Our body, mind, and psyche are fundamentals of our existence. Our body is visible to us and our mind is at our disposal. But our psyche tends to hide in the mist of our unconscious, like the hint of a person lurking in the background of a dream.
When we don’t know basic facts about our psyche, we find it harder to connect with our deeper, better self. We’re then at the mercy of inner turmoil when our psyche is conflicted, as it is to some degree in just about everyone.
The psyche is the repository of forces, dynamics, and conflicts—largely unconscious—that influence and even determine our personality, behaviors, thought processes, and prospects for success and happiness. Misery and self-defeat arise from any dysfunction occurring in our psyche. Knowing more about our psyche is obviously important.
Our psyche becomes apparent and accessible to us—not visually but as a new awakening of our intelligence—when we learn and see how the principles of depth psychology apply to us personally.
Learning about the psyche is challenging because we can’t put it under a microscope and study all its aspects. What exactly is it anyway? We can’t even say whether our psyche is an entity within us, an energy field swirling around us, or some other mysterious configuration.
In this post, I’m presenting an illustration that depicts a major operating system of our psyche. This illustration (drawn and colored by me in my folksy style) depicts our unconscious tendency to become entangled in unresolved negative emotions. (Tap image to enlarge it.) I recently published another visual portrayal of the psyche (in a post titled, Illustrating the Characters Who Mess with Our Mind), along with a written explanation of what is portrayed. My latest artwork, published here with this post, provides another overview of how our psyche works. Over the years I’ve written extensively about all of these dynamics, and I’m hoping that this visual portrayal and the one published earlier will help readers make sense of depth psychology.
This latest “map” is titled, “The Allure of Unresolved Negative Emotions.” It portrays at its center a female figure, representing humankind, in anguish over her compulsion to experience (and to suffer with) various negative emotions that are unresolved in her psyche. The young person coming up behind her informs us, in all her innocence, that these negative emotions and our attachment to them emerge from our past, from human nature itself, and that no one is to blame for what is, above all, a testament to humanity’s unfinished state of evolvement.
The turtle flailing helplessly on its back in the upper-right corner represents the negative emotion of helplessness, as well as our unconscious attachment to that emotional state. This negative emotion is one of the primary symptoms of inner passivity and it contributes to a wide range of self-defeating behaviors. (Read more about helplessness and inner passivity here and here.)
Moving counter-clockwise, the stop sign symbolizes the negative emotion of refusal. From an early age, children can be very sensitive, as parents know, to feeling refused. A child wailing in a toy store or in the candy aisle at the supermarket is vigorously protesting against the feeling of being refused. As adults, we can still resonate with feeling refused, even in situations where refusal is not an actual intention or even a reality. When we resonate emotionally with an old association such as refusal, we’re likely to get triggered and thereby be in emotional and behavioral jeopardy. (This post deals with the emotional attachment to refusal.)
To the left is an image of a broken wine bottle, symbolizing our psyche’s readiness to seize emotionally upon the feeling of loss. All of us have occasions to feel loss, but our psyche is often prepared, when we’re not inwardly observant and informed, to embellish the feeling of loss and to compel us to indulge emotionally in that feeling. Doing this is obviously unpleasant if not painful. (Read more here about how our psyche embellishes feelings of loss.)
Next, the rendition of Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” symbolizes the negative emotion of powerlessness. This negative emotion is somewhat similar to that of helplessness, as depicted in the turtle image. One difference is that the individual attached to powerlessness is more likely to constantly crave power and to seek to control others, while the person entangled in helplessness, while sometimes craving power and pursuing it inappropriately, is more likely to act out by being chronically weak and helpless in various situations. Gollum frantically pursues the ring of power as a reaction to (and compensation for) his emotional entanglement in feelings of powerlessness. (More here.)
The next image, of an ostrich with its head buried in the sand, signifies abandonment. Our psyche is instinctively sensitive to the feeling of abandonment. The inner passivity lodged from childhood in our psyche contributes to this feeling. The prospect of abandonment is horrifying to little children, and these emotional associations linger in adults. The ostrich has its head in the sand because abandonment, as an emotional issue for adults, is most commonly experienced as self-abandonment. This is felt, for instance, when we’re not present to support ourselves emotionally through difficult times. Knowing ourselves through self-doubt, self-alienation, and a painful disconnect is a common default identity. (Read about it here and here.)
