Readers often send me emails with comments and questions. I answer as many as I can. Sometimes I can only offer encouragement and a bit of advice. Here are some questions, edited to remove details that could identify the individuals, along with my responses (in italics).
Dear Sir, I came across your articles a while ago and found them profound and interesting. Although I know about the fact that inner voices are the source of our issues, and those voices have been absorbed by our mind during our journey of life, I still have not been able to control my perfectionistic qualities. The more I have witnessed and examined my feelings, the more I have realized that what some people see as perfectionism in me is in fact a combination of OCD, self-doubt, self-consciousness, and fear of people’s judgment.
I know that we can set ourselves free once we collect enough awareness of our issues, but I’m getting nowhere and feel like I really need help. I have been feeling a huge, horrible pressure in my abdomen, lower ribs, and chest. It feels like something wants to be released but fears won’t allow it. I’ve been suffering from this pressure for more than 18 months now. I would highly appreciate your advice.
Thanks for writing. You’re correct that your perfectionism is a fear of people’s judgment. But you want to understand that this fear serves as a psychological defense. The defense is employed to cover up your unconscious willingness to soak up criticism.
In other words, you are emotionally attached to feeling or being criticized. Here is the conflict: Consciously, you certainly do not want to be criticized, but unconsciously you expect to be criticized, and you are attached to that feeling which is unresolved from your past. Here is the defense you likely have been using: “I’m not looking for the feeling of being criticized. I’m a perfectionist. I try to do everything perfectly. That proves I don’t want to be criticized.”
Don’t let the defense fool you. Acknowledge that you are indeed emotionally attached to feeling criticized. The self-awareness will begin to make you stronger and less sensitive to criticism. Remember, too, that this criticism begins on an inner level, as self-criticism that arises from your inner critic. You want to recognize inner passivity, the part in your psyche that soaks up the self-criticism. Because of inner passivity, you fail to protect yourself from your inner critic. When you can start representing yourself from your authentic self rather than from the default position of inner passivity, you’ll no longer allow your inner critic to harass or punish you with its mean-spirited allegations.
As for the inner pressure in your abdomen, you probably want to check with a medical doctor. If it’s not a medical problem, it might be a psychological one, perhaps due mostly to the fear you have of your inner critic. A congestion of inner fear produces tension, stress, and anxiety. The inner critic (superego) can be experienced as a voice inside you that is mostly negative and intimidating. Read what I write elsewhere about the inner critic to help you to defeat this inner bully.
Hi. I enjoyed your article on ingratitude as it resonated with me in my current situation with my son who is 21 years old. It seems he will not change despite all the things we have done. Yes, we are feeling some of that emotional unworthiness you wrote about because he makes us feel like we are nothing. Is there anything basic that I could start with? Thanks so much for your help.
I’m sure your son is indeed a real challenge. You said, “We are feeling some of that emotional unworthiness you wrote about because he makes us feel like we are nothing.” But it’s not your son who “makes” you feel that you are nothing. You have to take responsibility for your own reactions to him. Yes, he does trigger you, but you are still the one who goes into those feelings of unworthiness and being “nothing.” It’s this painful reaction in you that you want to examine. You’re not unworthy, of course, but under the pressure of the challenge your son presents, you gravitate to that unresolved negative emotion within yourself.
Your son, through his unpleasant reactions to you, triggers this feeling in you. If you are stronger, you won’t feel this way. You certainly might feel some distress concerning your son’s behavior toward you (more so if he is especially antagonistic), and you’ll likely feel badly for him in his emotional predicament, but you won’t feel the deeper hurt of unworthiness. You won’t take his behavior toward you personally.
Note that, as part of your difficulty, you could be identifying with your son who may himself be deeply entangled in feelings of unworthiness. At a deeper level, this unresolved issue likely resides in both of you. This issue can induce your son to treat you with ingratitude because that is what you are unconsciously expecting and even asking for. When you recognize and clear out an emotional attachment in yourself to feeling unworthy, you won’t be unconsciously tempting others to treat you that way. Nor will you identify with him, especially since doing so doesn’t do him or you any good. Such psychological growth on your part would improve the possibility, as well, that he might stop his negative behavior toward you.
