Answers to Questions from Readers (Part 2)

We become stronger by recognizing and resolving inner conflict.

We become stronger by recognizing and resolving inner conflict.

Readers often send me emails with comments and questions. I answer as many as I can. Sometimes I can only offer encouragement and a bit of advice. Here are some questions, edited to remove details that could identify the individuals, along with my responses (in italics).

Dear Sir, I came across your articles a while ago and found them profound and interesting. Although I know about the fact that inner voices are the source of our issues, and those voices have been absorbed by our mind during our journey of life, I still have not been able to control my perfectionistic qualities. The more I have witnessed and examined my feelings, the more I have realized that what some people see as perfectionism in me is in fact a combination of OCD, self-doubt, self-consciousness, and fear of people’s judgment.

I know that we can set ourselves free once we collect enough awareness of our issues, but I’m getting nowhere and feel like I really need help. I have been feeling a huge, horrible pressure in my abdomen, lower ribs, and chest. It feels like something wants to be released but fears won’t allow it. I’ve been suffering from this pressure for more than 18 months now. I would highly appreciate your advice.

Thanks for writing. You’re correct that your perfectionism is a fear of people’s judgment. But you want to understand that this fear serves as a psychological defense. The defense is employed to cover up your unconscious willingness to soak up criticism. [Read more…]

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The Art of Self-Regulation

Greater insight helps achieve improved self-regulation.

Greater insight helps us to achieve improved self-regulation.

Everyone knows the feeling of eating a bowl of ice-cream or having a glass of wine after pledging to stop. We say we’re going to eat and drink less, exercise more, stop smoking, be proactive, keep out of debt, get to bed at a decent hour—and then we fail completely to keep our word.

Sometimes we surrender to our impulses, cravings, or desires before the ink is even dry on our pledge to reform.

It’s time to learn a trick or two from the art of self-regulation. In keeping with this holiday season, I illustrate this method as it involves sweets and sugar consumption, but the practice can be applied to a wide variety of unwanted or unhealthy behaviors.

Take the case of Jamie. He’s overweight and a candidate for diabetes, yet he succumbs frequently to what he calls his “sugar addiction.” He needs to understand that his problem is not about sugar. His craving doesn’t stem from a physical addiction. We might say, instead, that his heavy consumption of sugar is due to a psychological addiction. That’s because the craving and his weakness in succumbing to it have to do with psychological conflict.

We’re all conflicted to some degree. We all want to feel strong and powerful, yet many of us find ourselves entangled in negative emotions involving helplessness, passivity, and feeling controlled. Life often feels like an everyday tussle between excess and moderation, and we find ourselves in various situations tottering back and forth between strength and weakness, resolve and indecision, and confidence and self-doubt. All the while, we want to feel we have some freedom to break the rules of moderation now and then. [Read more…]

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The Thrill of Fear

An unconscious "bug" in our psyche creates hidden pleasure in our fears.

An unconscious “bug” in our psyche creates hidden pleasure in our fears.

An outbreak of fear is degrading our humanity. A particular weakness in our psyche—a “bug” in our unconscious mind—causes fear to feed upon itself, making the current pandemic of fear especially virulent.

Terrorism triggers fearfulness, but it’s not the cause of it. The cause or the source of our fear lies within us. Some of our fear derives from a genuine fight-or-flight instinct, yet we also have an unconscious resonance with fear. While it’s seemingly counter-intuitive to say so, we actually “get off” on our fear.

Fear creates within us a certain excitement, thrill, tumult, and buzz that we find alluring and compelling. Fear can become an emotional addiction in the sense that we don’t know how to live without it and in the sense that we feel more fully alive when possessed by it. On the surface, though, we’re unaware of how much we find fear to be enchanting and exhilarating.

Fear is a powerful elixir that counteracts the stupor, dullness, and passivity that come from living in the clutch of close-mindedness. People can find intense pleasure in their fearfulness and, in fact, often pay good money to be frightened. We do it at theme parks on roller-coaster rides and haunted house visits. By the millions, we read fiction thrillers, mysteries, and horror stories, along with nonfiction detective and crime stories. These genres and themes are often the stuff of blockbuster movies. Many productions seem increasingly fear-inspiring with their graphic portrayals of ghouls, vampires, and armies of zombies.

Fear is commercialized by certain broadcasters who are willing to cater to the base elements of our humanity. Dressed up as political commentary, fear-inspired discourse finds wide audiences of neurotic and psychologically naïve individuals. [Read more…]

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Answers to Questions from Readers

Questions involving sexual and relationship issues.

Questions involving sexual and relationship issues.

Visitors to this website often send me emails with comments and questions about their personal issues and struggles. I answer as many of them as I can. Sometimes I can only offer encouragement and a bit of advice. Here are some of these questions, edited to remove details that could identify the individuals, along with my replies (in italics). This set of questions deals with sexual and relationship issues.

