The Love Song of the Self

The greatest human accomplishment is to connect with the self.

The greatest human accomplishment is to connect with the self.

The character Prufrock in T.S. Eliot’s ironically titled great poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” personifies the painful plight of people who are unable to connect with their authentic self. Contemplating “a hundred indecisions,” Prufrock saw the moment of his greatness flicker: he “lingered in the chambers of the sea” and drowned in his self-doubt.

Prufrock lived in the shadow of his self, measuring out his life “with coffee spoons.” What then is this self—or Self—that supposedly rescues us from a life half-lived? We catch glimpses of it when our mind clears and life feels like silk upon our skin. Yet it’s not always easy to describe this core or essence that makes us feel at home in our body and in the world. So let’s heed Prufrock’s summons (though not his fate): “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ Let us go and make our visit.”

We can note, for starters, that the role of the self tends to be overlooked in mental health treatments. Writing recently in The New York Times Magazine, Linda Logan describes her treatments when hospitalized several times over a period of many years for a debilitating mood disorder: “Everything was scrutinized except the transformation of my self and my experience of its loss.” If anything, she writes, “it seems that psychiatry is moving away from a model in which the self could be discussed. For many psychiatrists, mental disorders are medical problems to be treated with medications, and a patient’s crisis of self is not very likely to come up in a 15-minute session with a psychopharmacologist.” [Read more...]

Understanding Anorexia

Unresolved inner conflict is a primary cause  of anorexia.

Unresolved inner conflict is a primary cause of anorexia nervosa.

Recently I watched a YouTube clip of Phil McGraw (Dr. Phil) counseling a 79-pound woman with anorexia, and it was a sad sight indeed. My sadness was felt both for the plight of the woman and for the plight of all people who get only shallow psychological knowledge from so-called experts and the media.

In this video clip from 2012, Dr. Phil succeeds only at shaming the woman for her anorexia. The woman already lives with considerable inner shame, and the unwitting Dr. Phil is only piling it on.

Anorexia can be treated and cured when its psychological origins are uncovered. Yet prominent websites on the subject—such as WebMD.com, the Mayo Clinic, and MedlinePlus, the website of the National Institutes of Health—provide only scanty and shallow psychological information. The National Institutes of Health, which favors a medical approach to understanding and treating eating disorders, claims that, “Family conflicts are no longer thought to contribute to this [anorexia] or other eating disorders.” I disagree with this statement, and I provide evidence in this article that family conflict, along with inner conflict, does indeed contribute to these disorders. When anorexics understand their inner conflict and how they act out that conflict with others, they have a decent chance of escaping their painful condition. [Read more...]

Exterminate Infestations of Negative Thoughts

Our negative thoughts can feel as if they are reality-based.

Our negative thoughts often feel as if they are reality-based.

Negative thoughts are like termites that chew up and spit out our happiness. Many of us are frequently overwhelmed by such worrisome, anxious, fearful, and hateful thoughts. These thoughts gnaw at the fabric of our life, yet we’re often oblivious to basic knowledge that can eradicate this intrusive infestation.

These thoughts often seem reality-based. Certainly, it’s easy to believe the content of these thoughts. They seem to capture objectively the nature and extent of our plight. When they overpopulate our mind, they can produce an ugly reality, a self-defeating acting out of our negative outlook and worst fears. We must understand, though, that they represent a subjective impression rather than any deeper truth about us or our life.

Before getting to the liberating knowledge, let’s look at a list of common negative thoughts. (This list is bleak and grim, and we can insert a little levity by reading this section as experimental poetry noir.) I’ve separated this list into three categories that are explained further on:

A. Negative thoughts associated with inner passivity: No one understands me or knows what I feel; I’ll never make it; I can’t get started; I’m so weak, helpless, and out of control; I can’t get things together; I can’t finish anything; I don’t think I can go on; I feel like I’m alone against the world; I know I have a serious disease; I’ll never be healthy and happy again; What’s the point of trying?  [Read more...]

Speeding Up Our Evolution

It's time to really know ourselves.

With the right knowledge, we can quickly become happier and more evolved. Our emotional and behavioral problems emerge from blind-spots in our psyche. As we uncover hidden knowledge, we can avoid a lot of suffering and self-defeat.

Overcoming emotional and behavioral problems is a learning process more so than a treatment process. When we upgrade our psyche’s operating system in this way, we strengthen our intelligence and powers of self-regulation.

