Readers often send me emails with their comments and questions concerning different aspects of depth psychology, inner conflict, and the process of psychotherapy. Here I answer six of them, mostly related to inner passivity. I’ve done some light editing of the questions, and my responses are in italics.
Inner passivity has plagued me from a young age. By applying your concepts with daily journaling, I found myself emerging from inner conflict, and for the first time in my life I’m finding some peace within myself.
Then came the pandemic with its lockdowns, protests, riots, and subsequent madness. Now I find myself gripped with fear and anxiety despite my attempts to unhook from the news. Friends and family seem to be parroting the news without any sense of rational thought. Evidence, facts, and reason seem not to be a priority as radical fringe movements pick up steam.
How can I prevent a backslide into passivity when it truly is the case that our freedoms have been limited and friendships have been disrupted based on politics and misinformation? How can we stay healthy in a post-Covid world? — W.J.
Congratulations on your success in reducing inner conflict. Even as we’re making progress, however, challenging political and world events can still feel oppressive and disheartening. It’s more important than ever that we look for ways to be resilient. If we’re willing, we can accelerate the pace of our inner growth during this pandemic.
Keep watching for the influence of inner passivity in your daily life. Inner passivity would likely be circulating in your psyche if you’re feeling painfully trapped or restricted by Covid lockdowns. Also inducing anxiety and fear are climate change worries, the turmoil of partisan politics, and widespread irrationality and distrust. Some people feel overwhelmed and helpless simply in following the news. We can unwittingly engage with the world in ways that amplify feelings of being disconnected from others and from ourselves. This produces a passive feeling, a painful sense of being unable to make progress or to support oneself emotionally.
Friends and family members probably aren’t around like they used to be. You can make up the difference by doing more to be your own best friend. Ask yourself what you’re feeling and what you need. Go looking inward for your authentic self. This is about believing in yourself and preparing to spring into a higher level of competence and achievement when the pandemic is over.
Start enjoying yourself with a new hobby, interest, or learning project. Keep journaling. Visualize a successful career path and itemize what you need in order to fulfill it. This planning and preparation can give you a sense of purpose and generate all the inner strength you need. You must also avoid self-pity.
I find your articles on how the unconscious mind works to be very interesting, especially with regards to inner passivity. However, I can’t find any peer-reviewed literature that mentions anything about inner passivity. That being said, would you mind sending me a source or two about inner passivity? – P.T.
Inner passivity is mentioned frequently in the writings of classical psychoanalysis. For whatever reasons, it did not become a term that prominently entered the discipline’s nomenclature. Sigmund Freud had some insight into it, as expressed especially in his later writings, but he never produced a framework for understanding it. I’ve made an effort over the past three decades to bring the term into better focus.
The peer-review for psychological literature is largely an academic process. The academic approach, however, is not the best means for understanding inner passivity. Discovering the reality of inner passivity is an individual accomplishment. While inner passivity can be studied intellectually, it can only be tested for relevance or truth one person at a time. The individual looks for inner truth because that’s where healing begins.
Inner passivity is recognized on a personal feeling level, as a feature of one’s own inner processes, meaning, and truth. To really fathom it, we each need to encounter it organically, observing its influence within our own psyche.
I’m inviting people to find out for themselves whether the knowledge about inner passivity, as I present it, begins to resolve their emotional and behavioral problems. Thousands of people are finding that it is the key knowledge that had been eluding them.
A more widely used term, “learned helplessness,” has features in common with inner passivity. The term, “learned helplessness,” is employed to explain a type of behavior, whereas inner passivity, while it relates to emotions and behaviors associated with helplessness, more expansively refers to an operating system in our psyche that undermines us. Inner passivity is a blind spot in our consciousness and a major obstacle to our evolvement. Even people who on the surface are strong and successful have deposits of it.
