Curbing Our Appetite for Brutality

We become liberators, too, when we free ourselves from the darkness within.

We become liberators, too, when we free ourselves from inner darkness.

Nelson Mandela’s greatness was most visible in his power to overthrow—through his courage, compassion, and peaceful manner—the brutality and murderous ways of the Apartheid regime. He was an ordinary man, he said, as he counseled us to find our own greatness.

How do we acquire greatness? Mandela’s power to do good was rooted in his charisma and love. If we are to be liberators like him, we presumably have to shed our negativity, fear, anger, malice, and violent instincts. We have to liberate our self from the darkness within.

From where in human nature does such negativity arise? A recent article in The New York Times tries to comprehend the human capacity for the slaughter of innocent people. Citing examples this year of horrific bloodletting by terrorists in Kenya and government security forces in Egypt, the article asks: Do we all have the capacity for such wanton murder?

Experts interviewed in the article say yes. But they don’t get to the core of the question. Instead, they blame the readiness to kill on “a culture of authority and obedience that supplants individual moral responsibility with loyalty to a larger mission . . .” Also blamed are “a routinization of violence, as well as injustice or economic hardship . . .” One expert says the most important ingredient in the willingness to murder for a cause is “the dehumanization of the victim.”

These explanations are superficial. Mandela, who died yesterday, would have more to offer. He would want us to ask ourselves: “What is it about me that would cause me to forgo moral responsibility? Why do I allow myself to see the enemy as less than human? Are there people who I hate, and do I have some hidden need to have enemies?” [Read more...]

Overcoming a Type of Resistance to Studying

Studying can be a lot easier when we understand inner passivity.

Studying can be a lot easier when we understand inner passivity.

This topic is addressed as an exchange of e-mails between me and a visitor to this website.

Reader’s comment: I have always been a studious person. Grades were important . . . I was also interested in learning and still am. However, now that I’m at university I’m avoiding studying. It’s not laziness or not caring. I feel fear. I have studied by myself all my life, so absence of family is not a big factor.

Whenever I do manage to study, I feel depressed afterwards. I feel like I have no energy, am mentally foggy, and at the mercy of my thoughts and criticism. All other life issues come back in full force, and I often cry. I also feel depressed again. I used to be very depressed, but now manage to keep it in check and mostly stand up for myself, except when it comes to studying.

Unfortunately, studying is necessary. I want to understand this reaction. More importantly, I want to feel pleased with myself after having studied for the allotted time. . . With all the inner work I’ve done, it feels as if this reaction has a strange power to put me right back to the beginning. I find it very painful.

Is it because studying is a “passive” thing to do? I feel much better after physical activity and such. But after studying, I feel robbed of the little inner strength and confidence I try hard to build every day. . . Why would this be? Do you have any ideas?

My response: I’ll suggest one possibility. Let me know whether you think it applies to you. Indeed, it appears that you’re having a passive reaction to studying. [Read more...]

The Missing Link in OCD

The missing link lurks in our psyche behind the symptoms.

The missing link lurks in our psyche behind the painful symptoms.

You can’t touch it, see it, or smell it. But it’s there all the time, the hidden instigator of numerous human ailments and miseries including obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Experts attribute obsessive-compulsive disorder to various sources such as genetic factors and dysfunctional brain processes, as well as allergies and other sensory problems that produce anxiety and stress. Yet a common cause of OCD—inner passivity in the human psyche—is hardly ever mentioned. The fingerprint of inner passivity can be found on all the common expressions of OCD.

Readers of the posts at this website are familiar with my descriptions of inner passivity. This inner condition was first identified in classical psychoanalysis as an extension of the subordinate or unconscious ego. I have shown how inner passivity is an emotional weakness that is linked to many painful and self-defeating experiences and behaviors such as anxiety, depression, procrastination, shame, guilt, panic attacks, and addictions. In this post, I provide explanations that show how inner passivity is the common link among the primary types and symptoms of OCD.

Inner passivity is a hidden glitch in human nature, and it can plague us even when in daily life we’re capable of being assertive and effective. As one of its most striking features, inner passivity, when experienced acutely, causes us to become emotionally entangled in a sense of helplessness and to feel overwhelmed by the everyday challenges of life. (Read, Lost in the Fog of Inner Passivity.)

One of the most common forms of OCD is called “checking.” People become anxious that they’ve failed to lock a door, switch off lights, or turn off the stove or toaster. Some OCD sufferers have persistent fears of hitting pedestrians while driving. [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...]

The Futile Dialogue in Our Head

Stop the needless yackety-yack!

Our mind is often the stage for the acting out of a recurring dialogue between two conflicting parts of our psyche. In people with mental disorders, one of these voices—inner aggression—can take over or “possess” the consciousness of these individuals and command them to commit dangerous or criminal acts. Yet the rest of us have troublesome inner voices, too.

Our voices are more subtle, restrained, and rational than in mentally disturbed individuals. Yet these voices or thoughts can still take control of our consciousness, make us jump to their commands and suggestions, and produce suffering and self-defeat.

Our oppressive inner dialogue consists, on one side, of the point of view of inner aggression. This dynamic or drive is seated in our inner critic or superego. On the other side of the conflict, inner passivity (seated in our defensive subordinate ego) functions as an enabler of our inner critic. Classical psychoanalysis has known about this inner conflict, but the universality of the problem, the self-damage it causes, and its mechanisms of operation are not being well communicated to people. [Read more...]

Lost in the Fog of Inner Passivity

Inner passivity causes us to feel overwhelmed by events and to experience self-doubt.

