The Invisible Wall of Psychological Resistance

Resistance is no longer invisible once we start to see it operating in our psyche.

Resistance becomes visible once we start to see it operating in our psyche.

As the client of a depth psychologist back in the mid-1980’s, I acquired a copy of The Basic Neurosis by Edmund Bergler. My therapist told me the book was important, and I was determined to read it. I did so for five or six pages and then, inexplicably, put it aside.

Over the following weeks, I occasionally remembered the book and my intention to read it. But by then I couldn’t recall where I’d put it. I finally came across it six months later, tucked into an excellent hiding place, out of sight in a back shelf in my office.

In a classic case of psychological resistance, I had hidden the book from myself! I had not wanted to learn what it insisted was true, that unconsciously we’re ready and willing to participate in our own misery.

Psychological resistance is like an invisible wall that stands between aspiring individuals and the actualized self they desperately want to become. Bringing this resistance into view is vitally important to our personal development.

People continually bump up against this wall, get knocked back on their duff, get back up, and incomprehensibly repeat the procedure ad infinitum. We don’t even know we’re bumping into a wall. We’re just left feeling confused, dazed, and disoriented, unable to make any sense of recurring self-defeat or self-sabotage. [Read more…]

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Dealing with Election Aftershock

Don't grieve the election outcome. Sublimate your energy instead.

Don’t grieve the election outcome. Sublimate your energy instead.

This post is written especially for people who, having voted for Hillary Clinton in the U.S. elections this past week, are still feeling miserable. For those of you who voted for Donald Trump, congratulations! I hope he does a great job.

Seeing how I am about to address liberals sympathetically, let me first reassure conservatives that my political bias doesn’t interfere with the professional integrity of my services. It greatly helps us all to feel united when we understand that the conflicted psyche, when dishing out emotional pain, doesn’t care whether we’re conservatives, liberals, or independents. Nor does your psyche care who your psychotherapist votes for.

I am pretty liberal, for sure, and so I wasn’t immune to the surprise outcome of the election. After watching the returns on Tuesday night, I went to bed with unease and deep concern.

Since then, however, I have been doing some of my best sessions and best writing. This content will be published here in coming weeks. I have simply refused to worry or to suffer over the fact that Mr. Trump will be the new president and that Congress remains in Republican hands. I feel strong and self-assured. [Read more…]

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After the Election: Healing the Divide

We have to become smarter about our personal psychology.

We have to become smarter about our personal psychology.

Whoever is elected president on Nov. 8 has to deal with an acrimonious divide at the heart of the American union. To heal this breach, we have to become smarter about our personal psychology.

Everyone’s at least a little quirky and irrational. We often accept and like each other for the ways we’re different, peculiar, eccentric, and even weak. Americans are remarkable for generosity, honestly, and kind spirit. The country’s vitality is enriched by flamboyant, loveable characters. But the character of so many millions of citizens has darkened and blackened in the past few decades, to the point that the nation is drifting into self-defeat.

While dysfunctional people can often appear normal on the surface, they harbor deep grievances. They’re closing in on themselves, feeling bitter, mean, cynical, suspicious, and uncivil. Their thin-skinned psyche cracks open at the tiniest real or imagined offense to suck in the impression of being criticized, disrespected, refused, oppressed, or controlled. Enough Americans are doing this to constitute an epidemic of neurosis.

Being dysfunctional or neurotic has nothing to do with whether a person is liberal or conservative, rich or poor, black or white. All these groups are riddled with neurotics, who are everyday people in emotional pain due to unresolved inner conflict. The more intense their inner conflict, the more neurotic they are, and the more they are thereby likely to betray their own and the nation’s ideals. [Read more…]

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Solve the Mystery of Your Suffering

Some detective work is needed when investigating your psyche.

Some detective work is needed when investigating your psyche.

To solve the mystery of your suffering, you have to do some detective work. You also have to gather your courage and your wits as you embark on this hero’s life-changing journey.

Guided by the three exercises below, you’ll be taking a plunge into your psyche and the emotions and memories it holds to explore hidden recesses for clues and insights into this mystery.

You’ll be looking at your emotions and motivations, your relationship and family history, and the deepest feelings and beliefs you hold about yourself.

If you’re serious about learning something complex—and you are very complex—you have to put in study time. Your choices are to solve the mystery of your suffering, or to condemn yourself to a life half-lived or worse.

It’s a good idea to make notes and keep a journal. You might even want to have a spreadsheet to organize all the evidence and clues. Keep in mind that some emotional discomfort—resistance especially—is involved in doing these exercises.

To expose inner truth, we have to overcome denial and resistance, and be prepared to shift away from our old identifications. Such discomfort, while usually fleeting, is a prerequisite for personal growth and insight. In previous posts, I’ve written explicitly about this process here, here, and here.

So gather up your detective wiles, set aside some evenings, and dig in. It’s time to bid adieu to suffering. [Read more…]

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Answers to Questions from Readers (Part 4)

The road to inner freedom.

The path to inner freedom.

Readers often send me emails with their comments and questions. Here I answer three of them, edited to remove identifying details. My responses are in italics.

My life has been a struggle for many years. The negative emotions I experienced (mostly being viciously manipulated and disrespected by relatives and other people) are still present.

