What Warps the Mind of Domestic Terrorists?

Depth psychology exposes the terrorist mentality.

Depth psychology understands and exposes the terrorist mentality.

As we’re now seeing, a scattering of men and women in the West are being radicalized with a terrorist mentality that, like the Ebola virus, can be spread with devastating effects.

Like the germ of an idea, the terrorist mentality grows in the emotional and mental life of certain individuals until they’re prepared to turn murderously against their own countrymen. These individuals are typically more conflicted than their peers, and they have weaker psychological immunity to toxic and deadly irrationality.

The lone gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who this month murdered a soldier and stormed Canada’s Parliament before being shot and killed, was described by an acquaintance of his: “His viewpoint was bizarre. The guy was not deranged. He was articulate. He was intelligent. His rationale was warped.”

What inner process warps the mind? While usually intelligent, fledgling terrorists are typically steeped in self-alienation. Studies indicate that these individuals, even before they become recruits to terrorism, have more psychological and emotional difficulties than the general population.

In particular, the children of Islamic immigrants to Western nations can feel helplessly torn between two clashing cultures. Many of them would have identified with immigrant parents who struggled to fit in to a Western way of life distinctly different from that of their birthplace. Now they feel disconnected, insignificant, powerless, unappreciated, and unworthy. [Read more…]

How to Be Your Own Inner Guide

Acquire vital self-knowledge, and it will guide you well through life.

Acquire vital self-knowledge, and it will guide you well through life.

Some people can begin to overcome their emotional and behavioral problems without needing to see a psychotherapist. Still, by all means find one if you have the time and money to get personalized psychological help. If you have a diagnosable mental disorder, you should definitely be under the care of a psychotherapist or psychiatrist or both.

Professional help can certainly speed up the process of overcoming painful difficulties with career, relationships, and daily living. However, most therapists will not address your deeper conflicts, defenses, and attachments. It grieves me to say it, but many therapists only succeed in comforting you in your pain. They don’t help you to vanquish it.

Many people can, on their own, make inner progress with the method and knowledge that I describe in my books and at this website. People acquire knowledge by studying the material and learning how it applies to them directly. In the discussion here, I offer the essentials of how this can be done. (The previous post—“Does Inner Growth Require Practical Steps?”—also covers this topic.)

I’ve written earlier about this essential knowledge, and it bears repeating in this new context. Two distinct levels of negative emotions need to be recognized. One level consists of the symptoms. These symptoms are the result of inner conflict that’s occurring at a deeper level in our psyche. The symptoms tend to be more conscious, while the deeper level of emotions is mostly unconscious. The challenge is to go deeper and become more conscious of the source of the symptoms. This is how the problems can be fixed once and for all.

Let’s start by listing some of these symptoms. They consist of negative emotions as well as self-defeating behaviors. [Read more…]

Get to Know Your Psychological Defenses

Our psychological defenses keep us from an understanding of why we are suffering.

Our psychological defenses keep us from an understanding of why we are suffering.

We’re often the dupes of our defenses which render us blind to our emotional life and mislead us about the sources of our suffering. For starters, we don’t see that common varieties of suffering are both symptoms of mysterious dynamics unfolding in our psyche as well as defenses covering up our participation in our suffering.

To understand this, take a look at the following painful experiences (List 1) and see if you can tell what they have in common:

Anger and rage; sadness, grief, depression; worry, anxiety, guilt, and fear; envy, jealousy, and loneliness; resentment, humiliation, and shame.

These painful experiences are all symptoms and defenses of deeper dynamics in our psyche. Our ability to avoid these unpleasant states is hampered when we fail to understand the deeper processes that instigate these forms of suffering.

What are we defending against? Deeper down, we remain entangled in unresolved negative emotions first experienced in childhood. Through psychological defenses, we cover up our willingness to remain entwined in these painful emotions. The emotions (List 2) include the sense of being:

Deprived, refused; helpless, controlled, and dominated; criticized, rejected, and abandoned; unloved, seen as unworthy. [Read more…]

Overcoming Fear of Intimacy

Don't settle for second-rate knowledge about our psychological problems.

Don’t settle for second-rate knowledge about our psychological problems.

For our personal growth and self-development, the psychological establishment is feeding us baby food. We’ll have difficulty fulfilling our destiny without better educational nutrition.

Let’s consider the problem in light of what mainstream psychology is telling us about the self-defeating behavior known as “fear of intimacy.”

We won’t find abiding love, of course, when we’re afraid of intimacy. So how do we fix the problem? An online search for information turns up hundreds of articles and numerous books. Much of this self-help literature does a decent job discussing the experiences and characteristics of fugitives from intimacy. But it does a lousy job providing real insight that can dramatically improve their lives.

One mainstream explanation says that intimacy-dodgers have a fear of rejection (being rejected or abandoned by the loved one), along with a fear of engulfment (feeling controlled and dominated by one’s partner, along with losing oneself in the relationship).

Indeed, these two fears are felt by individuals who flee from intimacy. But where do these fears come from? Relationship experts are not explaining the true source of these fears. They say the fears can be due to a social phobia, an anxiety disorder, or a history of abuse. Yet even when these factors are aspects of the problem, we still need knowledge that goes beyond a diagnosis or the wounds of victimization. [Read more…]

The Psychology Behind Mass Shootings

To understand mass shooters, we must search our own psyche.

