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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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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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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Defeating the Inner Bully

We can defeat the inner bully when we connect with our self.

We can defeat the inner bully by connecting with our authentic self.

I cringe at the childishness of modern psychology. In trying to solve our emotional problems, it offers us kindergarten-level information. If computer science were performing at this level, we’d all be using learning laptops for children.

I found this article at the Psychology Today website, and unfortunately it’s typical of much of the psychological “knowledge” that comes our way. The article is titled, “26 Ways to Love Yourself More,” and each of the 26 ways consists of simplistic advice. When it comes to the unconscious mind, advice is practically useless. The unconscious mind isn’t impressed by advice because it doesn’t operate according to rational principles.

The unconscious is chaotic, conflicted, and irrational. The best way to penetrate it—and to learn to really love ourselves and each other more—is to possess the correct knowledge concerning the inner dynamics that produce negative emotions and self-alienation.

I’ll illustrate my point with one of the tidbits of advice from the article mentioned above (number 14 on the list). It reads: “Unfortunately, my inner dialogue isn’t always kind or accepting. When I catch myself engaging in negative self-talk, I remind myself that I am enough, that I’m doing good work, and that I have friends and family who love me.”

This comment is going to be about as effective as a little boy or girl telling a big mean bully: “You shouldn’t be mean to me because I’m a nice person.” A bully would snicker maliciously at this and enjoy his meanness all the more. [Read more…]

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Releasing Inner Passivity

Inner passivity can be released through deeper self-knowledge.

Inner passivity can be released by acquiring deeper self-knowledge.

If your life’s no fun, you may be plagued by inner passivity. If you’re feeling stuck, unsettled, weak, trapped, overwhelmed, or anxious, you’re very likely under the influence of inner passivity.

As a description of a basic, clinical condition, the term inner passivity is unfamiliar to most people. It describes a congenital flaw in our mental and emotional programming. To understand it, start by reading “Lost in the Fog of Inner Passivity.” I also define and discuss the term in my books and in many of the posts on this website.

People have asked me if they can get rid of inner passivity by reading about it and studying the subject. Do they necessarily need a psychotherapist? Being able to go solo would be an advantage for those who don’t have the money to do therapy. Others will have difficulty finding a therapist who works, as I do, deep in the unconscious mind.

Yes, many people are able to made progress in releasing inner passivity without having to see a psychotherapist. This is achieved by studying the subject over a period of time and seeing clearly its manifestations or symptoms in one’s life. (I took up this question of needing a psychotherapist in an earlier post, “How to Be Your Own Inner Guide,” and this post looks at this issue more specifically in terms of inner passivity.) [Read more…]

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The Psychology of Wealth Disparity

The collective neurosis behind wealth disparity weighs on human destiny.

The collective neurosis behind wealth disparity weighs on human destiny.

Wealth disparity continues to grow in developed nations. By next year, as Oxfam reported this month, the richest one percent will likely control half the world’s total wealth. This disparity is happening, in part, because money, when used neurotically, is overrated, desperately accumulated, and recklessly dissipated.

In developed nations, all economic, political, and social dysfunction is, to a significant degree, a symptom of the extent of the population’s neurosis. This collective neurosis—the accumulated weight of unresolved negative emotions and self-defeating tendencies—is a massive burden on human destiny.

Both the rich and the poor have a role in this wealth-distribution problem. Let start by considering a factor that’s at play in the psyche of many rich people, particularly those who are lacking in empathy and generosity. It’s obviously self-defeating to be lacking these qualities. This insensitivity hinders the development of one’s own goodness and consciousness, and it blocks an individual from experiencing greater life satisfaction and any sense of higher purpose or destiny. In other words, self-aggrandizement invariably contaminates one’s moral life. Researchers have been finding in dozens of studies that a person’s feelings of compassion and empathy go down—and feelings of entitlement and self-interest increase—as his or her wealth increases. [Read more…]

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How Do We Achieve Self-Control?

People often lack self-control in very subtle ways.

People can lack self-control in ways that are subtle and unconscious.

“If self-control is so important,” a reader asks, “how are we supposed to achieve it?”

Personally, I don’t much like the term “self-control.” It suggests a desperate struggle between willpower and cravings, or between restraint and impulses. The term promises endless flirtation with the prospect of self-defeat. It even brings to mind the image of people whipping themselves into compliance or submission.

The term “self-regulation” has more decorum along with a more promising prognosis. It allows us to appreciate the subtleties involved in making our life run smoother. We want to be able to regulate our emotions in order, for instance, to prevent worry, fear, loneliness, and anger from invading our inner space. We also want to regulate our behaviors so we avoid, say, procrastination and overspending, along with compulsive or addictive pursuits.

The lack of self-control is obvious when people are plagued by addictions or compulsions. But an ability to regulate our life often requires us to appreciate our mind’s more subtle aspects. In this post I write about these subtleties. The purpose here is to uncover certain emotions and behaviors that contribute to suffering and self-defeat but have evaded our attention. Seeing these psychological dynamics with more clarity is an excellent way to strengthen oneself. [Read more…]

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A Painful Game People Play (Part I)

Playing these games is no fun.

Playing some games is no fun.

People frequently play painful games with one another—and they don’t have a clue what they’re doing. Psychological insight can help avoid such clueless behavior.

One such game involves the readiness to devalue another person—and then to identify with what that person is likely feeling. Behind the impulse to play this game is the unconscious willingness to re-experience old unresolved feelings of being unworthy or unimportant. (Part II is here.)

William and Emily had been friends and regular dance partners for almost three years. The friendship, though not romantic, had been especially meaningful and enjoyable for Emily. They had drifted apart in recent months because William, without explanation, had withdrawn his interest in her. They now felt some awkwardness when they met occasionally at the dance hall.

On such occasions, William would immediately become defensive. “Oh, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t called,” he typically said in a guilty voice. “I’ve been so busy. I’m sorry I didn’t call. Are you mad at me? Don’t be mad at me.” Typically, they would have a few dances, but soon he was off dancing enthusiastically with other women. [Read more…]

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Neurosis Unbound

By acknowledging neurosis, we see ourselves more objectively.

By acknowledging neurosis, we see ourselves more objectively.

One of the obstacles to human progress is the widespread extent of neurosis. It’s important that we clearly see the nature of this psychological impairment—this common virus of the psyche—in order to overcome it.

Amid the world’s turmoil, we need signposts for orientation and direction. The word neurosis was one such pointer. Unfortunately, the word is no longer widely used. It was dropped from the leading psychiatric reference book in 1994, after psychoanalysts were elbowed aside by the growing medical and drug-oriented approach to treating mental health.

One research psychiatrist said recently that the term neurotic now seems “old-fashioned and quaint” and “ultimately anachronistic.” Another expert commented, “The qualities we once attributed to neurotics have simply become normalized.” The category is obsolete, he said, because “we’ve become so accustomed to people with continual worries and fears . . .”

Are they saying neurosis has become fashionable? If so, our species has nowhere to go but down. The suffering associated with neurosis is not normal. It can be avoided with the right insight. [Read more…]

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