The Lingering Pain of Old Shame

Why is it that old shame so often awakens in our mind?

Why is it that old shame so often awakens in our mind?

We have all experienced, like a punch to the gut, old feelings of shame for things that happened long ago. Everybody, or course, has committed past blunders or acts of negligence, cowardice, or foolishness. A lot of people hold on to these memories, and they continue to be inundated with waves of regret, embarrassment, and shame.

Even when people try to forgive themselves for old missteps, the memories can persist. Why would we continue to be haunted by such memories from the past? They only bring up—right in the present moment—a fresh new experience of the original shame or humiliation.

The answer to this question affords us an opportunity to see exactly how, in our unconscious mind, we produce much of our emotional suffering.

Jeremy, a client of mine, was lying awake in bed in the middle of the night. A recurring memory from 40 years ago crept into his mind. At that time he was almost fired after making a foolish judgment that cast himself and his company in a bad light. The memory seemed to hover over him like an ancient curse, and once again he found himself reliving the original shame.

“What’s this all about?” Jeremy now asked himself. “This event is ancient history. Why am I tormenting myself right now?” [Read more…]

An Unconscious Factor in PTSD

Some detective work is involved in uncovering this unconscious factor.

Some detective work is involved in uncovering this unconscious factor.

I believe a psychological factor in post-traumatic stress disorder is being overlooked, one that might be a key to treating the painful, debilitating condition. Current treatments involving therapies and medications are not particularly effective, and the disorder is still not well understood.

This psychological factor operates unconsciously, and some detective work is involved here in uncovering it. The clues are found in the symptoms. The symptoms of acute, chronic, and delayed-onset PTSD are many. They arise following perilous experiences in which individuals felt intense fear, horror, or helplessness.

PTSD develops in some individuals following experiences of bullying, domestic violence, gun violence, sexual abuse, animal attack, and living in dangerous neighborhoods. PTSD has affected more than 15 percent of U.S. soldiers deployed since 9/11. The percentage of Vietnam War veterans affected by PTSD is double that number.

The symptoms involve the onset of troublesome emotions and behaviors. These include nightmares, flashbacks, rage, and addictions, as well as difficulty in suppressing disturbing thoughts and feelings, along with intense guilt for failing (or allegedly failing) to act appropriately or for committing harm to others.

As an overall effect, one’s old familiar sense of self—one’s psychological constitution—has been shattered. The stricken individual has no idea how to restore or reclaim that former self. [Read more…]

Terrific Knowledge for Trying Times

This book is a revision, with new writing, of the material on this website.

This book adds important new writing to the material on this website.

My latest book can now be purchased at Amazon.com. It’s an e-book, so you can download it and start reading right away.

The 391-page book is titled: Psyched Up: The Deep Knowledge that Liberates the Self. It’s a complete revision of the material on this website. The content has been reorganized and fashioned into a coherent whole, and insightful new writing has been added. It’s now easier than ever for everyday people to understand this incredibly valuable knowledge.

This book, I believe, is a breakthrough in the communication of depth psychology. I was a journalist and science writer before becoming a psychotherapist, and all my experience, knowledge, and communication skills are poured into this book.

The content makes liberating insight available to all, and it helps us to be really smart about what’s vitally important to know. Reading it, you’ll understand yourself more clearly than ever, and that knowledge can help you to fulfill your dreams and aspirations.

I hope you’ll buy a copy for your own benefit. And I hope you’ll help me get this valuable knowledge out to more people by mentioning it to friends and on social media.

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…]

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…]

How Inner Passivity Robs Men of Power

Many cultural and economic influences challenge the male psyche.

Many cultural and economic influences challenge the male psyche.

An acquaintance of mine (I’ll call him Sam) was arrested recently for obstruction of justice. He was pulled over by the police because his vehicle fit the description of one that had been stolen. Though innocent, Sam, who’s in his mid-twenties, became rude and uncooperative. When he could produce only an expired vehicle registration, he was handcuffed, taken to jail, and his vehicle impounded. His case was later dismissed, but he paid a price in time, money, and misery.

I’ve spent some time in Sam’s company and I know something of his state of mind. He’s a smart, caring, and loyal person. But he has a significant emotional weakness. He’s quick to feel that people are trying to control, dominate, or oppress him, and he’s adopted an anti-authority outlook on life that can be traced back to this emotional weakness. Because of this, he interprets authority as something unpleasant or bad that needs to be resisted.

Deposits of inner passivity are contained in Sam’s psyche. Inner passivity, as I describe it in many of my posts and books, is a feature of human nature. It’s a leftover mental-emotional residue from the stages of helplessness and dependence we experience through our childhood years. When we’re not aware of inner passivity, we can fall prey to its influence and become weak, ineffective, and prone to self-defeat. Instead of possessing true power, we’re likely to react unresponsively, passive-aggressively, or with belligerent self-defeating aggression. [Read more…]

A New Understanding of Bipolar Disorder

Inner conflict may be the main cause of bipolar disorder.

Unresolved inner conflict may be the main cause of bipolar disorder.

