Stung by Ingratitude

For some, the sting of ingratitude is very painful.

For some, the sting of ingratitude is painful and difficult to recover from.

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…]

How to Be Your Own Inner Guide

Acquire vital self-knowledge, and it will guide you well through life.

Acquire vital self-knowledge, and it will guide you well through life.

Some people can begin to overcome their emotional and behavioral problems without needing to see a psychotherapist. Still, by all means find one if you have the time and money to get personalized psychological help. If you have a diagnosable mental disorder, you should definitely be under the care of a psychotherapist or psychiatrist or both.

Professional help can certainly speed up the process of overcoming painful difficulties with career, relationships, and daily living. However, most therapists will not address your deeper conflicts, defenses, and attachments. It grieves me to say it, but many therapists only succeed in comforting you in your pain. They don’t help you to vanquish it.

Many people can, on their own, make inner progress with the method and knowledge that I describe in my books and at this website. People acquire knowledge by studying the material and learning how it applies to them directly. In the discussion here, I offer the essentials of how this can be done. (The previous post—“Does Inner Growth Require Practical Steps?”—also covers this topic.)

I’ve written earlier about this essential knowledge, and it bears repeating in this new context. Two distinct levels of negative emotions need to be recognized. One level consists of the symptoms. These symptoms are the result of inner conflict that’s occurring at a deeper level in our psyche. The symptoms tend to be more conscious, while the deeper level of emotions is mostly unconscious. The challenge is to go deeper and become more conscious of the source of the symptoms. This is how the problems can be fixed once and for all.

Let’s start by listing some of these symptoms. They consist of negative emotions as well as self-defeating behaviors. [Read more…]

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…]

A Remedy for Feeling Trapped

Emotionally, we have  a tendency to accentuate feeling trapped.

Emotionally, we have a tendency to accentuate feeling trapped.

Millions of people know the feeling of hopelessly trying to wiggle out of a vise. We can feel trapped by our jobs, relationships, and financial circumstances. We can feel trapped in an elevator or an airplane, or in our house, neighborhood, or the state where we live. Some people even feel trapped in their mind or their body.

“Here we are,” novelist Kurt Vonnegut noted bleakly, “trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” Playwright Tennessee Williams was no less grisly: “We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it.” Poor literary writers! Is this the sense of desolation that results from doing daily battle with a balky imagination?

It’s true, of course, that people can be trapped somewhat in unpleasant situations or predicaments. We might not have enough money, for instance, to just pick up and leave our job, relationship, or the town where we live. But often we embellish upon the feeling of being trapped, accentuating the misery of it all. At its worst, the feeling produces claustrophobia.

At a conscious level, people prone to feeling trapped want to feel free and unrestricted. But unconsciously, meaning outside their awareness, they have an affinity for (or resonance with) the feeling of being trapped. The feeling stems from lingering emotions and memories having to do with childhood helplessness and passivity.

So while we like to think we want to feel free, we might not quite know how to live without our old familiar sense of isolation, restriction, and boring routine. Hence, instead of confidently navigating our way into better situations, we remain stuck in the old pain of feeling trapped. Right from the start, we’re also quite capable of trapping ourselves in a difficult situation for the unconscious purpose of living our life through that familiar, painful experience. [Read more…]

The Golden Rule Needs Depth Psychology

There's a psychological reason for why the Golden Rule so often gets broken.

There’s a psychological reason why the Golden Rule gets broken.

The Golden Rule, which invokes us to treat others as we would like to be treated, is the cornerstone of social order and the foundation of civilization. Fortunately, we usually make some effort to abide by it. Unfortunately, though, the Golden Rule gets broken on a regular basis. A hidden conflict in human nature explains, in part, why this is so.

We do indeed, on a conscious level, want to be treated kindly, yet we often expect unconsciously to be refused, controlled, or dominated—or to be criticized, rejected, disrespected, betrayed, and abandoned. Not only do we expect such treatment, we often go about provoking it.

Note that children sometimes provoke their parents to punish them. In subtle ways, adults can also provoke others, often through unconscious passive-aggressive behaviors and tit-for-tat emotional reactions. Addictive personalities, codependents, people with guilt and shame issues, and people prone to career and relationship failure induce criticism, disapproval, and punishment from others. They act out with others what is unresolved in themselves.

Our negative emotions and self-defeating behaviors, which derive from unconscious inner conflicts, make it more difficult for us to feel compassion. In light of these conflicts, the Golden Rule might need an addendum: “Best applied under the supervision of depth psychology.” We usually need some degree of resolution of our inner conflicts in order to become truly open-hearted.

Compassion and love are the mainstays of the Golden Rule. But often people don’t know what it means to be compassionate. Codependents or enablers, for instance, feel “compassion” for the dysfunctional person who is being enabled, and they allow this misguided sense of caring to lead them into painful experiences and self-defeat. [Read more…]

A Deadly Case of Inner Conflict

Our struggle to make sense of what seems senseless.

These murders challenge us to make sense of what seems senseless.

We struggle to understand the mind of mass killers. Their evil actions blast away at the moorings of civilization and blacken the soul of humanity.

One of these acts of violence was investigated this month in The New Yorker magazine. The article, written by author and psychiatry lecturer Andrew Solomon, examines the life of Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who shot and killed his mother, 20 children and six teachers, and then himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.

Adam’s father, Peter Lanza, came forward to be interviewed by Solomon about his relationship with his son and about his understanding of his son’s mental health, in the hope of being helpful to others. Mr. Lanza has labored painfully since the day of the shootings to comprehend the horrific crime.