I always had the impression (even before reading your articles) that I was somehow choosing to be involved in those negative emotions and experiences. However, I did not have the proper understanding of the inner dynamics of this process. Certainly it is very difficult to accept the notion that I’m making inner choices in order to experience those bad emotions: this is extremely humiliating. I mean, it really is humiliating to recognize that I am choosing to hurt myself over and over again in this manner. What do you think about this? –DK

You are feeling what most people feel when presented with this knowledge. It’s very common to feel humiliated or offended when we first consider the possibility that we’re choosing unconsciously and repeatedly to indulge in certain negative emotions.

We experience this sense of humiliation mainly because our conscious ego is so offended at the revelations of this depth psychology. Our conscious ego, which operates rather like an old software program, is of course just one aspect of our total self. Yet a great many people identify with their ego and experience so much of their life through it. We can feel as if we are our ego. Absorbing depth psychology means, however, that we get access to some of the hidden operations, enabling a bigger self to emerge. Even though this benefits us greatly, we still experience resistance to the process. [Read more…]

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Breaking Free of Inner Passivity

Inner passivity keeps us locked up in misery and self-defeat.

Inner passivity keeps us locked up in misery and self-defeat.

Inner passivity is an unconscious realm of our psyche that’s very much “in our face” emotionally. I write a great deal about inner passivity, and I keep trying to bring this psychological aspect into better focus.

My readers keep asking me how, exactly, can they eliminate inner passivity from their emotional life. “Okay, I can see that it’s a problem for me,” they say. “Now how do I get rid of it?”

This message from a reader in Australia is typical of this feedback:

The symptoms you describe in your book, The Phantom of the Psyche, were almost a carbon copy of what I’ve suffered from my whole life. I loved the book, yet I’m still not sure what to do in daily life at a more practical level. The exercises in the book make sense but they seem a tad trivial when juxtaposed with the scope of the problem. Perhaps I’m asking too much of your book and that psychotherapy is really the only way to change things. Any thoughts on this would be great.

Good psychotherapy can certainly bring inner passivity and its symptoms more quickly into focus. Yet very few psychotherapists are going to address inner passivity directly. Here, in this longer than usual post, I offer some further direction for doing this on one’s own. [Read more…]

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Say Goodbye to Your Regrets

We can resist letting go of our regrets.

We can be very resistant to letting go of our regrets.

“I don’t think I can every let go of my regrets,” a new client sadly remarked. She was saying, indirectly, that she didn’t know how to live without her grief, sorrow, and self-recrimination.

Regrets are precious to the dark side of our psyche. They’re used, as well, by our psychological defenses, as I explain further along.

Sure, we might say we want to be free of all regrets. Deep in our psyche, nonetheless, we cling quite stubbornly or perversely to them.

Who in their right mind, we wonder, would want to be the stooped-over bearer of old regrets? The extra tonnage on our emotional life obviously produces unhappiness. Yet many millions of people carry this burden to the grave. This suffering is completely unnecessary. All that’s needed to drop this heavy load is the right self-knowledge.

“Never look back, unless you’re planning to go that way,” Henry David Thoreau famously said. Unfortunately, a lot of people do plan to go that way—or, more accurately, are compelled to go that way—in search of their favorite varieties of suffering, thanks to hidden dynamics in their unconscious mind. [Read more…]

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Tears of Self-Deception

Tears can be slippery accomplices in our willingness to suffer.

Tears can be slippery accomplices in our suffering.

How sweet it is to cry and water heaven with our tears, romantic poets are wont to say. Such poets venerate tears as “the heart’s own dew” or “summer showers to the soul.”

Yet the sources of our tears are as varied as the mixtures of water, salts, antibodies, and antibacterial enzymes of which they are composed. The rivulets upon our cheeks have their emotional sources in genuine happiness and joy but also in regret, sorrow, guilt, shame, and self-pity.

Tears can be used to deceive others—but also to deceive ourselves. Used as a psychological defense, tears can cover up the lies—or at least the fibs—we tell ourselves. It’s worth looking into this “slight-of-mind” because we become smarter and more insightful every time we catch a glimpse of how our defenses work.

Of course, it’s usually better to cry than to dam up emotions. Crying can be appropriate and healthy, especially when it’s experienced as a deep positive connection with one’s self or others. Tears can also be authentic responses to truth, beauty, kindness, and wonder.

Still, tears can also be slippery accomplices in our unconscious readiness to go on suffering over some unresolved issue. I provide an example below of a woman being deceived by her tears. [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 part in 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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Emerging from Shyness

Inner fears left over from childhood are the main cause of shyness.

Inner fears left over from childhood are the main cause of shyness.

Shyness is a remarkably common affliction. Experts believe the incidence of shyness in the United States is close to 50 percent—and rising.

Most shy individuals are not experiencing the problem at the acute level in which it becomes a social anxiety disorder. Yet even “gentle shyness” can be painful since it derives from the fear of social disapproval and humiliation.

It’s important to distinguish between shy people and introverts. Some introverts are shy, of course, but shyness is inherently painful while introversion is usually not. Shyness is rooted in fear, while introversion is largely derived from one’s preference for quieter, more solitary situations and experiences.

It’s also important to distinguish shyness from sensory processing disorder. People with this disorder experience varied unpleasant sensations due to how they process input from their own body and the environment. For this reason, they often avoid social situations—for instance, noisy parties and restaurants with strong smells—and can be seen as shy.

Shy people process social encounters through inner fear. (This correlation between shyness and inner fear is shown here.) Because their perception of the world and others is tainted by inner fear, shy people see the people they encounter as being indifferent to them, disappointed in them, critical of them, or hostile toward them. [Read more…]

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