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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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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Anger and the APA

Anger is not normal--it's mostly an ugly emotion.

Anger is not a normal response—it’s mostly an ugly emotion.

Lots of people are angry these days. Social conservatives are angry at secular liberals, and liberals at conservatives. Democrats are angry at Republicans, and vice-versa. People are angry at the police, and the police are angry at the mayor.

That’s not such a bad thing, according to the American Psychological Association. I went to the 135,000-member organization’s website to see what it had to say about anger. According to the APA, “Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion.”

I completely disagree. Anger is mostly an ugly emotion. Much of the time it’s the result of unrecognized inner conflict. It’s also frequently a psychological defense, a way of blaming others for one’s own unresolved negativity.

Granted, people are often better off expressing their anger (please—not abusively!) rather than suppressing it. Yet why is this anger arising in the first place?

The APA goes on to say that anger is only a problem when it “gets out of control and turns destructive . . .” This is a trivial observation, and it’s not even accurate. Anger can be a problem long before it gets out of control. Consider a man who is speaking in an angry tone to his spouse. He’s not yelling, so he’s not necessarily out of control. He certainly doesn’t think that he’s out of control. Yet his anger is likely misplaced. If maintained over time, it will be harmful to himself and the relationship. [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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Prisoners of Guilt

After a guilt trip, Tom locked himself in an emotional prison. following a guilt trip.

After a guilt trip, Tom locked himself in an emotional prison.

Do guilt trips lock you up in an emotional prison? What do you need to know to deflect or neutralize guilt trips?

Let’s look at Tom’s encounter with guilt. He was concerned this past Christmas about picking out presents that his nieces and nephews would need or like. So he gave money to his sister to buy his presents for them. He did, however, wrap the presents, and he was present when they were opened Christmas morning.

The children liked the gifts and thanked Tom cheerfully. However, Alice, the eldest niece, told him with a hint of disapproval that she knew he hadn’t personally bought them. He hadn’t gone to the store, she reiterated, and picked them out himself. Taken aback, Tom mumbled an excuse about being too busy. Alice didn’t look impressed, though, by his explanation.

Afterwards, Tom was bothered all day by guilt. In his mind, he kept seeing Alice making her “accusation.” He began to feel upset at her. “How could she be so mean as to say that to me,” he thought, “after I got her such a nice present!” Soon he was speaking resentfully about Alice to a friend.

His friend told him, “Tom, it’s true she laid a guilt-trip on you. But you’re the one who got triggered. You have to ask yourself why you’re so upset by that young girl’s passing comment.”

This friend’s suggestion is a good one. Tom’s problem is not with his niece but with the ease by which he gets triggered by real or implied criticism. [Read more…]

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