Hidden Dynamics of Racism

Depth psychology sheds more light on racist behavior.

Depth psychology sheds more light on racist behavior.

News commentators have been trying to figure out what motivated a group of white University of Oklahoma students on an outing earlier this month to sing a racist chant laden with anti-black slurs and a reference to lynching.

The episode made national headlines after it was captured on video, and it led to the expulsion of two students, the disciplining of a few dozen more, and the closure of the university fraternity to which they belonged.

The students have apologized and appear contrite. Yet they probably don’t fully understand what possessed them to behave so badly. Commentators have attributed the action of the students to racism, bigotry, and cultural influences. But the episode can be understood, for the edification of everyone, at a deeper level.

The students were unwittingly expressing a hidden aspect of human nature. In varying degrees, all of us can feel vague doubts concerning our intrinsic value. At times, many of us feel deep inside a sense of being flawed, unworthy, bad, and insignificant. This is not something people readily talk about.

This impression can consist of a deep-down suspicion of being a fake, a fraud, a nobody. The existence in our psyche of this negative sense of self can, when acute, produce shame, anxiety, and guilt. People instinctively cover up or defend against the realization of how emotionally attached they can be, how identified they are, with this irrational impression. (The origin of this painful sense of self is discussed in an earlier post.) [Read more…]

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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…]

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When You Feel Bad About Yourself

Why do we carry feelings of being inherently wrong or bad?

One common form of suffering involves the feeling of shriveling up inside from allegedly being bad, unworthy, flawed, and defective. Such people can go through life anticipating being seen by others in a negative light. They expect that they might, at any moment, be exposed as a fake or a phony.

Some of us feel this nauseating sense of self every day, and others only occasionally. The disagreeable feeling is often a lingering shame associated with one’s fear that some embarrassing fact about us will become public knowledge or that we’ll appear foolish or inept in a public situation.

We can be convinced mentally and emotionally that this pain, which originates in our psyche, signifies some wretched, hidden flaw or loathsome defect at the core of our existence. Hence, we might be unable to establish friendships and intimate relationships because we don’t feel worthy of being admired and loved. As Groucho Marx put it, “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.”

Often, we have no inkling where the bad feelings come from. Our parents might have treated us with kindness and respect. We might also know—mentally at least—that we’re honorable and good. Still, we’re hurting at the core of our being and can’t figure out why. [Read more…]

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