Readers often send me emails with their comments and questions. Here I answer five of them, all dealing with different aspects of depth psychology, particularly inner passivity and inner conflict. I have done some light editing of the questions, and my responses are in italics.
I am a young man living in Eastern Europe. The story of my life starts with growing up in a dysfunctional family. My father was a heavy drinker and I was beaten by him since I was four years old. The beatings were pretty harsh for a kid that age.
I was just a scared little kid who couldn’t make sense of the beatings and the screams of my father. When I was six years old, my parents ended up in divorce. In the end, they didn’t split up but since then, they never get along.
I have social anxiety issues. I recognize my inner passivity and my inner critic. I’m being mindful of them, but my social anxiety seems to keep me trapped.
When I talk to a girl I like, I’m getting awkward and pretty tense. I can’t feel comfortable talking to her. When she tries to talk to me, I’m starting to behave weird, in the sense that I’m not being myself. Obviously, she can see that I’m not comfortable but she’s not telling me that. What can I do more to overcome this problem? – K.P.
Thanks for writing. You must have felt your father’s hatred when he was beating you. You took it personally, which is what children do. That means you would likely have felt you somehow deserved the punishment. Yet in beating you he was doing to you what he felt about himself.
It appears that, unconsciously and compulsively, through his own psychological weakness, your father tortured himself with self-hatred. He then turned on you and tortured you with angry punishment. In his emotional weakness, he was driven to do to you (his son who he would have felt was a part of himself) what he felt he himself deserved as a supposedly angry loser.
Now you too are dealing with self-rejection and perhaps some self-hatred, which are unresolved emotional attachments that you can liberate yourself from. You get awkward and tense around women you like because you anticipate that they will judge you as unworthy and no good, which deep down you feel is somehow true about you.
Because of your inner passivity, which produces self-doubt and a disconnect from self, you remain stuck in this emotional, irrational state of consciousness. You felt unworthy, helpless, and no good when you were beaten by your father. Deep inside, you are still emotionally attached to (and identified with) those negative emotions. It’s now up to you to liberate yourself from that false impression that your father’s abuse produced. It’s very likely you can succeed.
I encourage you to keep reading the content on my website, and perhaps to get one or more of my books. Depth psychology is a challenging subject but one that is richly rewarding as we become more knowledgeable about it. Try to read at least a little bit on the subject every day. This will activate your mind and get you pointed in a good direction for inner growth, personal fulfillment, and success in the world. After a while, the knowledge becomes part of your intelligence and you are able to establish a good, harmonious relationship with yourself. Ultimately, of course, you are trying to establish a firm connection to the loving and confident self at the core of your being.
A friend of mine is a social worker. She mentioned to me how she wants to do therapy, perhaps for folks with mental illness. She stated how she thinks people like this need to be taught social skills. She also said some people just need medication (which I disagree with).
I passionately shared my personal experience of the dangers of psychiatric medications and how addictive they are. I could see she was thinking a little bit, but she was like, “Yea, some people just need pills.” I did agree that some people probably needed to resort to pills (though I don’t think I expressed this as clearly as I would have liked).
There were so many other things she said that were just complete and utter garbage. I was so dumbfounded I didn’t even address some of them, partly because it likely would have been a waste of breath.
I woke up the next morning and was still hot about it. Especially because my very own friend wants to help people with mental illness and thinks they need pills and social skills. I sent her a text with links to alternative approaches, said it was near and dear to my heart. I’m still upset and I wonder if I could have handled this differently? I get such intense reactions to people, especially around this topic. – W.L.
It’s fine to be passionate in discussions like this, but keep in mind the more heated you get, the greater the chance you will fail to be convincing. When you represent your position in such discussions, you probably want to do it mainly for your own satisfaction, not to convince the other person. It’s often good practice to be emotionally detached as to whether the other person is open to what you’re saying. That way you’re not at the mercy of whether or not she has been positively influenced by what you say. The challenge is to refrain from getting triggered, while expressing yourself in a way that does credit to you.
You wrote “especially because my very own friend …” That means you’re personalizing something here, perhaps feeling powerless or helpless to persuade even a close friend. The more you feel powerless, the more likely you are to get triggered and react emotionally. Your emotional intensity feels like power, and that covers up your underlying sense of helplessness. In other words, getting riled up like this covers up your unresolved tendency to experience these kinds of situations through a sense of weakness or helplessness (you mentioned that you hadn’t expressed yourself clearly during the discussion).
Your friend is likely to be helpful to many people, and pharmaceuticals can be the best option available to people who don’t have access to good psychotherapy, or who won’t do the therapy even if they do have access. It seems, as well, that many people have to try psychiatric medications to see for themselves whether this option is helpful or not.
I have been reading articles on your website for a year now, and have read your book The Phantom of the Psyche. Things are suddenly starting to get clearer and understandable in my mind regarding inner passivity.
When I was eight my parents divorced, my mother left to live in another city, and I stayed with my father. She didn’t really abandon me, just moved to another city. But the thing is, I didn’t experience it like that. I felt betrayed, abandoned, and really, really angry with her.
I stopped answering her calls but my father made me talk to her, which just amplified my hatred toward her. I knew rationally that she loved me, but I didn’t want to accept that love.
