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 Chaos Theory of the Mind

There are some childish things we still haven't put away.

There are some childish things we still retain and need to put away.

As adults, we like to think we’ve put away most childish things. But infantile and childish ways of experiencing ourselves and life linger in our unconscious mind. That baby in the adult’s psyche can be highly mischievous and harmful, producing chaotic reactions.

Early childhood’s influences on our adult experiences have parallels to the scientific concept of Chaos theory. This mathematical theory attempts to understand erratic behavior as it occurs in certain nonlinear systems such as weather patterns. The theory proposes, as one example, that small air disturbances in one location can result, days or weeks later, in storms or hurricanes more than a thousand miles away.

Comparatively, the unconscious mind of adults is buffeted by gale-force winds of emotional chaos that originated as an infantile effect decades earlier. Emotional associations from our distant past now buffet our life in incredible, mysterious, spectacular, and frequently painful and self-defeating ways.

Emotions percolate and circulate in our unconscious mind with some degree of chaos. We all know what it’s like to be happy one moment, sad the next, with no conscious input from us. We also know how hard it can be to regulate our desires, impulses, and emotional reactions. Both neuroscience and psychology have established that our brain struggles mightily and often unsuccessfully to limit the effects of irrationality. Often we try to apply common sense and reason to moderate unpleasant emotions or to curb self-defeating impulses. Yet our emotional side, with a life of its own, can often be impervious to rational entreaties. Still, we can bring order to the chaos when we understand just what we’re dealing with. [Read more…]

The Double Barrels of Gun Mania

Psychological issues lurk in the psyche of staunch gun-rights defenders.

Psychological issues lurk in the psyche of many staunch gun-rights defenders.

We all agree about the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Perhaps we also need to look at some psychological issues influencing staunch defenders of gun rights. Many of these individuals are not paragons of mental health because two of their unrecognized emotional issues are triggering a double-barreled blast of self-defeat.

Before looking down these barrels, let us acknowledge our human temptation to become enthralled by objects such as guns. We love our playthings such as cars and boats. Collectors love their guns, coins, stamps, antiques, model trains, and so on. This interest or fascination can be harmless enough and a source of considerable enjoyment. Yet psychological development is impeded when we use a possession such as a luxury car or expensive painting to provide status or fill an inner emptiness. Our enthusiasm for possessions can rise to the level of a fixation or obsession, at which point our lack of self-development causes us to lose perspective and sell short the richness of our essential self.

Because guns are relatively inexpensive, they’re not usually purchased for status. Instead, they provide two psychological defenses—the double barrels of self-defeat—that make their ownership so desirable. One barrel discharges the illusion of safety and the other the illusion of power. Why do so many gun owners grasp at these illusions or inner defenses? [Read more…]

When Eyes Are Blinders of the Soul

Our eyes can easily go looking for things that make us upset, angry, or dissatisfied.

One way to diminish our suffering is to become conscious of when our eyes go looking for something that upsets us. Another way is to be watchful of what our imagination is up to.

Just as sponges can soak up dirty water as easily as clean water, our eyes can also take in impressions from the world around us that leak misery into our soul. We like to think we use our visual faculty in pursuit of pleasure, but we also use it to entertain old hurts, grievances, and longings. Our eyes go looking for pleasure and stimulation—but also needlessly for ways to suffer.

Groucho Marx famously asked, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” The drollery is delightful, yet our eyes are suspect nonetheless. Our eyes, along with our imagination, quite readily go searching for things to worry and brood about. Through our eyes and imagination, we can be tempted to look for sights or impressions that stir up within us negative emotions relating to deprivation, refusal, helplessness, rejection, and unworthiness.

The writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.” He meant, of course, that we’re emotionally blocked from seeing objectively. [Read more…]

Stubbornness: The Guts to Fight Reality

Fighting reality can get painful.

Stubbornness is, essentially, a determination to fight a losing battle with reality, while accepting as a “reward” for the effort the gift-wrapped deadweight of rigidity and resentment.

My apologies to Frank Sinatra fans, but I believe the theme song or anthem for stubbornness is the old favorite, “My Way.” One stanza stands out:

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew/ When I bit off more than I could chew./ But through it all, when there was doubt,/ I ate it up and spit it out./ I faced it all and I stood tall,/ And did it my way.

Sure—my way or the highway! When we’re smart and wise, we don’t put the emphasis on my way. We’re just pleased and grateful to find a good, sensible, or brave way to travel “each and ev’ry highway.”

Of course, stubbornness can sometimes be a virtue, as when we adhere bravely to a sound principle in the face of opposition. This post, though, is about the self-defeating expression of it.

Stubbornness and denial are two bad apples in the same basket. The former tends to be a conscious expression of opposition, as in a lady’s stubborn refusal to reunite with an estranged family member, while the latter is likely to refer to an unconscious form of the behavior, as in a man’s denial that his drinking problem is going to get him fired.

Stubbornness is usually a reaction to underlying emotional issues. If we can make these issues conscious and keep them in focus, we have a good chance of letting go of our mulish attitude and the suffering it brings on. Basically, obstinacy is a symptom of three different emotional issues in our psyche. [Read more…]