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...]

A Chaos Theory of the Mind

There are some childish things we still haven't put away.

There are some childish things we still retain and need to put away.

As adults, we like to think we’ve put away most childish things. But infantile and childish ways of experiencing ourselves and life linger in our unconscious mind. That baby in the adult’s psyche can be highly mischievous and harmful, producing chaotic reactions.

Early childhood’s influences on our adult experiences have parallels to the scientific concept of Chaos theory. This mathematical theory attempts to understand erratic behavior as it occurs in certain nonlinear systems such as weather patterns. The theory proposes, as one example, that small air disturbances in one location can result, days or weeks later, in storms or hurricanes more than a thousand miles away.

Comparatively, the unconscious mind of adults is buffeted by gale-force winds of emotional chaos that originated as an infantile effect decades earlier. Emotional associations from our distant past now buffet our life in incredible, mysterious, spectacular, and frequently painful and self-defeating ways.

Emotions percolate and circulate in our unconscious mind with some degree of chaos. We all know what it’s like to be happy one moment, sad the next, with no conscious input from us. We also know how hard it can be to regulate our desires, impulses, and emotional reactions. Both neuroscience and psychology have established that our brain struggles mightily and often unsuccessfully to limit the effects of irrationality. Often we try to apply common sense and reason to moderate unpleasant emotions or to curb self-defeating impulses. Yet our emotional side, with a life of its own, can often be impervious to rational entreaties. Still, we can bring order to the chaos when we understand just what we’re dealing with. [Read more...]

Finding Inner Longitude

Self-knowledge serves as our instrument of emotional navigation.

Self-knowledge serves as an important instrument of emotional navigation.

The marine chronometer invented in the 18th Century made ocean navigation much more precise. The chronometer determined longitude, and it enabled sailors to avoid ramming their ships into unexpected reefs and shorelines.

Emotionally, many millions of us still crash upon life’s hard rocks. Often we’re not sure why or how it happens, just that we somehow drifted badly off course. Each of us, metaphorically, is captain of a ship that can start to sink when unruly emotions surge against our hull and waves of negativity crash upon our deck.

We have instruments of emotional navigation to keep us afloat and on course. These include the methods, techniques, and knowledge of applied psychology. Unfortunately, experts can’t agree on what constitutes the basic axioms, principles, or truth of human nature. Psychological schools of thought clash like factions in a religious war. Scientific studies in psychology and brain research are failing to unlock the mystery of human suffering. Psychologists not only can’t discern what’s true, they don’t even speak the same language. Psychiatrists, as well, have been attacking each other within the profession over what constitutes mental illness.

A growing number of scientists believe that psychiatry needs an entirely new paradigm for understanding mental and emotional health, though they can’t say what that new knowledge and system would look like.

We absolutely need a new paradigm. Yet when essential knowledge about our dark side is presented, we refuse to accept it. Even our best scientists avoid cold truth about human nature because, like most everyone else, they refuse unconsciously to acknowledge it in themselves. What’s really going on in our psyche? [Read more...]

O Shame, Where is Thy Secret Source?

We can penetrate more deeply into the roots of shame.

Self-knowledge helps us to penetrate more deeply into the roots of shame.

Shame is a powerful and self-damaging emotion, and many books in recent years have tackled the subject in search of its roots. Some experts say shame is “the quintessential negative emotion” because it influences so many different moods and behaviors.

While shame can saturate our emotional life, most sufferers don’t understand its roots deep in our psyche. (I wrote about shame in an earlier post, “How Deeper Awareness Can Eliminate Shame,” and this is a fresh attempt to help readers understand the affliction.)

Shame is the painful sense that there exists a dark secret or an exposed truth about some vile, disgusting, or pitiful aspect of oneself. The negative emotion sometimes lies dormant until triggered by a situation or event in a person’s life. Other times, shame is active within us on a daily basis. Whether we’re conscious of our shame or not, it can play an important role in obesity, addictions, depression, crime, violent behaviors, sexual offenses, social phobias, career failure, outbursts of anger, and other self-defeating behaviors.