Since then I have been looking for love everywhere. Since I wasn’t good with girls, I got rejected a lot. I still have a hard time accepting love, though deep inside I am dying for it. I want it, but I feel I am really sabotaging myself. I want love, but more than that I don’t want it, unconsciously. I am 27 years old and it feels that part of me is still a child searching for love that he never got. – J.U.
It is quite predictable, given your circumstances, that you interpreted the situation with your parents’ divorce as if you were being rejected by your mother. Many children would feel rejected in such a situation. It’s important now, though, for you to understand that you have an emotional attachment to the feeling of being rejected. This attachment will cause you to keep reproducing situations with women in which rejection happens, whether you’re being rejected or you’re the one doing the rejection.
Keep up your effort to understand the psychological dynamics that make you sensitive to this feeling. It means that deep within you there is some self-rejection going on. That’s why it’s hard for you to feel love or to create a loving relationship. The more you understand this, the sooner you can free yourself from this predicament.
A person who’s strong emotionally is not be desperate for love from others. Most important to emotionally healthy people is the love they feel for others, and for themselves. Healthy people value love but they are not desperate for it because they already embody love in themselves. I hope that is helpful.
As I read your articles, I am seeing things that I was unaware of. A new, previously unconscious world is revealing itself to me. Let me ask you about this issue. As far back as I can remember, I feel it’s been my job to be responsible for the thoughts, feelings and actions of others.
Even if it’s just a stranger walking across the street, I feel responsible for whatever he or she is doing, which is irrational. I feel like I have a responsibility to control their actions, feeling and thoughts, somehow not respecting their free will. I think I learned to behave this way because my father was very abusive to me when I was very young. I felt that everything he did was because of me, because I did something bad.
Later in life, I perceived that I have to try to control others in order for them not to abuse me, or not to reject me. Since controlling others is hard to do, I feel every day the powerlessness of succeeding at this. I also often feel extreme shame, and my self-respect and self-confidence are fragile. So, what are your thoughts about this and what should I be doing instead? – J.O.
Yes, as a child, you would have felt helpless and powerless against the abuse of your father. This sense of helplessness now permeates your psyche, and you feel the effect of it in daily life. As a result, you will be inclined, as compensation, to try to feel some semblance of power. Unfortunately, this semblance of power is likely to be an illusion. For instance, passive people sometimes get angry at others because the anger feels like power, even though it is usually inappropriate and self-defeating. Anger is the only way they can generate the feeling of power. Other times, people produce an illusion of power mostly through their imagination.
That’s what you are doing. In feeling that you have control over the actions and feelings of strangers, you produce, in your imagination, an illusion of power. This is a psychological defense, an unconscious maneuver to cover up your emotional attachment to feeling passive. The defense goes like this: “I’m not emotionally attached to feeling powerless and helpless. I want to feel power. I can even feel power over strangers. This is who I am, someone with power!”
Of course, you will be troubled by the irrationality that the defense produces. If you don’t understand the deeper dynamics, you will be compelled to keep producing this defense and continue to be mired emotionally in the disturbing irrationality of it.
The shame you feel at different times arises largely from how, through inner passivity, you absorb punishment from your inner critic for allegedly having faults and being unworthy. The challenge is to begin to recognize inner passivity in yourself so you can begin to shift away from your unconscious identification with it. As you get stronger, you’ll no longer accept punishment from your inner critic, at which point the shame will disappear.
I’m wondering if a grasp of the dynamics of depth psychology is a lifelong learning thing, or is it achievable in a shorter time frame? Not for achievement as such, but for reduced suffering and for the ability to be more productive and joyful.
There are a couple of blocks I notice: first, what about behaviors of ours that cause significant or lasting harm to others (that we feel guilt for and are guilty of), where the inner critic is right to chastise us?
Second, real social injustices by corrupt governments are dismantling democracy and imposing draconian rules that shut out voices of dissension while punishing the poor and weak. This is happening in Western societies where we were raised with leaders of some integrity and governments that respected democratic processes with its checks and balances. Our inner passivity brings us despair, victimhood, submission, while the inner critic beats us up for doing so. If you have time to answer, much appreciated. – R.W.
Our progress overall can be a life-long process, yet we can start to grasp the principles of depth psychology relatively quickly and have them start working for us within weeks or months of beginning the learning process.
On your first point, we often play up or embellish upon the idea that we have caused harm to others. This produces a feeling or illusion of power that is really a cover-up for our underlying passivity. Usually, in giving credence to the idea that we have hurt others, we are also giving ammunition to our inner critic to punish us, which through our inner passivity we are quick to accept. This is a way in which we unwittingly maintain inner conflict between inner passivity and self-aggression.
Sometimes, of course, we do hurt others, but this hurt might be something they were bound to experience one way or another because of their own self-damaging tendencies. Usually, the hurt we do to others is innocent in the sense we wouldn’t do it if we were more conscious. Don’t fret about the past. Make yourself more conscious now so that you don’t hurt others in the future.
On your other point, we can have an unconscious tendency to use the political forces of resistance and regression as a way to experience our own passivity. In other words, we use a challenging external situation to sneak in our passivity and thereby experience political challenges as if they can’t be overcome or as if we don’t have what it takes to be a force for good.
Many of us have a tendency to identify with the poor and weak in a way that can be unhealthy, meaning we use the poor and weak as props to experience our own inner weakness and lack of confidence and assertiveness. We want to become attuned to how, in subtle, unconscious ways, we experience these self-defeating tendencies. The best way to impart strength and value to others is to feel these qualities in ourselves.