Hello. I stumbled upon your site while trying to research any connection that exists between masochism and depression. I am trying to find out whether it is better to indulge sexual masochistic tendencies or to fight against them. I have had masochistic fantasies ever since I was a young girl, and they are usually the only thing that turns me on.

Only recently (after turning 30) did I find someone who is a sadist, and we started an SM relationship. However, I also have a history of depression. I’ve been dealing with an episode over the past few months, and it has cost me the SM relationship (due to my lack of interest in sex while depressed.) I want to keep my sadist boyfriend, and have felt more sexually fulfilled by him than anyone before due to the freedom of exploring my masochistic fantasies.

I have felt an intimacy with him that I never felt before. But I also am concerned whether indulging in these tendencies (and therefore encouraging submissiveness) will hinder my recover from depression (which seems to require strong self-empowerment).

Am I wrong to see these two facets of my psyche as conflicting? Is there any way that exploring sexual masochism can lead to self-empowerment? I don’t know who to ask about this and have found little help on the web. After perusing your website it seems you might be of help.

It’s likely that you will continue to be troubled by depression as long as you continue to be enchanted by sexual masochism. [Read more…]

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“Why Am I so Easily Discouraged?”

Unconsciously, we hold onto emotional states that lead to discouragement.

Unconsciously, we hold onto emotional states that lead to discouragement.

In Greek mythology, King Sisyphus was punished for his villainy by having to roll an immense boulder up a hill. After it rolled back down, he had to start over and then repeat the process for eternity. It’s a story for the ages because so many people can relate to feelings of persistent discouragement.

Many people go around sneaking that disheartening feeling into their daily life for hidden or unconscious reasons. Here are ten ways we maintain the emotional conditions that lead to discouragement. With this insight, the boulder stops here:

1 – Comparing oneself to others. Some people are always comparing themselves to others. In comparing themselves, they’re likely to be introducing self-doubt into their assessment. Their conscious intention is usually to feel good about themselves. Their unconscious intention, however, is to entertain the feeling of somehow being a lesser person. They deceive themselves by thinking they want only to feel good about themselves. If they feel smug or superior when comparing themselves to others, they’re using this satisfaction to cover up (defend against) what they don’t want to acknowledge, namely their hidden emotional willingness to experience themselves as the lesser person.

Sometimes, though, the person doing the comparing is quite conscious of feeling himself to be the lesser person. So he’s cultivating that painful impression in a more overt manner. Either way, he’s likely to feel disheartened. When we compare ourselves to others on a regular basis, we’re going to be prone to bouts of discouragement because we’re bringing forth self-doubt and actively undermining our self-esteem. The solution is to become aware of what it means to be comparing oneself to others and to understand that in doing so we’re actually belittling ourselves and setting ourselves up to be easily discouraged.

2 – Chronic complaining. Some among us are chronic complainers. We moan, groan, and whine about the slightest annoyances or challenges. [Read more…]

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Paris and Our Discontents

The hatred of terrorists is produced entirely within their own psyche.

The hatred of terrorists is produced entirely within their own psyche.

My anguish at the terrorist attacks last week in Paris has aroused some passionate intensity. Here is my response, which is more in the form of an op-ed piece than my usual expository postings.

As much as we despise the murderous maniacs of the Islamic State, they have, like us, a human psyche. The essential features of the psyche are remarkable similar across all races and national boundaries. Even the psyche of the mentally ill is similar to those in normal people, though, of course, the emotional dynamics of the former are more conflicted and intense. To some degree, everyone is challenged by inner conflict in the psyche, and most people are in the dark concerning these psychological dynamics that instigate emotional misery and behavioral self-defeat.

Before discussing those deeper dynamics, let’s consider a wider perspective on the human capacity for destruction. The mayhem produced by the Islamic State might be the leading edge of a growing disunity and disruption that is manifesting in the psyche of a great many people, producing a sweeping epidemic of destructive behaviors. Haven’t technology’s worst side-effects become the terrorism of nature? Isn’t capitalism, as it has mutated, terrorizing labor and the poor? Is it not fitting to suggest that America’s widening political divide is becoming a kind of terrorism of democracy? Perhaps rank ignorance and widespread narcissism are terrorists of civic virtue.

This Age of Anxiety is convulsing now as terrorism and climate change magnify the stress. A new report finds that middle-aged white Americans are, in increasing numbers, dying from suicide and from drug and alcohol poisoning. Describing the report as a measure of our “existential despair,” Nobel Prize laureate Paul Krugman says “the truth is that we don’t really know why despair appears to be spreading across Middle America.” [Read more…]

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Unconscious Bias in Race Relations

Unconscious projection is a big player in racial tension.

Unconscious projection is a big player in producing racial tension.

Protests against the handling of racial tensions broke out this month on university campuses across the United States, and once again we find ourselves confounded by the deviltry of human nature. Why does skin color in 2015 still inflame animosities? Depth psychology provides us with deeper understanding of unconscious bias as a factor in racial tension.