Shame is often associated with external variables such as our appearance, clothes, social skills, and a sense of physical and mental ineptitude. It’s also associated with inner fears such as being exposed as a fake or phony, and experiencing or imagining ridicule over our handling of money.

We have a better chance of overcoming shame when we know where it comes from and how it’s produced. Shame itself is a byproduct of forces, drives, and conflicts in our psyche. [Read more...]

Our Messy Mix of Aggression and Passivity

We produce both reactive aggression and unhealthy passivity in our psyche.

We produce both reactive aggression and unhealthy passivity in our psyche.

Here we stand, aggressively destroying our planet while passively letting it happen. We simply don’t have a lot of insight into two primitive aspects of our mental and emotional functioning—aggression and passivity.

Certainly we need some amount of aggression—make that healthy aggression—in order to thrive and to secure our place in the world. An aggressive approach to work and sports, for instance, typically produces more pleasure and success than a passive approach.

Yet people are likely to produce reactive or unhealthy aggression such as anger, resentment, and cynicism as much as the healthy variety. Along with overflows of reactive aggression, we also exhibit overdoses of passivity. How else can we explain our tolerance of a growing surveillance state, our acceptance of an oppressive banking system, our weakness for mass marketing and propaganda, and our sedation by pharmaceuticals and an entertainment complex?

Our entanglement in reactive aggression—whether physical, verbal, or in our thoughts—arises out of our unconscious temptation to entertain emotionally the feeling of being powerless. We’re tempted to act belligerently (or cheer on those who do) because we’re determined to cover up a weakness that we’re reluctant to face, namely our emotional entanglement in fear, insecurity, passivity, and self-doubt.

For instance, the desire to possess assault weapons and large ammunition clips, as opposed to a hunting rifle, is all about seizing an opportunity, out of inner passivity, to experience spell-binding sensations of power. [Read more...]

Speeding Up Our Evolution

It's time to really know ourselves.

With the right knowledge, we can quickly become happier and more evolved. Our emotional and behavioral problems emerge from blind-spots in our psyche. As we uncover hidden knowledge, we can avoid a lot of suffering and self-defeat.

Overcoming emotional and behavioral problems is a learning process more so than a treatment process. When we upgrade our psyche’s operating system in this way, we strengthen our intelligence and powers of self-regulation.

My book, Why We Suffer: A Western Way to Understand and Let Go of Unhappiness, goes much deeper than other psychology books. It exposes the source of our troubles with such clarity that we can heal ourselves and each other through our own intelligence and good intentions. The book is available here as a PDF file and at Amazon as an e-book (where reviews and an excerpt can be read).

Some of the knowledge is shared freely in my many posts at this website. It’s also presented under various topics in my other books.

Why Our Emotional Suffering Persists

Key findings from psychoanalysis expose the sources of our suffering.

Were we born to suffer? William Wordsworth seemed to think so when he wrote: “Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark. And shares the nature of infinity.”

Indeed, ignorance in centuries past doomed many people to perpetual suffering. Much physical suffering has been alleviated by modern medicine, of course. But I’m not so sure that emotional suffering is on the wane. Fortunately, “obscure and dark” recesses of our psyche can be illuminated by flares of knowledge from psychology. However, due to our resistance to facing deeper truth, the best and brightest knowledge is not widely understood.

Key findings from classical psychoanalysis have exposed the sources of our suffering. The first principle of this knowledge recognizes that our chronic upset, nagging self-doubt, and persistent complaints are symptoms of unresolved negative emotions that we’re unwittingly generating from within us.

Growing awareness produces an understanding that a deep negativity—consisting of an assortment of unresolved emotions—lurks in our psyche. On the surface, we may be optimistic, clever, and skillful. But deep in our unconscious mind we harbor the unfinished business of humanity, namely our compulsion to keep diving back into unresolved negative emotions. [Read more...]