Adam Lanza, as Solomon’s article says, “was never typical.” He showed hypersensitivity at a young age, was diagnosed with sensory-integration disorder and later with Asperger’s syndrome (mild autism), and was susceptible to seizures. According to his father, he was “just a normal little weird kid” who displayed a sharp sense of humor and a keen intelligence. Although his emotional stability deteriorated through his teenage years, no one feared that he would become violent.

The article covers a lot of ground, yet still it leaves unanswered questions as to Adam’s motive for committing the atrocities. A forensic psychiatrist is quoted saying that Adam’s actions expressed this message: “I carry profound hurt—I’ll go ballistic and transfer it onto you.” Solomon, the author of the article, concludes that this statement reveals “as much motive as we’re likely to find.”

I believe, however, that we can acquire further insight into the killer’s state of mind, along with more understanding of his motive. [Read more…]

Vital Knowledge for Marriage Intimacy

To establish intimacy, we need to be smart about psychological issues.

To establish intimacy, we need to be smart about psychological issues.

There’s a reason men and women are creating better marriages than ever before. We’re living in the era of what some have termed self-expressive marriages. Many married people are now more interested than ever in personal growth and self-fulfillment, and they see marriage as a means, through mutual exploration and supportive partnership, to achieve those ends.

I‘ve acquired some personal know-how on this subject. My first marriage ended in divorce in the 1970s because I was too neurotic to make it work. My second marriage was a mutual adventure in personal growth. It lasted 21 years, until my dear Sandra, an author and psychotherapist like me, died of breast cancer in 1999. Now I’m happily married to Teresa Garland, an occupational therapist who gives training seminars around the country on autism, ADHD, and sensory disorders. She’s my editor and I’m hers. Her first book, Self-Regulation Interventions and Strategies, has just been published. We’re devoted to each other, and we actively support each other’s pursuit of personal and professional fulfillment. (Quick plug for Teresa’s book: Available here at her publisher’s website and here at Amazon).

The desire for intimacy is a prerequisite of good marriages. Intimacy depends on mutual trust, respect, and affection. It’s also a measure of the openness and sincerity of each partner. Intimacy also hinges on a couple’s ability to refrain from acting out, with each other, each one’s own unresolved personal issues. (In an earlier post on intimacy, I approach the subject from another perspective.)

Of course, many individuals resist doing the inner work of self-development. That means they’re likely to have more difficulty dismantling the personal issues that block intimacy. [Read more…]

Stressed Out in America

Much of our stress is caused by inner conflict, not just outer circumstances.

Much stress is caused by inner conflict, not just outer circumstances.

The 134,000-member American Psychological Association recently published its annual report on stress. The report is trademarked: Stress in America™. Yet this official stamp of self-approval can’t hide the hollowness of the report.

Millions of Americans are struggling to keep their stress levels down. It’s vitally important that mental-health professionals provide the media with high quality psychological knowledge concerning this epidemic of misery. This knowledge should be made available at every opportunity. As in previous years, however, the APA’s latest report offers mostly numerical findings and percentage comparisons. No psychological insights are presented about the origins and causes of high stress.

The report’s numbers really only disclose that a bad situation appears to be getting worse: During the school year American teenagers experience more stress than adults, and teens believe the stress they’re experiencing far exceeds what might be considered healthy. Only 16 percent believe their stress level is on the decline, the report says, while twice as many teens say their stress level has increased and will likely continue to increase. The report is based on a survey done last summer of 1,950 adults and 1,038 teens.

The APA does mention that money and work continue to be the most commonly mentioned stressors for adults, adding that “these issues are complex and difficult to manage, often leading to more stress over time . . .” But the report says nothing that might at least hint at how and why issues concerning money and work “are complex and difficult to manage.” (I come back to this point further on.)

The APA notes that the majority of teens say the challenges they face at school are a major source of their stress. However, no details are provided that might explain why the school experience is so stressful. [Read more…]

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…]

Oh, Sweet Narcissism

Our intelligence is held hostage by lingering self-centeredness.

Our intelligence is held hostage by lingering self-centeredness.

Centuries ago our ancestors, in the throes of self-centeredness, cherished the commonly held belief that the Earth was right smack at the center of the universe. Even the poorest peasant could find solace in the notion of being at the center: “If the Earth is at the center, then I am, too.” What a sweet narcissistic way to perceive reality!

Copernicus and then Galileo, wielding scientific knowledge of our solar system, exposed the fallacy of that self-centeredness. Another narcissistic hurt, applied by Charles Darwin, informed the proud lords and ladies of the Industrial Revolution that they were descendants of early primates. Darwin was indignantly denounced by millions of people. To accept his proposition was to be humbled, offended, and belittled. A century and a half after Darwin, many millions still deny the science.

It appears that, at some point in history, we slipped through a little warp in the doorway of perception and placed our mind at the center of existence. We were proud of our clever mind and believed it elevated us far above other creatures. We fashioned God in our image and required that He focus his attention on us, confirming our special status. This narcissism stands on shaky ground. One minute we’re jubilant in our pride, the next we’re shaking in anger at being slighted or offended.

Narcissism has its genesis in the self-centeredness of the infant. An infant understands its existence in terms of self-centeredness. An infant, lacking experience and the development of intelligence, knows only its own sensations. The infant has no ability to perceive reality with any objectivity. For infants, nothing exists beyond their sensations. Each child is the center of his or her universe. Childhood development (as well as adult development) is a process of learning to overcome this distorted perception and become more objective and discerning.

Most adults get only part way there. We’re still seeing ourselves and the world with childish eyes. [Read more…]