What I emphasize in my use of the term is the degree to which people compulsively recycle and replay experiences, memories, and fantasies that induce the passive feeling. I also highlight how inner passivity is a major component of inner conflict, particularly in how it caters to our inner critic and in how it enlists our psychological defenses to blind us to inner truth.
Inner passivity, as mentioned, has its own unconscious operating system, a kind of primitive intelligence. The psychological defenses it churns out are often weak and ineffective. It also serves as an entry point in our psyche for the acceptance of punishment (largely in the form of guilt, shame, and depression) from the aggressive inner critic. This unconscious willingness to accept punishment from one’s inner critic, a defining feature of inner passivity, is a primary way in which humans experience emotional suffering.
I am a physiotherapist living in Asia. I have traveled to many countries and tried all kinds of therapy, but the way to mental health can still be so elusive! I come from a very dysfunctional family and have had to fight my way out of the trenches of mental-health issues.
I interpret my dreams, and I’ve had a reoccurring dream for some years. I long to go somewhere, in a car or a train, but the way is always blocked or delayed, and I never reach my destination. I know that’s my psyche telling me something is not right in my life. In one of your books, you mentioned that you were stuck yourself. How did you overcome such difficulty? What do you recommend I do? – A.W.
Your recurring dream is a passivity dream. The dream is revealing the still unrecognized or unresolved passivity in your psyche. It’s a good dream in the sense of telling you something important. The dream is trying to make you more conscious of your passive side. If you don’t see the passivity clearly enough, you’ll remain entangled in it.
In this dream, try to imagine what the blocks or delays might represent in your life. Can you feel how you are blocking yourself? It could occur through procrastination or indecision. It could also be that you are striving too hard in some manner, spinning your wheels figuratively speaking, thereby unwittingly generating and recycling the passive feeling. If so, relax more, but be persistent in assimilating the deeper knowledge. This empowers your intelligence and heightens your consciousness, liberating you from inner conflict.
I’ve browsed your work on and off over the last few years whenever I’ve encountered a particularly tough time managing my intrusive thoughts and perfectionism. I suffer from intrusive thoughts that make me wonder if I could harm someone I love, or an innocent child, all while rationally knowing I would never act on such thoughts.
I’ve been trying in vain for years to rationalize my thoughts away, saying to myself, for instance. “These are just intrusive thoughts,” and “I would never do that.” Yet I can still feel like a monster for even having these thoughts, and it terrifies me that these thoughts come on their own. It’s not something I can consciously control, they just enter my mind and then I’m terrified that they’ve entered. It produces shame, guilt, and confusion.
How am I supposed to feel like a good and responsible person if my mind automatically generates these intrusive thoughts without my conscious control? I almost feel like I don’t deserve happiness because I have dealt with this issue for so long.
Can you please provide some insight as to how I can deal with this in a productive way? I suspect your answer will be along the lines of, “I am emotionally attached to the feeling of self-condemnation and self-criticism.” But even so, will accepting this remedy get rid of the intrusive thoughts or simply shine a different light on the issue? – K.P.
As you mentioned, it appears that you’re emotionally attached to the feeling of self-condemnation and self-punishment. Another way to see it, however, is to recognize that you are experiencing the compulsion to punish yourself for having thoughts of harming others. As you said, “I feel like a monster for even having these thoughts …”
This might be the unconscious self-defeating “game” you’re playing: First you unwittingly initiate the intrusive thoughts, then you allow yourself to be badgered by the negative insinuations in those thoughts, then you condemn yourself for passively allowing the self-abusive thoughts to overwhelm you, then you absorb punishment for being so receptive to these dreadful thoughts. At some point, the cycle begins all over again.
The punishment takes the form, as you said, of “shame, guilt, and confusion.” In this sense, the thoughts are not directly the problem. The main problem is your inner conflict, which is producing the unpleasant thoughts. The conflict consists of your wish to feel emotionally strong versus your expectation of being overwhelmed by inner weakness.