To understand mass shooters, we must search our own psyche.

While some mass shooters are psychotic or schizophrenic, only about five percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness. The rate of mental illness is higher—an estimated 20 percent—among rampage or serial killers. Most of the mass murders didn’t qualify for any specific psychiatric disorder, according to strict criteria. These individuals—often working-class men who had been jilted, fired, and felt humiliated, or youths who felt rejected and despised—lived next door to neighbors who never imagined them capable of such crimes.

We would like to believe that the behavior of the shooters is foreign to human nature, not something intrinsic in our psyche. Or we say that a gun-worshipping culture is to blame. Yet might there be another factor, some common element at the heart of human nature, to account in part for these horrendous events?

We all have a dark side. Psychology, literature, and mythology have chronicled this aspect of our nature, yet still we flee from examining it. Carl Jung wrote in his 1957 classic, The Undiscovered Self, that a true understanding of the inner self recognizes the existence of good and evil within us. In his view, the unconscious was being ignored “out of downright resistance to the mere possibility of there being a second psychic authority besides the ego. It seems a positive menace to the ego that its monarchy can be doubted.” Jung also wrote that a lack of insight deprives us of the capacity to deal with evil. Underestimation of the psychological factor, he added, “is likely to take a bitter revenge.” [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…]

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…]

Avoidable Miseries of the Workplace

We want to identify the inner dynamics that can ruin the pleasures of work.

Work, paradoxically, is a blessing and a curse. It can torture us when we have it and depress us when we don’t. What’s worse, loading “Sixteen Tons” of manure from “9 to 5” on “Maggie’s Farm” after “A Hard Day’s Night,” or having to beg, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” in “Allentown” because the “Unemployment Blues” means “I Ain’t Got No Home in this World Anymore”?

This post offers some psychological insight to help workers find greater enjoyment and creativity in their labor. (The agony of feeling useless that’s inflicted on the reluctantly unemployed will be the subject of a later piece.) Work satisfies basic physical, psychological, and emotional needs, yet people can find ways to suffer even when they hold excellent jobs.

A straightforward psychological principle assures greater enjoyment and creativity in the workplace: Once we manage to avoid unnecessary emotional suffering, we’re much more capable of appreciating our work and being successful at it.

Emotional suffering is related to the state of our psyche, in conjunction with the extent of our self-knowledge. When our psyche is contaminated by unresolved issues and conflict, we can suffer anywhere, anytime. [Read more…]

Mark Twain’s Mysterious Misery-Machine

It rusts away when sprayed by self-knowledge.

We all like to think we’re motivated by self-interest, self-protection, and self-love. Consciously, we are. Unconsciously, though, we operate a misery-machine inside us that churns up self-defeat, self-damage, and self-rejection.

A reference to a misery-machine is made by the character Satan in Mark Twain’s final novel, The Mysterious Stranger. The reference is found in this passage from the book:

Every man is a suffering-machine and a happiness-machine combined. The two functions work together harmoniously, with a fine and delicate precision, on the give-and-take principle. For every happiness turned out in the one department the other stands ready to modify it with a sorrow or a pain—maybe a dozen. In most cases the man’s life is about equally divided between happiness and unhappiness. When this is not the case, the unhappiness predominates—almost never the other. Sometimes a man’s make and disposition are such that his misery-machine is able to do nearly all the business. Such a man goes through life almost ignorant of what happiness is.

This short novel, while nihilistic and grim in places, presents many insights into human nature. Twain’s savvy on matters of human conduct and motivation is consistent, of course, with his greatness as a writer. Perhaps the novel’s most significant insight is the idea that truth about human nature is not as pleasant as we would like. That in itself is not a popular or pleasant idea. That resistance may account, in part, for why the novel is one of his least popular books.

So what is this misery-machine of which he writes? Twain presents only the machine’s finished products—ignorance, self-serving hypocrisy, violence, despair, stupidity, malice, anger, vanity. He didn’t get to the nuts and bolts of the machine itself, which at the time the emerging science of psychoanalysis was beginning to do. [Read more…]

The Problem with Positive Psychology

We won't be authentic if we fail to penetrate into our unconscious mind

Most everyone is looking for happiness. The shopping malls of the self-help industry feature thousands of different methods, beliefs, and practices for finding it. Many of these approaches are of limited value, and we do ourselves a big favor by avoiding them.

According to Martin E.P. Seligman, founder of positive psychology, people who apply his method “are the people with the highest well-being I have ever known.” Seligman’s approach encourages us to apply determination and grit in order to increase our positive emotions and relationships. We flourish, he claims, when we focus on engagement, accomplishment, and a sense of meaning. His latest book is titled, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Free Press, New York, 2011).

Seligman’s approach can produce a temporary boost of happiness, or an illusion of it, but it doesn’t deepen our spirit, soul, or psyche. It risks turning us into smiley-faced puppet people instead of real and authentic individuals who are evolving through deeper awareness. Positive psychology advocates a kind of willpower-on-steroids programming that insists we can feel fulfilled and happy by believing we are making it happen. This system does not appreciate how, through unconscious conflict in our psyche, we compulsively replay and recreate unresolved negative emotions. [Read more…]