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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Who Wants to Be a Celebrity?

Fans of celebrities settle for crumbs at the banquet of their own greatness.

Fans of celebrities settle for crumbs at the banquet of their own greatness.

Lots of people feel unrecognized and unappreciated. They experience themselves to a considerable degree through feelings of being unworthy and unloved.

When such people spot a celebrity in the flesh, they have an emotional reaction that usually varies according to their self-esteem and also to the degree in which the celebrity is famous. A celebrity’s ranking on the billboards of stardom determines his or her status in their eyes.

If the celebrity they see on the street is the local TV weatherman, their eyes might soak him or her up for an instant or two, and then they’ll probably go about their business with a minimum of emotional disruption. However, if the celebrity is a high-flying Hollywood movie star, their eyes fasten like rivets to this person. They’re likely to slip into a woozy state of disequilibrium complete with rapid pulse and sweaty palms.

The lower one’s self-esteem, the greater the emotional thrill that’s experienced in the presence of a celebrity. The ubiquity of celebrities is a cultural anomaly that flourishes under the auspices of the low self-esteem of the masses. Low self-esteem also signifies more time spent fantasizing about being a celebrity. Many celebrities, meanwhile, are emotionally dependent on the adulation they receive from us. [Read more…]

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Say Goodbye to Your Regrets

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

We can be very stubborn about clinging to 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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How to Recognize Good Psychotherapy

Effective psychotherapy uncovers inner conflict, defenses, and emotional attachments.

Good therapy uncovers inner conflict, defenses, and emotional attachments.

Psychotherapy can be very helpful—and, in some cases, essential—for success, self-fulfillment, and future happiness. But it can also be a waste of time and money if you don’t have a good therapist.

Regretfully, a majority of psychotherapists practice superficial methods that fail to uncover inner conflict, emotional attachments, and psychological defenses. I say this not to be critical but to provide some perspective concerning the current state of psychological services.

People seek psychological help because they’re troubled by moodiness, stress, anxiety, depression, and lack of self-regulation. Often they’re concerned about indecision, procrastination, lack of purpose, self-sabotage, and work or relationship failure. For the most part, these difficulties are produced by inner conflict in our unconscious mind or psyche.

To understand inner conflict, let’s consider the plight of people who are, to a chronic degree, moody or mildly depressed. Such individuals frequently harbor feelings of being disrespected or seen in a negative light. Often they’re having relationship problems. Their inner conflict produces this impasse: consciously, they wish to be admired and respected, but unconsciously they are attached to (and prepared and even compelled to experience) feelings of being seen in a negative light, as an unworthy person undeserving of respect. Unless this conflict is resolved, such individuals are very likely to continue to be troubled. [Read more…]

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Visions of Human Destiny

Enhancing consciousness involves seeing ourselves more objectively.

Enhancing our consciousness involves seeing ourselves more objectively.

Life’s great purpose, as I see it, is to become wiser, more loving, and more attuned to truth and beauty. This process involves a merger with growing consciousness.

Consciousness is an extraordinarily precious asset that we tend to take for granted. Of course, our consciousness can be broadened, which would enable us—among other benefits—to register and appreciate just how precious it is.

Enhancing our consciousness involves the process of seeing ourselves more objectively. Yet the human race is having trouble seeing what is vitally important to know about our nature. Even the brightest scientists among us have difficulty doing so.

This problem is evident in a recent book, The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind (Anchor Book, New York. 2014). Michio Kaku, the book’s brilliant author, stands in the vanguard of human understanding, yet still he fails to grasp human nature by the tail.

Kaku is a professor of physics at the City University of New York and a host of numerous television specials on scientific topics. He writes in his new book that consciousness, as experienced by Homo sapiens, can be summarized as a process that “creates a model of the world and then simulates it in time, by evaluating the past to simulate the future. This requires mediating and evaluating many feedback loops in order to make a decision to achieve a goal.” [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 willingness to suffer.

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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Westerners Who Identify with Terrorists

Rage and violence emerge from the depths of inner conflict.

