Answers to Questions from Readers (Part 4)

The road to inner freedom.

The path to inner freedom.

Readers often send me emails with their comments and questions. Here I answer three of them, edited to remove identifying details. My responses are in italics.

My life has been a struggle for many years. The negative emotions I experienced (mostly being viciously manipulated and disrespected by relatives and other people) are still present.

I always had the impression (even before reading your articles) that I was somehow choosing to be involved in those negative emotions and experiences. However, I did not have the proper understanding of the inner dynamics of this process. Certainly it is very difficult to accept the notion that I’m making inner choices in order to experience those bad emotions: this is extremely humiliating. I mean, it really is humiliating to recognize that I am choosing to hurt myself over and over again in this manner. What do you think about this? –DK

You are feeling what most people feel when presented with this knowledge. It’s very common to feel humiliated or offended when we first consider the possibility that we’re choosing unconsciously and repeatedly to indulge in certain negative emotions.

We experience this sense of humiliation mainly because our conscious ego is so offended at the revelations of this depth psychology. Our conscious ego, which operates rather like an old software program, is of course just one aspect of our total self. Yet a great many people identify with their ego and experience so much of their life through it. We can feel as if we are our ego. Absorbing depth psychology means, however, that we get access to some of the hidden operations, enabling a bigger self to emerge. Even though this benefits us greatly, we still experience resistance to the process. [Read more…]

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Unconscious Bias in Race Relations

Unconscious projection is a big player in racial tension.

Unconscious projection is a big player in producing racial tension.

Protests against the handling of racial tensions broke out this month on university campuses across the United States, and once again we find ourselves confounded by the deviltry of human nature. Why does skin color in 2015 still inflame animosities? Depth psychology provides us with deeper understanding of unconscious bias as a factor in racial tension.

Some white people remain intent on denying black people their humanity. These white people, unbeknownst to themselves, are not in touch with their own humanity. What exactly does that mean?

They don’t respect or love their own self. They’re burdened emotionally by self-doubt and self-rejection. They’re likely to be highly self-critical, and sometimes they despise themselves. Therefore, it follows logically that to love their neighbor as they “love” themselves is to dislike and perhaps to hate their neighbor.

Of course, they don’t usually hate their white neighbors—not all of them, anyway. Their animosity arises unfailingly for blacks or other minorities because they need someone or some group to which they can feel superior. Feeling superior is important to them because otherwise they feel inferior. Detesting others for their alleged inferiority is how they maintain an illusion of superiority.

The psychological mechanism of projection becomes a big player in racial tension. [Read more…]

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Hidden Dynamics of Racism

Depth psychology sheds more light on racist behavior.

Depth psychology sheds more light on racist behavior.

News commentators have been trying to figure out what motivated a group of white University of Oklahoma students on an outing earlier this month to sing a racist chant laden with anti-black slurs and a reference to lynching.

The episode made national headlines after it was captured on video, and it led to the expulsion of two students, the disciplining of a few dozen more, and the closure of the university fraternity to which they belonged.

The students have apologized and appear contrite. Yet they probably don’t fully understand what possessed them to behave so badly. Commentators have attributed the action of the students to racism, bigotry, and cultural influences. But the episode can be understood, for the edification of everyone, at a deeper level.

The students were unwittingly expressing a hidden aspect of human nature. In varying degrees, all of us can feel vague doubts concerning our intrinsic value. At times, many of us feel deep inside a sense of being flawed, unworthy, bad, and insignificant. This is not something people readily talk about.

This impression can consist of a deep-down suspicion of being a fake, a fraud, a nobody. The existence in our psyche of this negative sense of self can, when acute, produce shame, anxiety, and guilt. People instinctively cover up or defend against the realization of how emotionally attached they can be, how identified they are, with this irrational impression. (The origin of this painful sense of self is discussed in an earlier post.) [Read more…]

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The Psychology of Wealth Disparity

The collective neurosis behind wealth disparity weighs on human destiny.

The collective neurosis behind wealth disparity weighs on human destiny.

Wealth disparity continues to grow in developed nations. By next year, as Oxfam reported this month, the richest one percent will likely control half the world’s total wealth. This disparity is happening, in part, because money, when used neurotically, is overrated, desperately accumulated, and recklessly dissipated.

In developed nations, all economic, political, and social dysfunction is, to a significant degree, a symptom of the extent of the population’s neurosis. This collective neurosis—the accumulated weight of unresolved negative emotions and self-defeating tendencies—is a massive burden on human destiny.

Both the rich and the poor have a role in this wealth-distribution problem. Let start by considering a factor that’s at play in the psyche of many rich people, particularly those who are lacking in empathy and generosity. It’s obviously self-defeating to be lacking these qualities. This insensitivity hinders the development of one’s own goodness and consciousness, and it blocks an individual from experiencing greater life satisfaction and any sense of higher purpose or destiny. In other words, self-aggrandizement invariably contaminates one’s moral life. Researchers have been finding in dozens of studies that a person’s feelings of compassion and empathy go down—and feelings of entitlement and self-interest increase—as his or her wealth increases. [Read more…]

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How Do We Achieve Self-Control?

People often lack self-control in very subtle ways.

People can lack self-control in ways that are subtle and unconscious.

“If self-control is so important,” a reader asks, “how are we supposed to achieve it?”

