When in Doubt about Sexual Orientation

Unconscious conflict can block one's clarity on this issue.

Unconscious conflict can block one’s clarity on this issue.

A lot of young people are filled with doubt as to whether or not they’re gay. They focus on the question of their sexual orientation, but often this focus is misplaced. Often they’re entangled in unresolved self-doubt or self-alienation, and the question of their sexual orientation is just a “playing field” on which their issues of guilt, confusion, and indecision are acted out.

Many people, of course, have no doubt about their orientation and are perfectly happy with it. But others are highly ambivalent and often tormented. To minimize emotional distress, they’re better off making the right choice—whether they’re straight, gay, or lesbian—as soon as possible. But unconscious conflict involving self-doubt and self-alienation can block them from acquiring that certainty.

I received a lengthy email from a 21-year-old man who described many of the behavioral and emotional difficulties he had been experiencing, including anxiety, depression, guilt, and shame, as well as “a pretty bad masturbating routine, sometimes doing it four times a day.” He wrote in part: [Read more…]

Why Students Fail to Learn

Students can learn more easily when they unblock emotional issues.

Students can learn more easily when they unblock emotional issues.

Wouldn’t it be regrettable if an important new approach to learning didn’t include an understanding of the epidemic-level barriers to learning itself?

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has become involved in a program called the Big History Project, which has introduced a new approach to teaching history in hundreds of American high schools. This new approach establishes cognitive connections across varied subjects—from cosmology to archeology to globalization—so that students can acquire, as the program’s developer David Christian says, a “much better sense of the underlying unity of modern knowledge.”

The program challenges students to “synthesize complex information.” The aim is to enhance mental prowess of students and help them to appreciate more fully the interdependence of all life.

This is awesome! Seeing the world with more insight is vitally important. Perhaps the Big History Project can also inspire students to see themselves as well as the world more objectively. I hope the program’s developers incorporate depth psychology into the curriculum. Why? Because the subject exposes the roots of an extremely important concern of educational experts, namely the reasons why many children and adults are such poor students or learners. [Read more…]

Be Brave when Truth Comes Knocking

The best truths are revelations concerning human nature.

The best truths are revelations concerning human nature.

Dare I presume, like a guru on a mountain ledge, to speak about truth? It’s such an enchanting topic, one I can’t resist babbling on about. Still, I’m mindful (if not observant) of Lao Tzu’s words: “He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know.”

I was reassured about tackling this topic when a man, dressed in a monk’s brown robes and accompanying a child, showed up at my front door on Halloween night. Kiddingly, I asked him, “Are you the mad Rasputin?” He replied, “No, I’m Truth. And that scares everyone.”

Certainly, gentle John Keats wasn’t trying to scare us when he broached the subject of truth, producing a masterstroke: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — That is all / Ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.” I’ll try to say in 1,200 words what Keats said in eighteen.

Most of us claim to care about truth, and the pursuit of it ennobles us. Over the centuries we’ve established a nodding acquaintance with many noble truths. The best of these are revelations concerning human nature. They tell us why, for instance, we often doubt, distrust, and dislike ourselves and each other. Great truth reveals the beauty of our being and the truth of our essential value. Paradoxically, great truth often displays an ugly face, a blurred selfie of human nature that shocks our naïve self-image. Even when ugly, a truth that champions reality possesses raw beauty of its own. [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

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…]

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…]

The Golden Rule Needs Depth Psychology

There's a psychological reason for why the Golden Rule so often gets broken.

There’s a psychological reason why the Golden Rule gets broken.

The Golden Rule, which invokes us to treat others as we would like to be treated, is the cornerstone of social order and the foundation of civilization. Fortunately, we usually make some effort to abide by it. Unfortunately, though, the Golden Rule gets broken on a regular basis. A hidden conflict in human nature explains, in part, why this is so.

We do indeed, on a conscious level, want to be treated kindly, yet we often expect unconsciously to be refused, controlled, or dominated—or to be criticized, rejected, disrespected, betrayed, and abandoned. Not only do we expect such treatment, we often go about provoking it.

Note that children sometimes provoke their parents to punish them. In subtle ways, adults can also provoke others, often through unconscious passive-aggressive behaviors and tit-for-tat emotional reactions. Addictive personalities, codependents, people with guilt and shame issues, and people prone to career and relationship failure induce criticism, disapproval, and punishment from others. They act out with others what is unresolved in themselves.

Our negative emotions and self-defeating behaviors, which derive from unconscious inner conflicts, make it more difficult for us to feel compassion. In light of these conflicts, the Golden Rule might need an addendum: “Best applied under the supervision of depth psychology.” We usually need some degree of resolution of our inner conflicts in order to become truly open-hearted.

Compassion and love are the mainstays of the Golden Rule. But often people don’t know what it means to be compassionate. Codependents or enablers, for instance, feel “compassion” for the dysfunctional person who is being enabled, and they allow this misguided sense of caring to lead them into painful experiences and self-defeat. [Read more…]