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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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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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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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…]

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