Chasing the Shadow

Depth psychology is a powerful tool for penetrating the mysterious shadow.

Depth psychology is a powerful tool for penetrating the mysterious shadow.

Our brightest thinkers struggle to expose the hidden dynamics of the shadow, the dark side of our psyche. Depth psychology can shed light on those repressed regions of the mind. Yet experts are having difficulty understanding the discipline’s basic tenets.

By way of illustration, I’d like to recommend a lovely book, with the proviso that one section of it is flawed. The book, written by Ken Wilber and three of his associates, is titled Integral Life Practice: A 21st Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening (Integral Books, Boston & London, 2008).

Based on Wilber’s admirable body of work on human consciousness, the book adopts a method of healing that integrates body, mind, spirit, and shadow. It’s a fabulous blueprint for expanding our consciousness and getting us beyond our negativity, irrationality, and egotism.

The authors state correctly that the shadow is “the most sorely neglected area” in self-help literature. Even the Eastern spiritual traditions “don’t adequately address the psychodynamic shadow,” they say, adding that shadow work “frees up energy that would otherwise be spent shadowboxing within ourselves.” That freed-up energy becomes available for growth, creativity, and healthy pursuits.

Unfortunately, the book’s presentation of the shadow is flawed or, at best, incomplete. Employing depth psychology, the authors discuss repression, projections, and disowning of emotions, but they fail to see how these dynamics are linked to psychological defenses and emotional attachments. [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…]

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…]

A Plague of Neurosis Upon Our House

We make our politics a script for the national staging of personal dysfunction.

People are in psychological crisis, and masses of us, steeped in the anxiety of helplessness and futility, are feeling marginalized and victimized. Making it worse, we take our pain out on each other.

Around the world the complexity of modern life contributes to personal distress, as does the effect on us of misguided leaders and anti-democratic forces in government and corporations. Yet our psyche, like a Model-T Ford sputtering along a superhighway, remains our primary weak spot.

Psychologically, we operate according to old-fashioned principles. We’re quick to blame others for allegedly causing our pain. We want to attribute our neurotic suffering to the stupid beliefs and rotten behavior of others. The more we blame the other, though, the more we dislike or hate the other and the less clearly we see the essentials of our predicament. We also suffer more acutely from our own unresolved negative emotions.

America, the world’s best hope for rousing leadership, finds its political process mired in an uncivil war. Americans are making their politics a script for the national staging of personal dysfunction. Behind this conflict, clamoring in the bedlam of our neurosis, swarm the demons of our dark side. [Read more…]

The Hanky-Panky Behind Our Anger

Knowing the source of anger is important.

A new TV sitcom starring Charlie Sheen, who plays the role of an irascible anger-management therapist, is coming our way this summer. The show, which will be seen internationally, will apparently get its comedic effect from the hot-headed Sheen’s portrayal of a man of wisdom and propriety. I hope he doesn’t make a mockery of psychotherapy. Dare we hope that Sheen’s character will dispense some valuable insights into the nature of anger? That would help millions of sufferers worldwide who don’t understand that chronic anger is a defense covering up deeper issues.

Anger is often a laughing matter on TV, though less so in real life. In chronic form, it can escalate into debilitating misery. That’s when we feel it on a regular basis, in a self-defeating manner, toward an individual, group, or situation that we perceive as unjust or oppressive. Anger can also be produced through past memories and future expectations. Often we hold the anger in, and that of course is unhealthy for our mind and body.

We can also feel recurring anger toward ourselves, allegedly on the grounds that we’re a worthless fool or hopeless failure for lapses in judgment and missed opportunities.

Unfortunately, information from the media and from experts on anger management seldom reveals how anger is often used as a psychological defense. [Read more…]