In the next image, a woodsman is fending off a ravenous wolf. The wolf signifies rejection and the image itself symbolizes self-rejection. Though consciously we want to respect and love ourselves, we unconsciously become entangled in old emotional associations having to do with feeling rejected. People can be overly sensitive to feeling rejected, and they can create that painful impression in relationships even when rejection is not actually intended or occurring. The problem largely stems from self-rejection, experienced primarily by way of the inner critic that is often harsh, cruel, and demeaning. (More here.)
The beetle in the thorn bush, in the next image, represents self-criticism. The originator of self-criticism is, of course, the inner critic. Our inner passivity also contributes to the problem in allowing our inner critic to get away with its unwarranted intrusions into our emotional and mental life. Just as we can be rejecting of ourselves, we can also be critical of ourselves. The scale of negativity intensifies as follows: self-criticism, self-rejection, self-condemnation, self-hatred. Someone who is attached emotionally to feeling self-criticism will, at the same time, be inclined to be compulsively critical of others. (More here and here.)
Next is a highway exit sign, with “Missing Out” as a term to denote our psyche’s readiness to experience deprivation. This negative emotion—the painful impression that one is missing out on some goal, reward, or benefit—is very common. Even prosperous people get entangled in its painful clutches. When we’re disconnected from our authentic self and frantically pursuing material benefits and overvaluing non-essentials, we’re bound to feel we’re missing out on something important. This negative feeling haunts us as our psyche clings to it, and we become increasingly unhappy. (Read more here.)
The final image shows a man stabbed in the back, with a shadowy figure lurking above him. The image represents betrayal as well as self-betrayal. An individual can easily feel betrayed through the behavior of others—again, even when betrayal is not intended. Our psyche can eagerly embellish a sense of betrayal when inner conflict, in the form of unconsciously expecting and looking for betrayal, prevails. More profound and even more painful, though, is self-betrayal, which opens a whole field of consideration involving self-defeat and self-sabotage. (Read more here.)
I have not discussed anywhere in this illustration and post the negative emotions of anger, hatred, bitterness, jealousy, envy, cynicism, loneliness, hopelessness, apathy, boredom, and depression. That’s because these negative emotions, along with various behavioral problems, are simply symptoms of the primary negative emotions that are discussed above. It’s important to understand that anger, as one example, is a symptom of one’s unconscious willingness to indulge emotionally in helplessness (or refusal, loss, powerlessness, self-abandonment, rejection, criticism, deprivation, and betrayal.) The anger is a cover-up, a defense. The unconscious defense proclaims: “I don’t want to feel helpless (or whatever). Look at how angry I am at those people who want to restrict me, hold me down, or oppress me.” Or, ”Look at how angry I am at myself for helplessly procrastinating and being indecisive.” (Read about how our defenses work here.)
The dynamics outlined by this portrayal of the psyche, along with its accompanying text, operate like a software program that runs our emotional life. Obviously, the program needs to be updated, which our intelligence is quite capable of doing. To help make sense of how the two illustrations (this one and the first one published earlier) relate to one another, the first can be regarded, metaphorically, as depicting the hardware of the psyche, while the second, in this post, portrays not the hardware but the software running the emotional life of our psyche. The hardware-software analogy is not entirely accurate because the aspects or characters depicted in the first illustration are not hard-wired or inalterably embedded. They do themselves become modified for the better as our self-development progresses. Still, I believe the analogy provides a helpful perspective for understanding how the two illustrations can be viewed as a whole.
Finally, a person struggling with emotional or behavioral problems will typically be attached to three or four of these primary negative emotions depicted in the latest illustration. When we identify these emotions in ourselves, we’re able to observe going forward our readiness, willingness, and even unwitting eagerness to experience them. We can now take responsibility for what had previous been operating compulsively at an unconscious level. Our intelligence is empowered, as well as our will to flourish as we start to see clearly the unconscious “mischief” that was getting us in trouble.