How to Enhance Your Verbal Skill

The solution involves bringing our weak side into sharper focus.

The solution involves bringing our weak side into sharper focus.

You probably remember occasions when you had difficulty saying what you wanted to say or expressing what was on your mind. Some people become tongue-tied on a daily basis. Even when they do manage to speak, they can feel their communication is incomplete or is somehow jumbled and inarticulate. People frequently have to rehearse the words in their mind before they speak, and then the communication doesn’t sound genuine or authentic.

It’s bad enough that this lack of verbal skill reduces the pleasures of social and workplace encounters, but it’s also frequently accompanied by painful experiences of embarrassment, regret, and shame.

One person with this difficulty commented: “I always feel that I want to say more and don’t find the right words and feel confused whether to say it or not. Now, at work, sometimes I feel I might have something useful to say in a certain situation, but the moment passes and it’s too late.” [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…]

Tormented Mothers, Endangered Babies

Inner conflict plays a major role in maternal mental health.

Inner conflict plays a major role in maternal mental health.

Thousands of mothers are plagued on a daily basis by intrusive thoughts in which they imagine or see themselves doing harm to their children. The problem was highlighted this month in two articles (here and here) that appeared in The New York Times.

In these thoughts or mental images, the women consider dropping their infant or child from a building or bridge, suffocating or abandoning the baby, throwing him or her against a wall, or wrecking their car with the baby inside.

Only a very small percentage of women act on these impulses, yet the suffering of those who regularly entertain such thoughts is nonetheless considerable. Their emotional state can also affect their bonding with the baby, the health of the baby, and the wellbeing of their family.

Scientists attribute such maternal mental health problems to an interplay of genes, stress, hormones, and disrupted brain chemistry. Unfortunately, these experts are not paying much or any attention to depth psychology. They’re failing to see or appreciate the role that inner conflict plays in creating this mental and emotional suffering.

Recent studies indicate that, within one year of giving birth, at least one in eight women, and as many as one in five, develop symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, panic attacks, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Women suffering from these conditions are more likely to experience thoughts or impulses to harm their children. A dozen states, moved to action by occurrences in which a mother kills herself or her baby, have passed laws encouraging screening, education, and treatment. [Read more…]

Does Inner Growth Require Practical Steps?

Is deeper insight enough? Or do we need something more?

Is deeper insight enough? Or do we need something more practical?

Is insight into our personal issues enough to speed inner growth? Or do we need to follow a comprehensive program that includes practical steps or strategies?

A visitor to my website asked, “Once we understand some of the principles of depth psychology, are there practical steps we can take to overcome the loathsome condition some of us find ourselves in?” He went on to write, “Just having deeper insight doesn’t seem enough to me. It sounds kind of a vague notion.”

Many people do wonder about this. Let me respond to this question by rambling on here—or typing away—and seeing what I can come up with that might be helpful.

First of all, strategies (or practical steps) can’t really be separated from insight. Acquiring insight is the best strategy of all. And the best strategy calls for more insight. They operate as one. Moreover, life itself offers structure and practical steps. What we learn in the way of insight flows and circulates through the moment-by-moment experiences that make up daily routine.

If there’s any one good strategy, it’s to keep the insight in focus. Learn it and remember it. Insight can dissolve if we don’t capture it. We can do this by writing it down on notes or in a journal and referring back to it regularly. We then have to begin to apply it to our everyday experiences. Acquiring the insight in itself is a grand achievement. Depth psychology has a certain vagueness or obscurity about it, especially when we apply it to ourselves. It’s a complex subject, ideally fitting the complex creatures we are. We need to apply all our intelligence to bring it into focus. [Read more…]

A Remedy for Feeling Trapped

Emotionally, we have  a tendency to accentuate feeling trapped.

Emotionally, we have a tendency to accentuate feeling trapped.

Millions of people know the feeling of hopelessly trying to wiggle out of a vise. We can feel trapped by our jobs, relationships, and financial circumstances. We can feel trapped in an elevator or an airplane, or in our house, neighborhood, or the state where we live. Some people even feel trapped in their mind or their body.

“Here we are,” novelist Kurt Vonnegut noted bleakly, “trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” Playwright Tennessee Williams was no less grisly: “We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it.” Poor literary writers! Is this the sense of desolation that results from doing daily battle with a balky imagination?

It’s true, of course, that people can be trapped somewhat in unpleasant situations or predicaments. We might not have enough money, for instance, to just pick up and leave our job, relationship, or the town where we live. But often we embellish upon the feeling of being trapped, accentuating the misery of it all. At its worst, the feeling produces claustrophobia.

At a conscious level, people prone to feeling trapped want to feel free and unrestricted. But unconsciously, meaning outside their awareness, they have an affinity for (or resonance with) the feeling of being trapped. The feeling stems from lingering emotions and memories having to do with childhood helplessness and passivity.

So while we like to think we want to feel free, we might not quite know how to live without our old familiar sense of isolation, restriction, and boring routine. Hence, instead of confidently navigating our way into better situations, we remain stuck in the old pain of feeling trapped. Right from the start, we’re also quite capable of trapping ourselves in a difficult situation for the unconscious purpose of living our life through that familiar, painful experience. [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…]

Four Steps to Stifle Our Inner Critic

Our inner critic is harsh, cruel, and a big fat liar.

Our inner critic is a cruel callous bully, as well as a big fat liar.

We all have an active inner critic. It’s a force of human nature that I can, in whimsical moments, visualize as the leader of an outlaw trio that includes the gun-slinging desperado, Yosemite Sam, and his fellow Looney Tunes cartoon character, the ferocious, dim-witted Tasmanian Devil.