All of us have in our psyche an aspect or feature that goes by the name of inner passivity. This hindrance to our creativity, self-fulfillment, and humanity may be the most difficult thing for us to see and understand about ourselves.

Inner passivity produces a wide range of reactions to situations and events, including the tendency to go through the motions of daily life taking everything for granted and feeling that our options are limited. This negative influence on our state of mind is a huge problem for many of us. It can block us from creating a sense of direction for our life and prevent us from achieving fulfillment and happiness.

When inner passivity contaminates our psyche, we can, among other symptoms, feel overwhelmed by events and situations, experience acute self-doubt or become reactive in the face of authority, interpret neutral situations as confrontation or conflict, and find that our attempts at logical or rational thinking churn unproductively in loops and circles. We’re easily lost in the fog of inner passivity, to the point where we don’t even see the fog.

This condition had me in its clutches forty years ago when, as a journalist, I was unable to consolidate my intelligence and imagination to see how I could grow and flourish in my work. I couldn’t produce a vision of accomplishment and success. [Read more...]

The Private Joke behind Our Laughter

Humor is often produced in our psyche by the conflict between self-aggression and inner passivity.

Insight is a good thing, and insight into where our laughter comes from not only can spare us a lot of misery but is worth a laugh in itself. Still, as one witty writer said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” Despite the risk, I’m putting humor and laughter on the dissecting table. I love humor as much as any cutup, and obviously I have no wish to fracture its funny-bone or to see it croak.

Humor, bless its existence, is often a byproduct of the clash in our psyche between inner aggression and inner passivity. The voice or “intelligence” of inner passivity (our unconscious ego) often produces humor for the purpose of deflecting and reducing to absurdity the harsh pronouncements and judgments of inner aggression (our inner critic or superego). The recent online “Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium” between TV personalities Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly serves to illustrate this point.

Stewart, the easy-going liberal humorist and host of “The Daily Show,” sees and relates to the world from the perspective of inner passivity. He generates much of his humor by cleverly mocking the pretentions and inconsistencies of the establishment and the Right Wing. O’Reilly, in contrast, [Read more...]

How Deeper Insight Relieves Stress

It's important to understand the sources of stress in our psyche.

As I sit at my desk writing about stress, I can feel some tension stirring in my body. Outside my home office where I write, construction workers are noisily building a new house. Work will go on next door for a few more months. No doubt I’ll feel the nuisance of the noise at times, but I don’t really expect to feel much tension or stress. For one thing, stress is largely related to unresolved negative emotions—and I’m happy to see this lovely new house being built. Moreover, if the noise gets too loud I can head off to the nearby town library and park myself in one of its secluded corners.

Stress is synonymous with suffering. It’s on a par with tension and anxiety. We experience stress when we add the tonnage of our unresolved emotional issues on to the back of normal everyday challenges.

Yet people are generally determined to ignore the inner causes of stress. They want to blame stress on external factors. In its latest annual survey on stress in America, the American Psychological Association says that money, work, and the economy continue to be the most frequently cited causes of stress. [Read more...]

Taming the “Little Monsters” of Insomnia

The agony of the "cerebral loop."

“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily,” one insomniac wrote. “Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of their skull well-swept, and all the little monsters closed up in a steamer truck at the foot of their bed.”

People can have trouble sleeping for lots of different reasons, and perhaps chief among them are those “little monsters” that cavort in our mind like gremlins at a hip-hop concert. “Crash the night,” the hellions shout, “time to break out, dance the wipeout, swing and freak out!” These little monsters (better known as random, unwanted thoughts, feelings, and fears) gambol to the music of worrisome speculations, dire considerations, and nightmarish scenarios.

Blake Butler, who once endured an epic 129-hour bout of insomnia, describes very well the grueling experience of insomnia in his book, Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia (Harper Perennial, New York. 2011). Below is an excerpt from his book. I quote Butler here at some length because his experience of insomnia, detailed with literary moxie, is highly relevant to what I say further on in this post.

This act of ‘sleep catastrophizing’ is ten times as commonly reported as other disruption stimuli, centered in our tendency to dwell on the worst possible outcomes of a given situation . . . And so the frame shakes. And the self shakes. And in the self, so shakes the blood, the mood, the night, disturbing, in the system, further waking, further wanting, if for the smallest things, the days of junk, [Read more...]

The Origins of Feeling Overwhelmed

An unresolved negative emotion can produce the feeling of being overwhelmed.

One sufferer described the misery of feeling overwhelmed this way: “Has anyone seen my brain? It ran off this morning flailing and screaming about being overwhelmed. I’d really like it back.”

As the comment suggests, the feeling of being overwhelmed can be agonizing. Paradoxically, though, the feeling is sometimes delightfully associated with love or with wonder, as when astronomer Carl Sagan contemplated “the overwhelming immensity” of the sky. For this post, however, I’m writing about the feeling as a disagreeable, painful experience. We can ease this form of suffering when we expose the source of the feeling in our psyche.

The feeling is widespread in modern life. Another person described a common rendering of the experience: “I constantly feel overwhelmed—busy, busy, busy! I ask myself, ‘How can I possibly get this all done?’ I’m living on the edge of chaos, and I tell myself, ‘This is crazy, insane!’ I go to bed, get up in the morning, and it starts all over again.” He later admitted, “Every day I load myself up with too many tasks and too much work, so I know I contribute to the problem.”

Feeling overwhelmed can sometimes be a normal reaction to very difficult circumstances, as in the plight of some single parents or the predicament of underemployed people struggling to pay bills. Still, our psychological issues can make challenging circumstances more difficult and painful than they have to be. [Read more...]