Some white people remain intent on denying black people their humanity. These white people, unbeknownst to themselves, are not in touch with their own humanity. What exactly does that mean?

They don’t respect or love their own self. They’re burdened emotionally by self-doubt and self-rejection. They’re likely to be highly self-critical, and sometimes they despise themselves. Therefore, it follows logically that to love their neighbor as they “love” themselves is to dislike and perhaps to hate their neighbor.

Of course, they don’t usually hate their white neighbors—not all of them, anyway. Their animosity arises unfailingly for blacks or other minorities because they need someone or some group to which they can feel superior. Feeling superior is important to them because otherwise they feel inferior. Detesting others for their alleged inferiority is how they maintain an illusion of superiority.

The psychological mechanism of projection becomes a big player in racial tension. [Read more…]

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Acquiring a Feel for Natural Aggression

 Natural aggression is a positive force that provides personal satisfaction.

Natural aggression is a positive force that provides personal satisfaction.

Some psychologists claim that aggression is an undesirable trait. At Wikipedia, aggression is defined as an “overt, often harmful, social interaction with the intention of inflicting damage or other unpleasantness upon another individual.” Assertiveness is acceptable, these experts say, aggressiveness is not.

I disagree. Now, of course, I’m not discounting the value of assertiveness. And I obviously understand that some forms of aggression are completely unacceptable. But natural aggression can be seen and experienced as positive strength. It’s exactly the kind of verbal power and emotional force that’s needed to counter the aggression that’s often dished out by bullies, petty tyrants, and ignorant people intent on getting their way.

In this post I want to explore the subtle yet important distinctions between aggressiveness and assertiveness. The distinctions are important. We want to be as powerful as possible and trust that we’ll use that power wisely. Further along, I provide an example of the power and effectiveness of natural aggression.

A lot of people have a tendency to be passive and defensive. Often, though, they can swivel in an instant into reactive, angry aggression. Frequently, the passive person sees neither his passivity nor the inappropriateness of his reactive aggression. He often feels that his combative bluster is his saving grace. One passive fellow I knew polished his self-image with daily reminders of the aggressiveness he could muster when confronting people. His aggressiveness, however, was usually rude, demanding, and ultimately self-defeating. [Read more…]

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Defensiveness for Dummies

Chronic defensiveness is so irritating, like living beside a village square where the town criers daily proclaim their innocence. Dodging honest conversation in this squirmy way is quite possibly the number one pollutant of relationship harmony.

It’s worse than a bad habit or disagreeable personality trait. Driven by inner conflict, chronic defensiveness is compulsive behavior. Fortunately, even dummies can overcome it by learning about the psychological dynamics behind it.

Even when we try as gently as possible to discuss an issue, the defensive person often goes negative: “I don’t want to talk about that!” or “It wasn’t even my fault because …” or “Why are you talking about this again!” or “I haven’t had time to take care of that!” Often their words are expressed in hurt, indignant, offended, or angry tones of voice.

Sometimes, in contrast, the defensiveness becomes self-pitying or pathetic when, for instance, a person says repeatedly, “I can’t change the past;” “I try so hard;” “No matter what I do, it’s never enough;” or, “If only I had known in time.” Defensiveness becomes entangled in self-doubt or self-reproach, as in, “I’m just a hopeless case;” or, “I can never figure out the right way to do it.”

We’re certainly upset when the person we care about or love is suddenly erecting these kinds of emotional roadblocks to deeper connection and intimacy. Then again, we might be the culprit ourselves, the grumpy or self-pitying dispenser of an ever-ready defensiveness that is very upsetting to others. [Read more…]

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Exposing the Roots of Emotional Suffering

This knowledge is deep and very liberating--yet easy enough to assimilate.

This knowledge is deep and liberating–yet easy enough to learn.

If you like psychology, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re having a hard time with life, this is the website for you. The psychology here is profound. You won’t find anything else like it online.

The knowledge is deep—and very liberating. As a psychotherapist, I’ve seen the great benefits of acquiring this knowledge. As a former journalist and science writer, I make it easy to assimilate.

What’s so special about it? That’s difficult to say in a few words. If you read some of the articles available here, you’ll get a good sense of what this depth psychology is all about.

In a nutshell, this knowledge challenges you to see yourself in a whole new light. You’ll see how good and beautiful you are, yet you’ll also begin to understand that you have—deep down inside—some issues or conflicts that you would be wise to make conscious.

Don’t be afraid. This stuff won’t bite you.

Through this knowledge, we learn to practice inner governance—or self-regulation—of our emotions and behaviors. Let me use the concept of democracy to explain. In an ideal democracy, people have the power and they use it wisely by electing the best political candidates to represent them.

Democracy goes astray, however, when the people lose sight of what’s going on behind the scenes. They’re not informed about what’s being done in their name. And they may not be vigilant enough to investigate. On a personal level, this is what happens to each of us. Too much is going on behind the scenes, in our unconscious mind, that we don’t know about. [Read more…]

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