“Why Am I so Easily Discouraged?”

Unconsciously, we hold onto emotional states that lead to discouragement.

Unconsciously, we hold onto emotional states that lead to discouragement.

In Greek mythology, King Sisyphus was punished for his villainy by having to roll an immense boulder up a hill. After it rolled back down, he had to start over and then repeat the process for eternity. It’s a story for the ages because so many people can relate to feelings of persistent discouragement.

Many people go around sneaking that disheartening feeling into their daily life for hidden or unconscious reasons. Here are ten ways we maintain the emotional conditions that lead to discouragement. With this insight, the boulder stops here:

1 – Comparing oneself to others. Some people are always comparing themselves to others. In comparing themselves, they’re likely to be introducing self-doubt into their assessment. Their conscious intention is usually to feel good about themselves. Their unconscious intention, however, is to entertain the feeling of somehow being a lesser person. They deceive themselves by thinking they want only to feel good about themselves. If they feel smug or superior when comparing themselves to others, they’re using this satisfaction to cover up (defend against) what they don’t want to acknowledge, namely their hidden emotional willingness to experience themselves as the lesser person.

Sometimes, though, the person doing the comparing is quite conscious of feeling himself to be the lesser person. So he’s cultivating that painful impression in a more overt manner. Either way, he’s likely to feel disheartened. When we compare ourselves to others on a regular basis, we’re going to be prone to bouts of discouragement because we’re bringing forth self-doubt and actively undermining our self-esteem. The solution is to become aware of what it means to be comparing oneself to others and to understand that in doing so we’re actually belittling ourselves and setting ourselves up to be easily discouraged.

2 – Chronic complaining. Some among us are chronic complainers. We moan, groan, and whine about the slightest annoyances or challenges. [Read more…]

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Paris and Our Discontents

The hatred of terrorists is produced entirely within their own psyche.

The hatred of terrorists is produced entirely within their own psyche.

My anguish at the terrorist attacks last week in Paris has aroused some passionate intensity. Here is my response, which is more in the form of an op-ed piece than my usual expository postings.

As much as we despise the murderous maniacs of the Islamic State, they have, like us, a human psyche. The essential features of the psyche are remarkable similar across all races and national boundaries. Even the psyche of the mentally ill is similar to those in normal people, though, of course, the emotional dynamics of the former are more conflicted and intense. To some degree, everyone is challenged by inner conflict in the psyche, and most people are in the dark concerning these psychological dynamics that instigate emotional misery and behavioral self-defeat.

Before discussing those deeper dynamics, let’s consider a wider perspective on the human capacity for destruction. The mayhem produced by the Islamic State might be the leading edge of a growing disunity and disruption that is manifesting in the psyche of a great many people, producing a sweeping epidemic of destructive behaviors. Haven’t technology’s worst side-effects become the terrorism of nature? Isn’t capitalism, as it has mutated, terrorizing labor and the poor? Is it not fitting to suggest that America’s extremist politics have become the terrorism of democracy? Perhaps rank ignorance and widespread narcissism are terrorists of civic virtue.

This Age of Anxiety is convulsing now as terrorism and climate change magnify the stress. A new report finds that middle-aged white Americans are, in increasing numbers, dying from suicide and from drug and alcohol poisoning. Describing the report as a measure of our “existential despair,” Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman says “the truth is that we don’t really know why despair appears to be spreading across Middle America.” [Read more…]

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Acquiring a Feel for Natural Aggression

 Natural aggression is a positive force that provides personal satisfaction.

Natural aggression is a positive force that provides personal satisfaction.

Some psychologists claim that aggression is an undesirable trait. At Wikipedia, aggression is defined as an “overt, often harmful, social interaction with the intention of inflicting damage or other unpleasantness upon another individual.” Assertiveness is acceptable, these experts say, aggressiveness is not.

I disagree. Now, of course, I’m not discounting the value of assertiveness. And I obviously understand that some forms of aggression are completely unacceptable. But natural aggression can be seen and experienced as positive strength. It’s exactly the kind of verbal power and emotional force that’s needed to counter the aggression that’s often dished out by bullies, petty tyrants, and ignorant people intent on getting their way.

In this post I want to explore the subtle yet important distinctions between aggressiveness and assertiveness. The distinctions are important. We want to be as powerful as possible and trust that we’ll use that power wisely. Further along, I provide an example of the power and effectiveness of natural aggression.