My book, Why We Suffer: A Western Way to Understand and Let Go of Unhappiness, goes much deeper than other psychology books. It exposes the source of our troubles with such clarity that we can heal ourselves and each other through our own intelligence and good intentions. The book is available here as a PDF file and at Amazon as an e-book (where reviews and an excerpt can be read).

Some of the knowledge is shared freely in my many posts at this website. It’s also presented under various topics in my other books.

Why Our Emotional Suffering Persists

Key findings from psychoanalysis expose the sources of our suffering.

Were we born to suffer? William Wordsworth seemed to think so when he wrote: “Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark. And shares the nature of infinity.”

Indeed, ignorance in centuries past doomed many people to perpetual suffering. Much physical suffering has been alleviated by modern medicine, of course. But I’m not so sure that emotional suffering is on the wane. Fortunately, “obscure and dark” recesses of our psyche can be illuminated by flares of knowledge from psychology. However, due to our resistance to facing deeper truth, the best and brightest knowledge is not widely understood.

Key findings from classical psychoanalysis have exposed the sources of our suffering. The first principle of this knowledge recognizes that our chronic upset, nagging self-doubt, and persistent complaints are symptoms of unresolved negative emotions that we’re unwittingly generating from within us.

Growing awareness produces an understanding that a deep negativity—consisting of an assortment of unresolved emotions—lurks in our psyche. On the surface, we may be optimistic, clever, and skillful. But deep in our unconscious mind we harbor the unfinished business of humanity, namely our compulsion to keep diving back into unresolved negative emotions. [Read more...]

Wallowing in the Lap of Bitterness

Bitterness feeds on the carcasses of festering memories.

Bitterness is rat poison we feed our memories. It’s the tedious self-torture of desolation row.

Bitterness cavorts with evil. It causes people to disown their children or to seek revenge, while it sends others off on maniacal shooting rampages. It shatters the political unity of great countries. And it ravishes joy with its lust for malice.

Bitterness is stupidly self-inflicted by people who refuse to be open to understanding, knowledge, and compassion. Even when bitter people manage to avoid doing evil to others, they do evil to themselves: They prefer to defile the carcasses of festering memories than to dance at the festival of life.

Our mind, when it lacks consciousness, can easily interpret old or new memories to conjure up negative emotions. Bitterness is produced when we indulge in these emotions until our splurge of intemperance scorches the soul. To make matters worse, we can hold on to those painful interpretations as if they were the family jewels. “That which is bitter to endure,” said historian Thomas Fuller, “may be sweet to remember.” [Read more...]

The Psychological Roots of National Disunity

Inner conflict contaminates the national debate.

The moral philosophies of individualism and solidarity clash upon the withered plain, battling for the soul of America. Conservatives, for the most part, stand behind the former philosophy, while Liberals are tied to the latter. An intense conflict is disuniting the people, and we’re all suffering.

There need not be such division and antagonism between the two moral positions. They’re not mutually exclusive. The clash over which philosophy ought to prevail turns negative and hostile only because the human psyche is, in itself, so conflict-ridden. Through our resistance and denial, we’ve been hiding from our awareness the deeper elements of this strife. We suffer personally and politically because of psychological secrets we keep from ourselves.

As moral positions, both individualism and solidarity obviously have commendable aspects. Individualism represents self-reliance and independence, while solidarity or community represents social unity, common cause, and an expansive understanding of self-interest. All these aspects are important to our well-being.

It’s the unconscious part of our psyche that’s contaminating the debate, widening the divide, and creating unnecessary misunderstanding and hostility. [Read more...]

Psychologists of the World, Go Deeper

We need the insight that comes from going deeper into our psyche.

Many psychologists are afraid of their own shadow. They’re unwilling to confront their dark side. They may be smart but they’re lacking in consciousness. How else can we explain the third-rate knowledge that the profession passes along to a suffering world.

Psychological science has failed to recognize the existence and vital importance of unflattering facts about our humanity that we’ve been hiding, denying, and repressing in our psyche. Instead of getting to the heart of our dysfunction, psychologists are producing an expanding universe of subprime information and C-rated factoids.

I believe that many psychologists are choosing, unconsciously, to avoid a deeper study of human nature. They’re fleeing into the “scientific method” and abstract studies in order to get away from a full examination of their own personal issues and weaknesses. The deeper we go into human nature, the more we discover alarming gaps in our knowledge. Closing these gaps enables us to let go of old identifications and to make significant changes and improvements. [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...]

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...]