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.
The ego, in expressing psychological resistance, says, in effect: “It’s simply not possible that I would be choosing to be involved in negative emotions and experiences, when all along I have known nothing of this!” Our ego immediately feels diminished in being unaware of such vitally important operations going on in our psyche. We have an instinct to protect our ego because its displacement at the center of our existence feels like the death of something very precious. (Remember Gollum in “Lord of the Rings,” who refers to the ring as “my precious.” The ring is lusted after for its power, yet the ring is also a symbol of the vainglorious ego that drives the lust for power.) Our instinct to enhance and protect our ego accounts for much of human resistance to becoming more evolved.
My job as a psychotherapist is to tell people what, at an unconscious level, they don’t want to hear. It’s always satisfying for me when my clients see these deeper dynamics in themselves and no longer need me as a guide to this inner process.
As you pursue this self-knowledge, your feelings of being humiliated or offended quickly go away. You calm down, in a sense, from the initial shock of seeing inner truth, and now it’s easier to continue seeing yourself more objectively and realistically.
I’m feeling is an overall sense of apathy with my studies. I think this is common for me in general, but this feeling occurs more strongly when I’m in an intensive program that necessitates prolonged isolation and a feeling of guilt when I’m doing anything outside of the required heavy mental work.
This feeling of entrapment, I think, causes the apathy. I start to question the purpose of anything at all. It is hard and depressing for me to picture remaining in one field, or place, for the rest of my life, let alone several more years to finish my PhD program. The level of detachment I can feel at times seems unhealthy. I think I felt this way less when I worked at my 9-5 job because, most of the time, I was performing tasks that did not require intense mental concentration. I didn’t feel a constant sense of guilt or demand, but I felt confined in other ways there as well. This is pretty much it: apathy, and a feeling of being trapped by life’s suffocating demands (to be “successful”). Anything you can suggest regarding this mood would be very much appreciated. – YV
You’re certainly in a challenging situation with all the studying and the demands of attaining a PhD. Good luck with it all!
Let’s start by looking at the feeling of guilt you have when taking time away from your studies. You’re probably allowing your inner critic to hold you accountable and reign as the hidden master in your psyche. This can all be quite subtle. Your inner critic, it appears, is not being overtly negative or hostile, yet it still “demands” that you comply with its rules and dictates, even when those demands are rigid and unfair. It only imposes these rules because its nature is to rule, if it can get away with it, on this inner level. From the inner critic’s perspective, it doesn’t really matter what the rules are, although it does usually adhere to what appears to be somewhat rational and proper. What really matters to the inner critic is that you’re passive to it and to whatever it demands of you.
You mentioned life’s suffocating demands (to be “successful”). Your inner critic likely implies that either you succeed or else you’ll be a failure. If you were to fail at the course work, your inner critic is positioned to harass and condemn you for such failure. The feeling can be that you would be condemned for life if you were to fail. Unconsciously, you would be willing to define your situation in the stark terms of success or utter failure, because doing so intensifies the inner conflict and leaves you feeling more passive and more at the mercy of your inner critic.
So it appears that you’re being inwardly passive to this covert aggression and oppression from the inner critic. Your guilty feelings occur because of your passivity. In other words, in absorbing the inner critic’s aggression, you are allowing yourself to be punished by the inner critic—and guilt is that punishment. (Shame can be experienced when the punishment is felt more acutely). All of this conflict will lead, of course, to you feeling trapped.
Your apathy is both a symptom and a defense of the inner conflict. The conflict can be expressed this way: You consciously want to feel strong and enjoy the process of learning the knowledge required to obtain your degree, yet unconsciously you’re still prepared to experience yourself through weakness and self-doubt associated with being subordinate to your inner critic. As a symptom, the apathy becomes a self-defeating consequence of being entangled in inner passivity. As a defense, the apathy says: “I’m not willing to be passive and feel weak, burdened, and trapped by the challenges of obtaining my PhD. The problem is that I’m apathetic. I can’t get motivated and I don’t know what to do about it.” You plead guilty to being apathetic to cover up your emotional attachment to inner passivity. This produces more guilt because, in using this defense, you are required to feel guilty about yourself (or bad, anxious, or depressed) for embracing apathy as a “solution” to your inner conflict.
Absorbing this self-knowledge empowers your intelligence and enables you, in a way that itself is largely unconscious and mysterious, to overthrow the oppression of the inner critic and free yourself from inner passivity and inner conflict. Now you won’t feel guilt when you create room in your schedule for relaxation and fun.
I’ve seen your posts on racial topics [here and here] and find them very insightful. But one of my personal concerns has to do with facing a racially conscious society as a black male. A major conflict for me growing up was feeling divided by “two worlds.” On one side, I come from an urban neighborhood that is predominantly black, or what is referred to as “the hood.” On the other side, I went to predominantly white schools for the opportunity to help further my education. One of the things that bothers me even to this day is feeling uncomfortable around white people. I have the tendency to feel that I’ll be seen in a negative light or even deemed criminal, hyper-sexual or violent (which are common portrayals of black males in the media). What are your opinions about these topics and what advice or insight can you offer to young minorities facing such struggles? – JL
It’s true that in American society you face some likelihood of being judged negatively as a black male. The problem has two aspects, as you surely know: first, black people do indeed still face overt and covert discrimination and hostility from a segment of white society; and, second, each person has to deal with the great human struggle to connect more deeply with his or her true goodness and value.
White Americans are as likely as those of any other race to go around feeling uncomfortable and even depressed about being judged, criticized, or deemed unworthy for some alleged shortcoming such as being short, fat, skinny, unattractive, or unintelligent. African-Americans are even more challenged because of how they can feel the negative projections of many white Americans who, ignorant of their inner dynamics, cast their own inner fears, self-rejection, or unresolved negativity upon them.
Of course, the answer for blacks, as for us all, is to become strong on an inner level. A primary human weakness is to feel judged, belittled, and scorned by the primitive negative energy that arises from the harsh inner critic. Our inner passivity (a part of our psyche that has not yet been occupied by growing self-awareness) absorbs the negative allegations from our inner critic. Hence, we resonate with these allegations, even when such allegations are cruel, irrational, or ridiculous. This produces inner discord and self-defeat.
It is likely that much of the time when in the company of white people, you are not being judged negatively. That means it’s up to you to stop “entertaining” the feeling or idea that you are being judged negatively by them. The way our psyche works, it could be tempting for you to play up the feeling of being seen in a negative light. That means you would unwittingly be using the fact of being black as your rationalization for why you are unconsciously prepared to feel yourself being seen or judged in a negative light. Again, all individuals are inclined or prepared, at various times, to believe or feel a negative assessment of their self because the feeling is so familiar, emanating as it does from our inner critic.
The answer is to see your inner conflict (your wish to be respected and admired versus your expectation of being belittled and disrespected and your readiness to feel this), and then patiently and kindly support yourself as you struggle to break free of the conflict. Once people are in the process of resolving inner conflict, they acquire self-respect, and no racist or narrow-minded person can add or detract from that. You can now deflect any actual scorn or disrespect from others because you know how irrelevant that negativity is to who you actually are. If anything, you simply see the poverty of their self-awareness, and you might even have some compassion for them (that’s a much better feeling, for your sake, than being upset or angry). You also will stop creating subjective, distorted impressions of being seen in a negative light in your everyday encounters with white people, many of whom are at least neutral toward you if not admiring and respectful.