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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A Decisive Look at Indecision

Can concrete steps be taken to climb out of chronic indecision?

Can concrete steps be taken to climb out of chronic indecision?

Chronic indecision has got to be one of the most painful symptoms of inner conflict, turning sufferers into queasy question marks stooped in a wilted crouch. Okay, maybe that’s a bit graphic—but you get the point.

I’ve written an earlier post on the subject (Indecisive No More), but one reader wanted me to say more about how to overcome this symptom.

He asked: “Are there concrete steps to break this pattern of chronic, debilitating indecision once you recognize what is going on? Are there real action steps that you can address in your writing?”

Suppose I were to give him a highly recommended concrete plan of action to inspire decisiveness. Would he decide to follow that plan? If he happens to come across another recommended plan of action, how will he decide which plan to follow? If he finally chooses one concrete plan over the other, will he decide to stick to that plan when the going gets tough? It’s pretty obvious that indecision turns concrete steps into wet cement.

When we venture into our psyche to get to the roots of indecision or other kinds of dysfunction, we require only one plan of action: we have to make conscious what has been inwardly weakening us and causing our self-doubt. [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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Inner Passivity Impairs Leadership Skills

Poor leadership is largely defined by a lack of self-awareness.

Poor leadership is largely defined by a lack of insight and self-awareness.

Researchers have found that inept bosses and supervisors are defined more by the important steps they do not take rather than by any overtly disagreeable conduct on their part. For the most part, these executives and managers don’t see or imagine what they are failing to do. Their failures are sins of omission rather than a result of crass behaviors.

These findings, as I interpret them, provide another example of how depth psychology can help people overcome everyday missteps and failures.

The research findings, posted online at the Harvard Business Review, analyzed the behavior of 30,000 bosses and managers. The findings were based on direct reports as well as on assessments from their peers. The researchers combed through 11,000 of the worst-performing of these managers, and they identified ten features that were common to mediocre or failing performances. Each of these features, as I see it, can be traced in significant part to the existence in the psyche of inner passivity.

Inner passivity is the hidden psychological aspect through which we become entangled in self-doubt and indecision. It blocks even the smartest people from achieving higher levels of performance. Inner passivity accounts for most of the ways in which we can be emotionally weak. Unfortunately, people usually fail to see or detect this passivity in themselves. (Read, Lost in the Fog of Inner Passivity and Our Messy Mix of Aggression and Passivity.)

According to the authors of the study, the ten features or flaws can be difficult to recognize. They’re “not the kinds of flaws we instantly recognize, either in others or in ourselves,” the authors say. “And they’re not the kinds of things people call out, since there’s nothing explicit that draws attention.” This observation describes the nature of inner passivity: it is difficult to see in ourselves and others. What we are likely to see instead (and what we experience, usually in a painful way) are its many self-defeating symptoms. [Read more…]

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Hidden Dynamics of Racism

Depth psychology sheds more light on racist behavior.

Depth psychology sheds more light on racist behavior.

News commentators have been trying to figure out what motivated a group of white University of Oklahoma students on an outing earlier this month to sing a racist chant laden with anti-black slurs and a reference to lynching.

The episode made national headlines after it was captured on video, and it led to the expulsion of two students, the disciplining of a few dozen more, and the closure of the university fraternity to which they belonged.

The students have apologized and appear contrite. Yet they probably don’t fully understand what possessed them to behave so badly. Commentators have attributed the action of the students to racism, bigotry, and cultural influences. But the episode can be understood, for the edification of everyone, at a deeper level.

The students were unwittingly expressing a hidden aspect of human nature. In varying degrees, all of us can feel vague doubts concerning our intrinsic value. At times, many of us feel deep inside a sense of being flawed, unworthy, bad, and insignificant. This is not something people readily talk about.

This impression can consist of a deep-down suspicion of being a fake, a fraud, a nobody. The existence in our psyche of this negative sense of self can, when acute, produce shame, anxiety, and guilt. People instinctively cover up or defend against the realization of how emotionally attached they can be, how identified they are, with this irrational impression. (The origin of this painful sense of self is discussed in an earlier post.) [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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Deliverance from Addictions & Compulsions

The emotions that trigger addictions are hidden in the psyche.

Emotions that trigger addictions are undetected in the psyche.

I have just completed a new edition of Secret Attachments: Exposing the Roots of Addictions and Compulsions. It’s available as an e-book on Amazon for the sale price of $2.99. If you get a copy, feel free to review it or leave a comment.

This was my first book, and I think it has aged very well since first published 22 years ago. With this 2015 edition, I have added many clarifications and revisions. Yet the structure of the book and much of the text remain the same. The book has a straightforward simplicity, a knack, I like to think, for making the principles of depth psychology readily accessible to everyday readers, including teenagers, without diluting the essential knowledge.

These psychological principles apply to us all, whether or not we have addictions or compulsions. So everyone can benefit by reading this book. Here is an excerpt from the opening pages:

Foreword to the 2015 Edition

A few years ago I came across this definition of an addiction: “An addiction is an unconscious way of coping with emotions.” Yes, that’s true, but much more explaining needs to be done. This book provides the full understanding of the relationship between addictions, compulsions, and unresolved negative emotions. [Read more…]

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Life’s Painful Entanglements (Part II)

We need to understand our contribution to difficult relationships.

We need to understand our contribution to difficult relationships.

A visitor to this website—I’ll call him Jim—wrote to me and asked, “What would you recommend for someone who is often sucked into negativity and drama due to the careless mistakes of others? I get triggered to feel angry and frustrated with their foolishness, and I can’t seem to shake the persistent negative feelings. Is it healthy to stay in relationships with people who do this?”

Jim is more likely to make wise choices concerning his involvement with these individuals once he examines his own possible contribution to the dysfunctional relationships. He likely plays a role in this dysfunction. If he looks deeply enough, he’ll be able to see how his unresolved issues are contributing to the problem. (Part I is here.)

He needs to understand exactly how he gets triggered by allegedly foolish people. Are they really so foolish, or is he exaggerating their missteps in order to blame them for his own issues and reactions? If they are so troublesome, why is he even involved with them in the first place?

Jim is not my client, so I haven’t spoken to him to uncover what’s going on in his psyche. Still, I can present five unconscious dynamics that could apply to a predicament such as this. Of these five, one or more likely pertains specifically to him. [Read more…]

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Insight into Gender Identity Disorder

Three psychological insights reveal important aspects of this issue.

Three psychological insights reveal important aspects of this issue.

The lives of transgender people are often agonizing. They experience significant distress or impairment concerning their strong desire to transition to the gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

How does the medical profession help? Psychiatrists regard their plight as a mental-health disorder. Under categories for children, adolescents and adults, the disorder is termed Gender Dysphoria (discontent) in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013).

The disorder’s symptoms are varied and painful. According to Wikipedia, adults with gender identity disorder are “at increased risk for stress, isolation, anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem and suicide.” Symptoms of the disorder in children include “disgust at their own genitalia, social isolation from their peers, anxiety, loneliness and depression.”

The psychotherapy that was practiced decades ago tried to help them become reconciled with the gender assigned at birth. Now the emphasis is more on providing affirmative care for the patient, with treatment driven by the patient’s desired outcome. Attempts to “cure” them by having them reconcile with their birth characteristics have been ineffective. It’s not helpful, the American Psychological Association says, to force a transgender child “to act in a more gender-conforming way.”

While compassion and support for the individual are essential, there are certain deeper psychological aspects of this problem—issues involving self-doubt, self-rejection, and feelings of being trapped—that aren’t getting sufficient recognition and understanding. [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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