Rage and violence can emerge from the depths of inner conflict.

About 3,000 people from Western Europe have travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State terrorist group, and authorities are worried that young people in the West might increasingly become converts to extremist Islamic ideology.

Last week U.S. authorities arrested six young men from Minneapolis’s Somali community who were planning to join the terrorist group. The number of U.S. recruits to the Islamic State remains small compared with Europe, yet the threat here of increasing recruitment is worrisome.

Experts are struggling to determine why, psychologically, many young Westerners are tempted to identify with terrorist mayhem and brutality. Finding answers is challenging because the recruits, many of whom are college educated and come from middle-class families, don’t fit a typical profile.

I explored this subject in an earlier post, What Warps the Mind of Domestic Terrorists. That post explained how some individuals are drawn to violent rebellion in order to cover up or defend against their underlying self-doubt and passivity. Recruits to terrorism, I wrote, embrace an ideology that idealizes aggression and defiance in order to deny (cover up or defend against) their emotional entanglement in feelings of being a person of limited value and significance. As a defense against their own readiness to feel devalued, they begin to experience anger and hatred toward those who allegedly discount their value. [Read more…]

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A Decisive Look at Indecision

Can concrete steps be taken to climb out of chronic indecision?

Can concrete steps be taken to climb out of chronic indecision?

Chronic indecision has got to be one of the most painful symptoms of inner conflict, turning sufferers into queasy question marks stooped in a wilted crouch. Okay, maybe that’s a bit graphic—but you get the point.

I’ve written an earlier post on the subject (Indecisive No More), but one reader wanted me to say more about how to overcome this symptom.

He asked: “Are there concrete steps to break this pattern of chronic, debilitating indecision once you recognize what is going on? Are there real action steps that you can address in your writing?”

Suppose I were to give him a highly recommended concrete plan of action to inspire decisiveness. Would he decide to follow that plan? If he happens to come across another recommended plan of action, how will he decide which plan to follow? If he finally chooses one concrete plan over the other, will he decide to stick to that plan when the going gets tough? It’s pretty obvious that indecision turns concrete steps into wet cement.

When we venture into our psyche to get to the roots of indecision or other kinds of dysfunction, we require only one plan of action: we have to make conscious what has been inwardly weakening us and causing our self-doubt. [Read more…]

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Neurotics on Capitol Hill

Congress's dysfunction can be understood as the collective effect of the neurosis of individual members.

Congress’s dysfunction can be understood as the collective effect of the neurosis of individual members.

Democracy rests on the wisdom and mental health of the people. Yet emotional and behavioral dysfunction is rampant across the land, starting with legislators in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Congress has a 16 percent approval rating for a reason: a significant number of its senators and representatives, in my professional judgment, are neurotic. As a result, their influence on our democracy is destabilizing, contributing to growing dysfunction. (Bipartisanship in Washington may have eroded in recent decades for reasons outlined here.)

Conventional wisdom claims that this dissension is largely due to hardening ideologies and the corrupting influence of money. The problem can also be understood and potentially reformed through psychological insight. We can expose the neurosis that mires many Democratic and Republican politicians in dissension and causes them to be seduced by power and prestige.

A neurotic individual, tangled in inner conflict, produces an overflow of negative emotions and behavioral self-defeat. Neurosis is present in a person according to the degree of his or her immaturity, arrogance, self-centeredness, self-deception, stupidity, stubbornness, callousness, righteousness, ruthless ambition, cynicism, distrust, fearfulness, entitlement mentality, oversensitivity to feeling criticized or disrespected, and willingness to distort facts and blame others.

Neurotics are inwardly conflicted. They are at war with themselves. Much of their energy is absorbed by conflict. Divided against their own self, they produce divisiveness at every turn. An assemblage of neurotics in an institution such as the U.S. Congress will invariably produce unhealthy conflict among members, leading to outcomes that produce national dissension, widespread suffering, and self-defeat. [Read more…]

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