Many psychologists are afraid of their own shadow. They’re unwilling to confront their dark side. They may be smart but they’re lacking in consciousness. How else can we explain the third-rate knowledge that the profession passes along to a suffering world.
Psychological science has failed to recognize the existence and vital importance of unflattering facts about our humanity that we’ve been hiding, denying, and repressing in our psyche. Instead of getting to the heart of our dysfunction, psychologists are producing an expanding universe of subprime information and C-rated factoids.
I believe that many psychologists are choosing, unconsciously, to avoid a deeper study of human nature. They’re fleeing into the “scientific method” and abstract studies in order to get away from a full examination of their own personal issues and weaknesses. The deeper we go into human nature, the more we discover alarming gaps in our knowledge. Closing these gaps enables us to let go of old identifications and to make significant changes and improvements. This less-traveled path can be exhausting when it heads straight up the mountain. Still, people who become psychologists are supposed to take the high road.
Experts in psychology say erroneously that we can overlook the contents of our unconscious mind in favor of mental strategies and conscious processing. Dr. Richard A. Friedman wrote last year in The New York Times that psychological insight (the truth we recover from our unconscious mind) is overrated. As evidence for his assertion, Friedman mentions the case of a man in his 30s who was sad and anxious after being dumped by his girlfriend for the second time in three years. This fellow had also experienced separation anxiety with earlier girlfriends. Despite his years of psychotherapy, during which he traced the painful feelings back to a separation from his hospitalized mother when he was four, the man was not feeling any better. Friedman asks, “Was this because his self-knowledge was flawed or incomplete? Or is insight itself, no matter how deep, of limited value?” The doctor concludes, “. . .it seems fair to say that insight is neither necessary nor sufficient to feeling better.”
It’s apparent to me that the man referred to by Friedman didn’t get effective psychotherapy. Good therapy would have explored this man’s unconscious determination to live through old unresolved feelings of being abandoned and rejected. This is the real insight: The man grows in his awareness that he has unresolved emotional attachments, meaning he recognizes his determination to pursue experiences of abandonment and rejection.
Unconsciously, he’s compelled in his relationships with women to go looking for those unresolved negative emotions. This fellow needs insight that exposes his unconscious determination to experience his relationships through abandonment and rejection. Otherwise, he’s likely, in self-pity, to go on feeling himself to be a victim and repeating his self-defeating behavior with other women. Dysfunction of this kind persist in the human psyche on the basis of this principle: Whatever is unresolved in our psyche is going to be sought after and experienced by us, no matter how painful. Unresolved hurts and painful memories are the soul food of our psyche’s dark side.
We have to expose our unconscious willingness to relive and recycle old painful feelings in the context of our present life. Good therapy breaks through the resistance people have to seeing our hidden compulsion to produce such suffering and self-defeat. Such insight is the essence of growing consciousness. This deep insight is not offered in conventional psychotherapy.
With shallow consciousness, people often practice a form of self-affirmation or self-approval that’s compulsive and unhealthy. Mark Twain noted this tendency when in his essay “What is Man?” he wrote: “We ignore and never mention the Sole Impulse which dictates and compels a man’s every act: the imperious necessity of securing his own approval, in every emergency and at all costs.” We’re driven compulsively to secure our own approval because we’re on the receiving end (from our inner critic or superego) of harsh allegations of our ineptness, unworthiness, and foolishness. This persistent self-criticism floods our mind with self-doubt. We then react by inundating our mind with reassuring self-affirmation. (This example is just one of thousands that illustrate the shallowness of our consciousness.)
When we acquire insight that exposes our passivity in the face of our inner critic, we learn how to become stronger. Emotional strength and happiness go together.
Throughout the world, people spend much of their time oscillating back and forth—in silent, anxious mental-emotional considerations and speculations—between the impression that we’re decent human beings and the painful suspicion that we’re unworthy and defective. Many of us live in a state of compulsive defensiveness, weighing ourselves in the balance moment to moment, unable to believe deeply in ourselves, while giving credence to impressions or assessments produced in our psyche that are irrational and negative. An insufficiency of consciousness produces this uncertainty and self-doubt. To become more conscious, we have to approach our unconscious mind with great humility and sincere determination to expose its secrets.
The nature of our consciousness may be the most important subject facing humanity. Here is how neuroscientist Daniel Bor, author of The Ravenous Brain,” explains it:
On a personal level, consciousness is where the meaning to life resides. All the moments that matter to us, from falling in love to seeing our child’s first smile . . . are obviously conscious events. If none of these events were conscious, if we weren’t conscious to experience them, we’d hardly consider ourselves alive—at least not in any way that matters. . . Our consciousness is the essence of who we perceive ourselves to be. It is the citadel for our senses, the melting pot of thoughts, the welcoming home for every emotion that pricks or placates us. For us, consciousness simply is the currency of life.
Despite his eloquence, Bor skims around on the surface of the subject. Like Friedman, he believes that the role of the unconscious mind has been overestimated. Yet isn’t it egotistic to think that we would already know all the important aspects of our unconscious mind, especially when the world is awash in folly and self-defeat? Our consciousness can’t be fully appreciated, nor our potential for self-development realized, until we have exposed vital self-knowledge that has been unconscious.
Bor says in the above excerpt: ”Our consciousness is the essence of who we perceive ourselves to be.” It’s more helpful to say, “Our lack of consciousness produces a false or limited perception of who we are.” With limited consciousness, we perceive ourselves through narcissism, vanity, victimhood, and entitlement. Clearly, such consciousness is not the essence of who we are. Yet modern psychology is not offering us a level of insight that penetrates our denial and resistance.
We need to become smarter and wiser to deal with the world’s increasingly complex challenges. History at its best tells the story of us getting to know ourselves more fully, art at its best reveals secrets of human nature, life at its best produces adventures in growing consciousness, and psychology at its best challenges us to fathom the depths of our collusion in suffering and self-defeat.