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…]

Share This:

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…]

Share This:

Blinded by the Darkness of Trump

A person with a narcissistic disorder is desperate to cover up how he really feels about himself.

A person with a narcissistic disorder is desperate to cover up how he really feels about himself.

Many millions of Americans don’t realize that Donald Trump, their hero and standard-bearer, likely has a serious mental illness. Many experts in psychology assert (here, here, and here) that he is unfit to be president of the United States. I provide psychological evidence further along that speaks to the grave danger he represents.

Trump’s behaviors and personality attest to a narcissistic personality disorder. Symptoms of the disorder are outlined in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. The Manual says a narcissistic personality disorder is indicated when five of nine criteria are present. Trump would appear to have eight of the nine criteria: a grandiose sense of self-importance and readiness to exaggerate achievements and talents; a preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, brilliance, and beauty; a belief that he is special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other high-status people; a need for excessive admiration; a tendency to be exploitive for personal gain; a lack of empathy; a belief that others are envious of him; and arrogant or haughty behaviors or attitudes.

A personality disorder is a very serious level of dysfunction. Some of its symptoms even appear on the schizophrenia spectrum. I hesitate to attempt psychotherapy with people with personality disorders (ten disorders are listed in the Manual, including narcissistic personality disorder) because, through no fault of theirs, their resistance to inner progress is so formidable. I believe the Manual understates the severity of the condition when it says, “A personality disorder is an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment.”

Americans who feel aligned with Trump are, in my view, buying into and taking at face value the psychological defenses that Trump employs to maintain and even heighten his narcissistic outlook. They can’t see the danger he presents, in part because many of them are unwilling or unable to see beyond their own defenses, illusions, and denial. [Read more…]

Share This:

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…]

Share This:

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…]

Share This:

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…]

Share This:

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…]

Share This:

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…]

Share This:

Stung by Ingratitude

For some, the sting of ingratitude is very painful.

The sting of ingratitude is very painful.

Neglecting to say “Thank you” can infuriate the best of men. Did someone deny that courtesy to Shakespeare? If so, he let his characters do the talking. Viola proclaims in Twelfth Night, “I hate ingratitude more in a man / Than lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness, / Or any taint of vie whose strong corruption / Inhabits our frail blood.”

Shakespeare wasn’t finished. His King Lear thundered, “Ingratitude! thou marble-hearted fiend, / More hideous when thy show’st thee in a child / Than the sea-monster.”

Not all of us, fortunately, are so painfully stung by ingratitude. Benjamin Franklin apparently took it more in stride, observing that, “Most people return small favors, acknowledge medium ones and repay greater ones—with ingratitude.”

Yes, most of us have felt some sting from the ingratitude of others. Often the hurt is remembered and experienced anew many years after the offense. For the sake of our equanimity and peace of mind, what ought we to understand about ingratitude?

King Lear’s “hideous” disgust for a child’s ingratitude is misplaced. Young children quite naturally have little sense of gratitude. They tend to take for granted the benefits of food, clothes, toys, and loving kindness. Seeing this ingratitude, parents sometimes wonder if they’re spoiling their children. Children are often prodded: “Say thank you now!” They say the words but don’t necessarily register the feelings. [Read more…]

Share This:

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…]

Share This: