More than 225 articles on mental-health topics can be read here for free. For now, I’m taking a break from writing and will resume sometime in the fall. I’m still doing psychotherapy sessions for anyone who would like to experience the depth psychology described on this website. Keep reading the posts and consider getting some of my books. This powerful knowledge can dramatically improve your life.
Food is not always used, as we know, for healthy nourishment. Often it serves an ulterior motive, as a way for us to sneak into psychological mischief and indulge our emotional appetite for unresolved inner conflict.
When people struggle with overeating and weight gain, they usually believe their problem is with the food itself. They obsess or fixate on food. But food is only the meat and potatoes of their unresolved emotional issues.
In other words, food is being used to replay unresolved issues. In the foreground, in one’s face for that matter, is the unconscious compulsion to act out unresolved inner conflict. The primary conflict in the psyche is the conscious wish to feel strong and capable of self-regulation versus the unconscious willingness to experience oneself through familiar emotions associated with weakness, self-criticism, and shame. We can overcome this conflict by understanding the unhealthy psychological ingredients we bring to the table.
Food is just one of many external means by which people get into emotional trouble. We can make mischief with alcohol, money, drugs, possessions, work performance, family, friends, neighbors, and bosses. A basic principle governs all such misadventure, namely that the struggles in our life, our misery and failures, are direct offshoots of inner conflict. This conflict drives us compulsively to produce misery and self-defeat in our encounters with the world around us.
With inner conflict, we compulsively seek and create situations or circumstances through which we can feel the conflict. Food, alcohol, money, or people serve as staging-grounds on which to act out such conflict. The emotional price for this acting-out includes stress, self-doubt, guilt, shame, anxiety, and self-recrimination. Costs in behavioral self-defeat—involving incompetence, foolishness, and failure—must also be paid. [Read more…]
I cringe at the thought of being cursed by future generations for not doing enough to stem the environmental degradation of our planet. My hope is they’ll just call me stupid and refrain from searing a big X—a token of eternal shame—upon any trace of my existence.
My instinct is to defend myself, saying “I cared, I worried, I recycled, and over the past nine years I’ve driven my 2010 four-cylinder Toyota Rav4 just 4,500 miles a year, only a third of the national average.”
What would my descendants, inheritors of the wreckage of 80 or 800 years hence, likely say about this sort of defense? “It’s pathetic,” I imagine them decreeing. “Your defense is all about you! You’re trying to look innocent in your own eyes. Your feelings for us are superficial. You don’t understand that our suffering is your fate, too. We’re all in this together—your death will not save you. Our relationship transcends time and place, past and future. Your eternity passes through our pain.”
Well, damn, did I just channel those words? Here I am writing this down, spooked at the thought it’s true. Will my spirit be obliged to hang around for millennia to observe and feel what my descendants are enduring? Please sweep this thought away in a Texas tornado!
Should I just plead ignorance? I’m no expert on spiritual matters, and my alleged fellowship with future beings and this notion of being sandblasted alongside them in a Florida mega-storm seems like one of those mystical puzzlers. [Read more…]
The inner critic is a brute force, a totalitarian tyrant, lurking in the human psyche. It’s a primitive part of us that operates with the mentality of a psychopath. It harbors a capacity for evil.
Yet many mental-health practitioners tell their clients the inner critic can be subdued or neutralized by making concessions to it, compromising with it, and even befriending it.
No, do not cozy up to the inner critic. Doing so diminishes us. We must tame it, render it powerless, not compromise with it or befriend it.
The best approach is to befriend our authentic self, not our inner critic. Our authentic self is, in the language of depth psychology, our secular soul, the throne of goodness, wisdom, and power. We want our consciousness to unite with our authentic self. Its values are the opposite of the inner critic’s. How is compromise possible when values are diametrically opposed?
The inner critic, known in psychoanalysis as the superego, is a formidable inner foe, a true enemy within that is audacious and shameless. We can’t suppress it through willpower. We can, however, undermine and defeat it with correct self-knowledge.
In my past writing, I’ve called the inner critic a bully and a villain. Now I want to be more emphatic about its vile nature. Compromising with the inner critic is, at best, trying to compromise with inflexible irrationality. At worst, it’s messing with aggressive depravity. [Read more…]
What do you start to think about upon awakening in the morning? Is there a recurring pattern or theme to your early morning thoughts and reflections?
Those first moments upon awakening are, for a lot of us, unpleasant if not disturbing. That’s when people are evaluating their prospects for the coming hours, and their forecast is decidedly bleak.
They’re starting off their day with thoughts and feelings of a passive nature: “I really wish I could just stay in bed;” or “I’m tired, and I’ll be dragging myself around all day;” or “Everything is scary and overwhelming,” or “So-and-so is going to ignore me (or bully me) today.”
Morning thoughts are often focused on the workday ahead. People might be full of dread at the prospect of all the work that needs to be done (“I’m overwhelmed with projects and don’t have enough time”). Others are agonizing over looming idleness and a sense of emptiness (“I’ll just be hanging with nothing to do, feeling crummy all day long”).
These thoughts can be wider in scope, involving expectations and worries concerning marriage breakup, losing one’s job, running out of money, and not knowing what to do in life. Frequent morning reflections also involve thoughts and feelings of being a failure or a loser.
Thoughts of this kind are passive, and they set us up to experience our day in a passive way. The coming hours are now more likely to be unpleasant and frustrating, and our actions are more likely to be strained, incompetent, and self-defeating.
At those moments, while lying in bed or getting dressed, we can overcome this pattern by recognizing and understanding the passive nature of these considerations and speculations. [Read more…]
“I have never smuggled anything in my life,” the great novelist John Steinbeck wrote in Travels With Charley. “Why, then, do I feel an uneasy sense of guilt on approaching a customs barrier?” Steinbeck’s guilt was irrational because, as he said, he had nothing to hide. So where did his guilt come from?
On approaching a customs barrier, he was aware, of course, that he was going to be dealing with an official vested with government authority. Steinbeck was likely being triggered by emotional impressions that the custom agent was going to view him as a potential smuggler or criminal. The agent had the power to hold him accountable. It appears that Steinbeck was entertaining the prospect of being confronted by a gruff agent who was prepared to intimidate him.
Of course, Steinbeck had a great imagination, and it was easy for him to imagine being a smuggler. To write so convincingly, he had to be able to bring to life the emotional experiences of his fictional characters. Yet most people have a talent for imagining doing bad things and also for imagining bad things happening to them. Feelings of being wrong, bad, and helpless are common to human nature. That stems, in part, from a lingering emotional resonance in our psyche with feelings of being naughty and being helpless. We can remember times as children when we faced the prospect of a scolding or punishment, whether we’d done wrong or not.
As Steinbeck approached a border crossing, he would have started resonating emotionally with the prospect of being exposed as a lawbreaker. At this point, guilt would be aroused in him because he was identifying emotionally with the plight of someone being caught, exposed, and taken into custody. He was experiencing guilt because he was starting to replay familiar passive feelings that are negative in nature. In his mind, the custom agent would soon be looming over him with dark, suspicious eyes. Steinbeck’s guilt was directly associated with his unconscious willingness in that moment to experience himself as a passive creature at the mercy of an authority figure. [Read more…]
You can change your life for the better by understanding sublimation and making it work for you.
As a psychological term, the word sublimation refers to the act of transmuting self-defeating impulses into behaviors that are personally and emotionally rewarding and likely to be socially beneficial.
Simple basic examples of sublimation include: a person with violent impulses becomes a competitive athlete; a person with a compulsive need for control and order becomes successful in business; a woman with extra-marital desires produces an oil painting when her husband is out of town; and a person with a wish to overeat becomes a gourmet cook.
With the right knowledge, we can help ourselves to achieve sublimation, which is basically the benefit of connecting with one’s full potential by escaping inner conflict. Everyone has some degree of inner conflict. It produces unhappiness and causes us to underperform. Inner conflict not only impedes normal everyday people from attaining self-fulfillment, it also produces pain and self-defeat.
Sublimation takes place in our psyche through a process in which our urges, sex drive, passive and aggressive instincts, and defenses are (permanently or temporarily) moderated and resolved. Often this process is unconscious. It happens naturally with some people, while for others it doesn’t occur to any appreciable degree. With deeper self-knowledge, we can help to ensure that sublimation does take place, and we can also speed up the process. [Read more…]
The whole world dwells in the dark when it comes to understanding human nature. Even the largest organization in the world specializing in mental illness, the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), has a huge blind spot.
This agency of the U.S. government is giving us misleading information about the nature of clinical depression. In its information booklet on depression, the NIMH says, “It [clinical depression] is a real illness. It is not a sign of a person’s weakness or a character flaw.” Clinical depression, however, is a sign of a person’s weakness. In claiming otherwise in this booklet and on its website, the NIMH has rejected 100 years of painstakingly acquired intelligence and knowledge concerning the dynamics of the unconscious mind.
In doing so, the NIMH is also overlooking modern research. Brain imaging has found evidence that depression results from unresolved negative emotions associated with guilt and self-blame.* It’s not our fault that we have these negative emotions. We’re dealing here with what is still primitive and undeveloped in human nature. Nonetheless, these negative emotions do constitute a weakness within us.
Depression is a psychological weakness, a symptom of inner conflict in the unconscious mind or psyche. Just about everyone has some degree of inner conflict, and people with clinical depression are likely to be more conflicted than the average person. Inner conflict produces negative emotions, including self-blame and guilt, that in turn produce depression. Again, this is not anybody’s fault: still, it is a weakness.
When we can’t see where we’re weak or ignorant, we’re unlikely to become smarter or wiser. By assimilating self-knowledge, we’re able to offset these concealed, self-defeating dynamics, just as bugs in a software program can be neutralized. [Read more…]
Readers often send me emails with their comments and questions. Here I answer four of them, all dealing with different aspects of inner passivity. My responses are in italics.
I wrote to you some months ago. Since then I’ve bought many of your books and read the new articles you’ve posted. I’ve enjoyed becoming more aware of my internal processes. Yet I can still feel stressed about spending time with relatives I don’t necessarily get on with. I read one of your articles about family gatherings, yet still I have been trying to understand why I feel so angry when I think about seeing my sister who often takes her aggression out on me.
She is touchy and gets frustrated over traffic jams, etc. When she raises her voice at me, it affects my personal harmony and makes me feel disrespected. From reading your books, I understand that I’m attached emotionally to feelings of being powerless and helpless (she is my older sister, and her reactions have always made me feel victimized and unfairly treated). When I think about my responses to her attitude in previous months, I can see that I have reacted inappropriately with aggression and anger. This has made me feel even worse, as I don’t like disharmony.
I have tied to assert my rights and ask her not to talk to me disrespectfully, which has not really worked. She does not see any problems with her attitude and appears to be in denial. Any tips to deal with this? – L.K.
Thanks for getting my books. Glad they’ve been helpful. Try to use your time with your sister as a way to practice applying what you’re learning about depth psychology. See her as an opportunity for you to grow, not as a trial you have to endure. You’re feeling passive and disrespected around her, and your challenge is to see how these negative emotions arise in you. [Read more…]
We humans are capable of acquiring profoundly deep understandings of reality. We’ll likely at some future time have a much deeper intellectual grasp of what are now scientific, metaphysical, and cosmic mysteries.
Reality is defined more narrowly, however, for the purposes of this article. Here, reality refers to what makes us tick psychologically and what it’s important to know about our mental and emotional operating systems.
This inner reality reveals what is right, proper, and true for our emotional wellbeing. The quality with which we experience ourselves and the world around us depends on how well we appreciate this inner reality. Civilization and the planet are depending on us to understand our inner nature.
To a large degree, people unwittingly experience themselves and the world around them through misperceptions and misinterpretations. This lack of objectivity produces negative emotions and self-defeating behaviors. As we uncover these distortions and make them conscious, we empower our intelligence and acquire a growing ability to live in inner peace while fulfilling our aspirations.
Below are twelve common misperceptions of ourselves, others, inner reality, as well as aspects of outer reality. These misperceptions are all interwoven, overlapping with one another.
1) Perceiving the world through too much self-centeredness. We’re all born in a state of self-centeredness. The infant, with no experience of dealing with people and the world, feels self-contained and self-sufficient, despite the obvious total dependence on caregivers. The child’s sense of reality is not only limited, it’s also distorted. A child feels as if he or she is at the center of existence. It takes many years for a child to begin to feel empathy for others. [Read more…]