The intrusive thoughts are a symptom of your unresolved inner conflict. The conflict produces a compulsion to absorb self-punishment. This dynamic reveals the streak of unconscious masochism that’s embedded in inner passivity.
You’ve been trying, as you say, “to rationalize my thoughts away.” But in doing this you’re putting the focus on the thoughts and failing to see the source of those thoughts. Try to understand that it’s not directly about the “bad” intrusive thoughts. Instead, understand that the source of the problem is your unconscious determination to replay and to recycle an inner conflict between self-condemnation and inner passivity. As I said, this generates intrusive thoughts and causes you to absorb self-punishment.
If you see the conflict clearly enough, your psychological defenses will no longer be able to deceive you. They’ll cease to function. You’ll also be able to stop your inner and outer defensiveness, which is the more overt or superficial expression of psychological defenses. Now you’ll no longer get entangled in a defensive, passive way with your inner critic. You’ll stop “feeding” the intrusive thoughts with inner and outer defensiveness. You’ll be able to watch the intrusive thoughts (if they’re even operative at this point) from a position of knowing detachment, as a witness to them, seeing them objectively as a symptom of inner conflict.
Try to sense the underlying basis of your situation, namely that, through inner passivity and its accompanying inner conflict, you’re unconsciously compelled to feel helpless and defensive, disconnected from your authentic self, as you’re flooded by intrusive thoughts.
With this understanding, you can step out of the conflict and disengage from the thoughts. It can take some time for this understanding to completely stop the thoughts. But you ought to be able to get a sense early on whether it is of benefit. If so, be persistent in applying the knowledge to your everyday experiences.
This morning a lady I am communicating with on a dating site suggested that I’m on the autism spectrum. I did an online test and it says I’m likely to be on the upper end of the spectrum. It makes sense to me, yet I also fit the passive description. How do I distinguish? I don’t know what to make of this. – B.D.
A specialist in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can test you for this. The disorder typically has behavioral symptoms of a passive nature. It’s possible that you tested positive on the online test because it picked up passive traits in the answers or statements you provided. In any case, whether or not the results are accurate, you want to be fully accepting of yourself, as you do your best to live a satisfying life.
Since you have been reading about inner passivity, you might want to keep an eye on it in your daily experiences, observing how awareness of it might help you shift toward more self-assurance. This can be part of your path to inner growth.
A student of mine who is ten years old has been diagnosed with depression and insomnia. It occurred to me that a few sessions might help her, but I wonder if a phone call would work for someone so young? –C.E.
I hesitate to work with children, especially over the phone. It might be that this student’s insomnia and depression are due, at least in part, to her being too hard on herself (due to an active inner critic to which she might be feeling passive and defenseless). A parent or teacher could ask her, as a starting point, if she thinks she’s being too hard on herself with expectations, demands, rejection, or criticism. (She might initially dismiss the idea, or need time to think about it.)
If she says it might be true that she’s hard on herself, she could benefit from a gentle talk about the existence in many people of a mean, demanding inner voice, one that is sometimes conveyed almost audibly but more often is just felt or sensed. This inner voice can be quite bullying and belittling. A parent could tell this adolescent that the voice does not represent her best interests, that it is a primitive part of the human mind. She can be encouraged to refrain from taking it seriously and engaging defensively with it.
A parent might ask this girl on a regular basis whether she thinks the voice or feeling has been bothering her, and then reaffirm the girl’s capacity to be stronger than this voice or feeling. The girl can be advised to believe in a center, a stronghold, within her that represents her goodness and value, and told that she possesses a core essence or authentic self that radiates her kindness, loving nature, self-trust, and strength. She might also be told that the human story has involved facing this sort of self-doubt and inner weakness and being inspired to rise above it.
My latest book has just been published. It’s titled, Our Deadly Flaw: Healing the Inner Conflict that Cripples Us and Subverts Society (2022), and it’s available here in paperback (315 pages) or as an e-book.