Personally, I don’t much like the term “self-control.” It suggests a desperate struggle between willpower and cravings, or between restraint and impulses. The term promises endless flirtation with the prospect of self-defeat. It even brings to mind the image of people whipping themselves into compliance or submission.

The term “self-regulation” has more decorum along with a more promising prognosis. It allows us to appreciate the subtleties involved in making our life run smoother. We want to be able to regulate our emotions in order, for instance, to prevent worry, fear, loneliness, and anger from invading our inner space. We also want to regulate our behaviors so we avoid, say, procrastination and overspending, along with compulsive or addictive pursuits.

The lack of self-control is obvious when people are plagued by addictions or compulsions. But an ability to regulate our life often requires us to appreciate our mind’s more subtle aspects. In this post I write about these subtleties. The purpose here is to uncover certain emotions and behaviors that contribute to suffering and self-defeat but have evaded our attention. Seeing these psychological dynamics with more clarity is an excellent way to strengthen oneself. [Read more…]

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How to Enhance Your Verbal Skill

The solution involves bringing our weak side into sharper focus.

The solution involves bringing our weak side into sharper focus.

You probably remember occasions when you had difficulty saying what you wanted to say or expressing what was on your mind. Some people become tongue-tied on a daily basis. Even when they do manage to speak, they can feel their communication is incomplete or is somehow jumbled and inarticulate. People frequently have to rehearse the words in their mind before they speak, and then the communication doesn’t sound genuine or authentic.

It’s bad enough that this lack of verbal skill reduces the pleasures of social and workplace encounters, but it’s also frequently accompanied by painful experiences of embarrassment, regret, and shame.

One person with this difficulty commented: “I always feel that I want to say more and don’t find the right words and feel confused whether to say it or not. Now, at work, sometimes I feel I might have something useful to say in a certain situation, but the moment passes and it’s too late.” [Read more…]

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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…]

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O Shame, Where is Thy Secret Source?

We can penetrate more deeply into the roots of shame.

Self-knowledge helps us to penetrate more deeply into the roots of shame.

Shame is a powerful and self-damaging emotion, and many books in recent years have tackled the subject in search of its roots. Some experts say shame is “the quintessential negative emotion” because it influences so many different moods and behaviors.

While shame can saturate our emotional life, most sufferers don’t understand its roots deep in our psyche. (I wrote about shame in an earlier post, “How Deeper Awareness Can Eliminate Shame,” and this is a fresh attempt to help readers understand the affliction.)

Shame is the painful sense that there exists a dark secret or an exposed truth about some vile, disgusting, or pitiful aspect of oneself. The negative emotion sometimes lies dormant until triggered by a situation or event in a person’s life. Other times, shame is active within us on a daily basis. Whether we’re conscious of our shame or not, it can play an important role in obesity, addictions, depression, crime, violent behaviors, sexual offenses, social phobias, career failure, outbursts of anger, and other self-defeating behaviors.

Shame is often associated with external variables such as our appearance, clothes, social skills, and a sense of physical and mental ineptitude. It’s also associated with inner fears such as being exposed as a fake or phony, and experiencing or imagining ridicule over our handling of money.

We have a better chance of overcoming shame when we know where it comes from and how it’s produced. Shame itself is a byproduct of forces, drives, and conflicts in our psyche. [Read more…]

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When Money Enriches Our Suffering

Money is a counterfeit coin for measuring our value.

Money is important—it’s the grease in the economic machine. Some of us, though, get that grease all over our clothes, hair, and skin. When our body is overlaid with it, and every pore sealed up, the smear of cold cash turns our humanity blue.

Money can be greasy to the touch, whether we have a lot of it or a little. A shortage of it provides us with the opportunity to feel deprived, refused, helpless, abandoned, unworthy and unloved. A big stash of it enables us to feel smug, intolerant, greedy, and fearful of losing it. We can use money to feel elation and to know despair. Like sex, romance, and food, it offers us a smorgasbord of positive and negative emotions.

How do plain old dollar bills get so entangled in our emotional life? All of us have unresolved conflicts in our psyche that produce emotional and behavioral difficulties, including self-doubt. This sense that we’re lacking in value is a widespread human weakness. For many of us, it’s part of our identity. Sometimes it’s just a vague, uncertain sense of uneasiness. Giving up (or letting go of) this self-doubt can be difficult, even when we know we’re good people trying our best to do what’s right. [Read more…]

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Occupy the Psyche

Achieving progress is an inner and outer process.

The Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS) is searching for insight, wisdom, and a sense of direction. These resources are available to us when we turn inward to occupy our psyche.

In the absence of psychological insight, each of us to some degree is divided from within. Also divided from within is the OWS movement itself, as Rolling Stone magazine reports in its June issue (“The Battle for the Soul of Occupy”). The reform movement has a neurotic undercurrent that could limit its success.

The struggle for progress is both an inner and an outer process. As history has repeatedly shown, people create new frontiers of political freedom as their sense of freedom develops from within. When we approach the struggle for more inner freedom, we try to penetrate our resistance, defenses, illusions, egotism, and the tyranny of the inner critic, all of which can prevent us from being in charge of our own life.

Agitating and brainstorming, OWS reformers are searching for keys to open doors to more freedom and justice. One key unlocks the mystery of our psyche to reveal powerful forces of self-sabotage. [Read more…]

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