About 5.7 million American adults experience the particularly burdensome affliction known as bipolar disorder. Psychiatric experts are uncertain as to its origins, yet depth psychology does have a theory to explain one possible cause.

Depth psychology is usually not effective for people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Yet people with bipolar disorder, while they sometimes have psychotic breaks, usually return to a fully functional state between episodes. At such times these individuals can strengthen themselves and become more stable by learning self-knowledge that pertains to their affliction. Researchers pursuing medical and neuroscience investigations of bipolar disorder can also sharpen their science by considering the influence of these psychological dynamics.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, in combination with medications, is known to help bipolar sufferers cope with their affliction. This therapy is advice-oriented, while depth psychology tries to uncover the influences of inner conflict and help to resolve that conflict. Understanding the deeper psychological factors in bipolar disorder can help sufferers because the knowledge, when absorbed, enhances the individual’s intelligence and strengthens self-regulation.  

Psychoanalysis has identified a condition in the human psyche that it calls inner passivity. This passivity can be understood as the lingering effect of infantile helplessness. All of us, not just people with bipolar disorder, are to some degree influenced by it. [Read more…]

Free Yourself from Inner Conflict

The dynamics of inner conflict come into focus when we look beneath the symptoms.

To bring inner conflict into focus, we must look beneath the symptoms.

Inner conflict is a private war within oneself. People tend to think it’s about making a difficult decision. According to conventional thinking, that decision can range from choosing a style of shoes to more serious considerations such as a career move to another city or the compromise of one’s integrity over an ethical issue.

But these examples illustrate only conscious inner conflict. Much more significant are the unconscious varieties. These deeper conflicts are the roots of our suffering. When we expose the roots, we can resolve the conflict and end the suffering.

One way to expose the roots is get a shovel and start digging. Here we penetrate the ground beneath eight common emotional experiences: 1 – loneliness; 2 – envy; 3 – depression; 4 – greed; 5 – guilt; 6 – sadness; 7 – boredom; and 8 – indecision.

I’m talking here about chronic conditions, meaning, as in this first example, not occasional loneliness but chronic loneliness. Keep in mind that I’m trying to expose the essentials of the deeper conflict behind each of these varieties of suffering because of the importance of that self-knowledge.

1—Loneliness, when chronic, is the result of wanting to be in the friendly or loving company of others at the same time that the person is prepared, unconsciously, to experience old unresolved feelings such as separation, rejection, abandonment, or unworthiness. [Read more…]

Achieving Inner Freedom

Depth psychology opens a passageway to inner freedom.

Knowledge from depth psychology opens a passageway to inner freedom.

We’re not as free as we think, even if we do live in a democratic country. People who have achieved substantial political freedom can still be sorely lacking in psychological freedom. We’re likely to feel like prisoners of fate when emotional conflicts limit our creativity and potential.

How can we be free if we don’t even have free will? Neuroscientists say humans are just puppets dancing to the brain’s unconscious tunes. Philosopher-neuroscientist Sam Harris writes in his recent book, Free Will:

Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have.

Harris is right when he says we don’t have as much freedom as we’d like to think. But he’s wrong in other ways, notably his implication that the “background causes” of our thoughts and feelings are beyond our conscious influence. He says at one point, “No one has ever described a way in which mental and physical processes could arise that would attest to the existence of such freedom [of will].” With this statement, Harris apparently dismisses depth psychology. A discussion of that subject goes missing in his book.

Depth psychology, which dredges up unconscious content from our psyche and makes it conscious, becomes our means to acquire a higher range of free will and inner freedom. We become more conscious as we uncover the ways that our unresolved negative emotions have been producing our suffering and self-defeat. We’re indeed lacking in inner freedom until we’re able, at a deeper level, to break free of our compulsion to recycle and replay these negative emotions that are unresolved from our past. [Read more…]

The Correct Interpretation of Our Dreams

Sleeping dreams help us best when we correctly decode them.

Sleeping dreams help us best when we correctly decode them.

Sleeping dreams hover in our psyche like silvery sprites gracing the doors of destiny. When we remember our dreams and interpret them correctly, they reveal hidden dimensions of our being and lead us toward self-fulfillment.

Dreams often come to us in symbolic form—as allegories, riddles, and metaphors. Interpreting them correctly can be a challenge. We can be fooled into false interpretations when dreams serve as psychological defenses.

In a dream, for instance, we might feel judgmental or even disgusted when we see someone who appears weak or who is acting foolishly. We don’t want to acknowledge that we’re seeing our own weakness through that person. A correct interpretation enables us to see ourselves more objectively, which is a great help in becoming wiser and stronger.

People hold widely divergent views of dream interpretation, and many dream interpreters tell us what we want to hear. We’re easily seduced into believing whatever puts a gloss on self-image rather than what’s true. We’re inclined to object to true interpretations because they often point out our psychological weaknesses rather than celebrate our strengths.

Dreams often reveal an inner conflict. A dream in which we fervently desire an object can be covering up our temptation to feel deprived of that object or other benefits of life. This is the conflict: While we want to get and possess nice things, we are at the same time emotionally attached to the feeling that we’re somehow missing out on good fortune. [Read more…]