There’s nothing comic or funny, however, about having an active inner critic. It might be more accurately depicted as the leader of a trio that includes Darth Vader and Lord Voldemort. It produces much of humanity’s anxiety, fear, and depression. The inner critic can operate inside us like a cruel aggressive tyrant whose intent is to rule our life. Subduing or taming it could be the most heroic thing we ever do.

That process can be accomplished in four steps. First, we must become aware of our inner critic. A lot of people don’t even know they have one, though they might be suffering acutely from its influence. We want to notice how and when it intrudes into our life. Second, we begin to understand that our inner critic is a big fat liar. Third, we start to realize how we tend to be passive to it, how we let it get away with harassing, belittling, and punishing us. Fourth, we learn how to stand up to it. Our stronger sense of self and growing inner authority begin to subdue it. Here’s how we can make this happen:

Step One – Our inner critic dishes out self-aggression. We all have aggressive energy, and ideally we learn to channel it in creative, constructive ways. But we have to be emotionally strong and healthy to keep our aggressive energy from becoming a negative force, both in terms of how we relate to others and in terms of how, on an inner level, we relate to ourselves.  

When our inner critic is acting up and intruding into our mental and emotional life, we want to try to realize that this is occurring. People often don’t experience the inner critic in any conscious way. The stream of negativity that emanates from it can do much of its mischief entirely at an unconscious level. [Read more…]

Indecisive No More

What's the real intention of chronically indecisive people?

What hidden feeling are chronically indecisive people indulging in?

There’s something important that chronically indecisive people need to understand: They’re not actually interested in making a decision. Since this statement flies brazenly in the face of common sense, let me restate it differently.

Indeed, as these individuals anguish intensely over the pros and cons of a given option, they think they want to be decisive. But they’re fooling themselves. Behind their apparent sincerity, they’re cozying up to an old unresolved negative emotion (inner passivity) which involves feeling weak, helpless, and lacking in the sense of their own authority. This old joke satirizes the emotional predicament: “Once I make up my mind, I’m full of indecision.” 

Through this emotional weakness, indecisiveness haunts a significant percentage of people. When we finally do make up our mind—after agonizing and procrastinating long enough—we’re likely to start being indecisive over some other matter.

The misery and self-defeating consequences of our indecisiveness are the prices we pay to cover up an inner conflict. What is that conflict? On the surface of our awareness, we do indeed want to be decisive. We want to feel the pleasure and sense of authority that goes with making a good decision on our behalf. Deeper down, it’s a whole different matter. We don’t want to feel decisive. It’s too tempting instead to “know ourself” through unresolved inner weakness. We want to experience ourselves through the old self-doubt, uncertainty, and sense of unfitness that is an emotional default position. At a deep level, we’ve known ourselves through that familiar frailty as far back as we can remember. [Read more…]

How Inner Passivity Robs Men of Power

Many cultural and economic influences challenge the male psyche.

Many cultural and economic influences challenge the male psyche.

An acquaintance of mine (I’ll call him Sam) was arrested recently for obstruction of justice. He was pulled over by the police because his vehicle fit the description of one that had been stolen. Though innocent, Sam, who’s in his mid-twenties, became rude and uncooperative. When he could produce only an expired vehicle registration, he was handcuffed, taken to jail, and his vehicle impounded. His case was later dismissed, but he paid a price in time, money, and misery.

I’ve spent some time in Sam’s company and I know something of his state of mind. He’s a smart, caring, and loyal person. But he has a significant emotional weakness. He’s quick to feel that people are trying to control, dominate, or oppress him, and he’s adopted an anti-authority outlook on life that can be traced back to this emotional weakness. Because of this, he interprets authority as something unpleasant or bad that needs to be resisted.

Deposits of inner passivity are contained in Sam’s psyche. Inner passivity, as I describe it in many of my posts and books, is a feature of human nature. It’s a leftover mental-emotional residue from the stages of helplessness and dependence we experience through our childhood years. When we’re not aware of inner passivity, we can fall prey to its influence and become weak, ineffective, and prone to self-defeat. Instead of possessing true power, we’re likely to react unresponsively, passive-aggressively, or with belligerent self-defeating aggression. [Read more…]

A New Understanding of Bipolar Disorder

Inner conflict may be the main cause of bipolar disorder.

Unresolved inner conflict may be the main cause of bipolar disorder.

About 5.7 million American adults experience the particularly burdensome affliction known as bipolar disorder. Psychiatric experts are uncertain as to its origins, yet depth psychology does have a theory to explain one possible cause.

Depth psychology is usually not effective for people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Yet people with bipolar disorder, while they sometimes have psychotic breaks, usually return to a fully functional state between episodes. At such times these individuals can strengthen themselves and become more stable by learning self-knowledge that pertains to their affliction. Researchers pursuing medical and neuroscience investigations of bipolar disorder can also sharpen their science by considering the influence of these psychological dynamics.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, in combination with medications, is known to help bipolar sufferers cope with their affliction. This therapy is advice-oriented, while depth psychology tries to uncover the influences of inner conflict and help to resolve that conflict. Understanding the deeper psychological factors in bipolar disorder can help sufferers because the knowledge, when absorbed, enhances the individual’s intelligence and strengthens self-regulation.  

Psychoanalysis has identified a condition in the human psyche that it calls inner passivity. This passivity can be understood as the lingering effect of infantile helplessness. All of us, not just people with bipolar disorder, are to some degree influenced by it. [Read more…]