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...]

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...]

A Deadly Case of Inner Conflict

Our struggle to make sense of what seems senseless.

These murders challenge us to make sense of what seems senseless.

We struggle to understand the mind of mass killers. Their evil actions blast away at the moorings of civilization and blacken the soul of humanity.

One of these acts of violence was investigated this month in The New Yorker magazine. The article, written by author and psychiatry lecturer Andrew Solomon, examines the life of Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who shot and killed his mother, 20 children and six teachers, and then himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.

Adam’s father, Peter Lanza, came forward to be interviewed by Solomon about his relationship with his son and about his understanding of his son’s mental health, in the hope of being helpful to others. Mr. Lanza has labored painfully since the day of the shootings to comprehend the horrific crime.

Adam Lanza, as Solomon’s article says, “was never typical.” He showed hypersensitivity at a young age, was diagnosed with sensory-integration disorder and later with Asperger’s syndrome (mild autism), and was susceptible to seizures. According to his father, he was “just a normal little weird kid” who displayed a sharp sense of humor and a keen intelligence. Although his emotional stability deteriorated through his teenage years, no one feared that he would become violent.

The article covers a lot of ground, yet still it leaves unanswered questions as to Adam’s motive for committing the atrocities. A forensic psychiatrist is quoted saying that Adam’s actions expressed this message: “I carry profound hurt—I’ll go ballistic and transfer it onto you.” Solomon, the author of the article, concludes that this statement reveals “as much motive as we’re likely to find.”

I believe, however, that we can acquire further insight into the killer’s state of mind, along with more understanding of his motive. [Read more...]

Stressed Out in America

Much of our stress is caused by inner conflict, not just outer circumstances.

Much stress is caused by inner conflict, not just outer circumstances.

The 134,000-member American Psychological Association recently published its annual report on stress. The report is trademarked: Stress in America™. Yet this official stamp of self-approval can’t hide the hollowness of the report.

Millions of Americans are struggling to keep their stress levels down. It’s vitally important that mental-health professionals provide the media with high quality psychological knowledge concerning this epidemic of misery. This knowledge should be made available at every opportunity. As in previous years, however, the APA’s latest report offers mostly numerical findings and percentage comparisons. No psychological insights are presented about the origins and causes of high stress.

The report’s numbers really only disclose that a bad situation appears to be getting worse: During the school year American teenagers experience more stress than adults, and teens believe the stress they’re experiencing far exceeds what might be considered healthy. Only 16 percent believe their stress level is on the decline, the report says, while twice as many teens say their stress level has increased and will likely continue to increase. The report is based on a survey done last summer of 1,950 adults and 1,038 teens.

The APA does mention that money and work continue to be the most commonly mentioned stressors for adults, adding that “these issues are complex and difficult to manage, often leading to more stress over time . . .” But the report says nothing that might at least hint at how and why issues concerning money and work “are complex and difficult to manage.” (I come back to this point further on.)

The APA notes that the majority of teens say the challenges they face at school are a major source of their stress. However, no details are provided that might explain why the school experience is so stressful. [Read more...]

Oh, Sweet Narcissism

Our intelligence is held hostage by lingering self-centeredness.

Our intelligence is held hostage by lingering self-centeredness.

Centuries ago our ancestors, in the throes of self-centeredness, cherished the commonly held belief that the Earth was right smack at the center of the universe. Even the poorest peasant could find solace in the notion of being at the center: “If the Earth is at the center, then I am, too.” What a sweet narcissistic way to perceive reality!

Copernicus and then Galileo, wielding scientific knowledge of our solar system, exposed the fallacy of that self-centeredness. Another narcissistic hurt, applied by Charles Darwin, informed the proud lords and ladies of the Industrial Revolution that they were descendants of early primates. Darwin was indignantly denounced by millions of people. To accept his proposition was to be humbled, offended, and belittled. A century and a half after Darwin, many millions still deny the science.

It appears that, at some point in history, we slipped through a little warp in the doorway of perception and placed our mind at the center of existence. We were proud of our clever mind and believed it elevated us far above other creatures. We fashioned God in our image and required that He focus his attention on us, confirming our special status. This narcissism stands on shaky ground. One minute we’re jubilant in our pride, the next we’re shaking in anger at being slighted or offended.

Narcissism has its genesis in the self-centeredness of the infant. An infant understands its existence in terms of self-centeredness. An infant, lacking experience and the development of intelligence, knows only its own sensations. The infant has no ability to perceive reality with any objectivity. For infants, nothing exists beyond their sensations. Each child is the center of his or her universe. Childhood development (as well as adult development) is a process of learning to overcome this distorted perception and become more objective and discerning.

Most adults get only part way there. We’re still seeing ourselves and the world with childish eyes. [Read more...]