We become stronger emotionally by recognizing and resolving issues within ourselves. Then we’re not at the mercy of the rude or ungrateful behaviors of others.
Hello. I have read almost all of your blog posts since I stumbled across your website a few months ago, and I now see depth psychology as an intriguing answer to many of life’s questions. I am going through something that I want more insight into. I’ve been oversharing my personal health details at work. More specifically, I think I’ve shared too much information about my mental health with some coworkers.
I’ve been anxious most of my life. Some of it was learned from the way my mother usually reacted in certain situations, and some of it was due to a traumatic event I experienced. I’ve had some health problems for the past decade, and I’ve recently begun a healing journey that has involved completely changing my eating habits.
I’ve been feeling so much better lately that I want to tell the whole world about how great I feel. But I think that turned into oversharing. I’m not oversharing with everyone I come in contact with, just a few coworkers who I’ve become closer with, but not close enough to spend time with outside of work. Can you please explain to me why I’m feeling the need to discuss my personal health and mental health with others, and how I might be able to refrain from doing so in the future?
I’m glad my blog posts have been interesting and helpful to you. I can’t say for sure why you’re discussing your personal health to such a degree. I would need to talk to you and get more information.
However, it could be that you’re so anxious for connection and intimacy with others (because through inner passivity you’re lacking connection in yourself) that you disclose what you probably should only disclose to immediate family. Your disclosure would then be a defense that says, “I’m not looking to feel disconnected from myself and others. Look at how much I share the most intimate details about myself with others.” The danger would be that you could “turn them off” if the content is too personal and self-centered, and then you would be acting out the underlying conflict, causing you to feel more disconnected from yourself and others.
You could also be engaged in a form of “exhibiting,” disclosing personal information inappropriately. Such negative exhibitionism would be a defense, covering up your emotional attachment to being seen in a negative light: “I’m not attached to being seen as inappropriate or foolish. The problem is that I’m too indiscreet. I cause people to regard me unfavorably.” This is a defense in which you “plead guilty to the lesser crime,” that being your indiscretion. The “greater crime,” according to unconscious reckoning, is your attachment to being seen negatively.
This analysis may or may not apply to your case, but you have something to think about.
Hi. Throughout your material you talk about being unconsciously attached to negative emotions and negative experiences. No doubt, that might be true about us humans, that we hold on to such things. However, it might also be a dangerous half-truth. The question to be asked is, “What if there is a really good reason we hold on to negative emotions and experiences?” Or rather, what if humanity itself has been struggling with something deeper, and this unconscious attachment to negative emotions is serving a greater purpose?
What if, as Don Quixote said, we have needed “to march into hell for a heavenly cause”? What if suffering has had a purifying purpose and brought us to a new level that would have been impossible without it? I see now that exposing underlying dynamics without the big picture is in fact reckless. Maybe the question is, “Is there meaning or a purpose in humanity’s attachment to negativity? Can that meaning point to fundamental factors that can enlighten us about our human journey in general? Can it give us a glimpse into the bigger picture or serve a greater purpose?
Thanks for your comment. What you are saying can indeed be part of the mystery of human suffering. It is quite likely, in fact, that our suffering compels or drives us to search for answers that explain this suffering, thereby helping us to alleviate the suffering while through this process raising our intelligence and consciousness.
So it may be that our suffering has been a “thorn in our side” that over time pushes our evolution forward. I’ve mentioned this in passing in my writing. (Some religions, of course, contend that suffering gives meaning to life and serves as a requirement for the rewards of the afterlife.) The possibility that our suffering has this purpose is an interesting thought as well as heavy conjecture for philosophers. But it’s not really helpful in dealing with one’s immediate psychological challenges. What really matters for each of us is whether we succeed in uncovering the best knowledge or practices that can help us—right here and now—clear out as much suffering as we can and live the best life we can.
If there is, as you suggest, a greater meaning or purpose in our attachment to suffering, it is surely that we become conscious enough to liberate ourselves from this attachment and thereby become more evolved. It’s hard to imagine any purpose or meaning greater than that. Insight exposes our emotional attachments to unresolved inner conflict and negativity, which in turn enables us to overcome these liabilities.