A lot of people have a tendency to be passive and defensive. Often, though, they can swivel in an instant into reactive, angry aggression. Frequently, the passive person sees neither his passivity nor the inappropriateness of his reactive aggression. He often feels that his combative bluster is his saving grace. One passive fellow I knew polished his self-image with daily reminders of the aggressiveness he could muster when confronting people. His aggressiveness, however, was usually rude, demanding, and ultimately self-defeating. [Read more…]

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Defensiveness for Dummies

Chronic defensiveness is so irritating, like living on a village square where the town criers daily proclaim their innocence. Such squirmy avoidance is quite possibly the number one pollutant of relationship harmony.

It’s worse than a bad habit or disagreeable personality trait. Driven by inner conflict, chronic defensiveness is compulsive behavior. Fortunately, even dummies can overcome it by learning about the psychological dynamics behind it.

Even when we try as gently as possible to discuss an issue, the defensive person often goes negative: “I don’t want to talk about that!” or “It wasn’t even my fault because …” or “Why are you talking about this again!” or “I haven’t had time to take care of that!” Often their words are expressed in hurt, indignant, offended, or angry tones of voice.

Sometimes, in contrast, the defensiveness becomes self-pitying or pathetic when, for instance, a person says repeatedly, “I can’t change the past;” “I try so hard;” “No matter what I do, it’s never enough;” or, “If only I had known in time.” Defensiveness becomes entangled in self-doubt or self-reproach, as in, “I’m just a hopeless case;” or, “I can never figure out the right way to do it.”

We’re certainly upset when the person we care about or love is suddenly erecting these kinds of emotional roadblocks to deeper connection and intimacy. Then again, we might be the culprit ourselves, the grumpy or self-pitying dispenser of an ever-ready defensiveness that is very upsetting to others. [Read more…]

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Who Wants to Be a Celebrity?

Fans of celebrities settle for crumbs at the banquet of their own greatness.

Fans of celebrities settle for crumbs at the banquet of their own greatness.

Lots of people feel unrecognized and unappreciated. They experience themselves to a considerable degree through feelings of being unworthy and unloved.

When such people spot a celebrity in the flesh, they have an emotional reaction that usually varies according to their self-esteem and also to the degree in which the celebrity is famous. A celebrity’s ranking on the billboards of stardom determines his or her status in their eyes.

If the celebrity they see on the street is the local TV weatherman, their eyes might soak him or her up for an instant or two, and then they’ll probably go about their business with a minimum of emotional disruption. However, if the celebrity is a high-flying Hollywood movie star, their eyes fasten like rivets to this person. They’re likely to slip into a woozy state of disequilibrium complete with rapid pulse and sweaty palms.

The lower one’s self-esteem, the greater the emotional thrill that’s experienced in the presence of a celebrity. The ubiquity of celebrities is a cultural anomaly that flourishes under the auspices of the low self-esteem of the masses. Low self-esteem also signifies more time spent fantasizing about being a celebrity. Many celebrities, meanwhile, are emotionally dependent on the adulation they receive from us. [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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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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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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Unconscious Factors Fuel Abortion Fight

Behind the abortion debate is the great issue concerning human consciousness.

Behind the abortion debate is the great issue of human consciousness.

The abortion fight won’t go away. This month the United States Senate failed to create a fund for victims of sexual trafficking because an abortion provision had been inserted into the bill. Meanwhile, legal challenges are proceeding in many states over recent legislation that restricts the constitutional right of women to have abortions.

Deeper psychological understanding of this conflict can help to resolve it. For starters, we have to talk about abortion without becoming so uncivil and confrontational. The abortion debate is very emotional because, behind it, a larger battle is being waged over issues of submission, compliance, and control over the minds of women and men.

I’m not interested in changing anyone’s position on the abortion issue. I only want to bring a few psychological ideas to the debate. These ideas may be helpful and stimulating to people who are ambivalent or undecided, as well as those who are firmly in one camp or the other.

So what’s going on in our unconscious mind? Some people unconsciously identify with the fetus. Identification is a psychological process through which we “get into the skin” of people or creatures in order to feel what we imagine they’re feeling. In doing this, we often experience a painful, negative emotion. This identification takes place because we’re compelled to experience whatever is unresolved in our psyche. People can be identifying with the fetus as a “person” who isn’t wanted or valued. Such painful feelings correspond with unresolved hurt in their own psyche. [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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