmoil, make complete sense when we consider evidence from depth psychology. These individuals, for the most part, are plagued by inner conflict. Such conflict involves invisible inner dynamics—especially the engagement in the psyche between self-aggression and inner passivity—which strongly influence human emotions and behaviors. [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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