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 respond to six of them. I’ve done some editing of the questions, which are in italics. These answers review the basics of what I teach.
I’ve bought several of your books and see that you repeatedly use the term “unresolved emotion or emotions.” But I have been unable to find a definition for that. Is it an emotion to which we have unknowingly attached a benefit, which then drives our unconscious to reexperience it? — J.Y.
Many of us are compelled to keep feeling or experiencing unresolved emotions that, though unpleasant or painful, are unconsciously enticing. Many writers and researchers have noted the human compulsion to experience the negative more so than the positive. When negative emotions cause us daily suffering, they can be understood as emotional attachments or, more bluntly, emotional addictions.
There are eight primary emotional attachments: to feelings of being deprived, refused, helpless, controlled, criticized, rejected, abandoned, and betrayed. These emotions are first felt by us as young children (I call them the first hurts).
We can liberate ourselves from emotional attachments once we become more insightful, meaning more conscious of the existence of these attachments and of the dynamics that hold them in place. Becoming more insightful involves, in part, becoming aware of the inner conflict that frames an emotional attachment. As one example, people do not consciously want to feel rejected, yet many of us do experience rejection in a way that’s painful, even when rejection is not intended or when we’re simply suspecting or imagining it. Through deepening insight, we can start taking responsibility for the unconscious choice we’ve been making to resonate with feeling rejected, thereby producing inner conflict.
We would also be recognizing the psychological defenses we unwittingly employ to cover up our attachment to feeling rejected (or to any of the first hurts). Anger and blaming others are such defenses. The defenses make the claim that we’re the victims of the malice of others, thereby covering up, in this example, our emotional attachment to rejection. The defense covers up our unconscious willingness to take personally, and to indulge in, the feeling of being rejected.
In addition to the eight first hurts mentioned above, we might also be emotionally attached to feeling unloved, unsupported, and unworthy. However, I believe these three feelings are largely symptoms or derivatives of the first hurts.
I have finished two of your books and have also been studying your articles and feeling them penetrate deeper each time. That said, this past week I’ve been experiencing a burst of anxiety and panic, which I feel is coming from me trying to change my inner status quo. It feels as if I’ve internalized fully how I indulge in these passive feelings, and am trying to change because I don’t want to be this way anymore.
Somehow the fear of change generates very strong anxiety or panic, which then forces me to “back down” and stick to what I’m familiar with—my old self that is passive and makes me sabotage my strength and success due to inner conflict. It’s like my identity is threatened and so I get flooded with anxiety to keep me entangled in the old, familiar (yet painful) sense of self.
Are there best practices for making this change from the “old version” of me into this new one without feeling like I am losing my identity and the way I perceive the world? As I try to change, how can I not back down when overwhelmed with this powerful anxiety? Also, is it “normal” to put in so much effort into this? How long does this process typically take once these insights are processed? – J.A.
You have four questions here, and I’ll start with the last one. The process of inner growth is not fixed in time. Growing and changing, becoming smarter and wiser, has no end point. You really don’t want to concern yourself with some supposed final goal. Instead, you benefit most by appreciating your steady effort to care about your self-development, while moving this process along. Each day is its own lifetime, dignified by the value you place on growing your integrity, generosity, resilience, and self-respect.
You asked whether it’s normal to put in so much effort. The effort need not be any more than what’s required to become knowledgeable and skillful at, say, a new hobby. The process involves learning the principles of depth psychology while becoming increasingly insightful as to how these principles apply to you personally. Initially, the biggest stumbling block is unconscious resistance.
You also asked how to avoid backing down when overwhelmed by anxiety. This feeling of being overwhelmed is itself passive. Try to understand that your anxiety is a product of your entanglement in inner passivity, meaning in this context your emotional attachment to feeling helpless and unable to self-regulate. Learn about inner passivity, and you’ll understand inner conflict and be able to come to your rescue to liberate yourself from anxiety and fear.
Finally, you asked about “good practices” for changing without feeling that you’re losing your old identity. The thing is, you will gradually be losing your old identity. Trust me, you’ll greatly prefer the new identity, your connection with your authentic self. One problem is that we cling to the old identity, no matter how painful, out of fear of the unknown. You have to trust life, which is pretty much the same as trusting yourself.
As advice, one “good practice” is to keep a daily journal in which you write down details of the events, situations, or memories that are causing distress. This writing is subject matter through which you process your growing knowledge of depth psychology. This practice brings your suffering and self-defeat into focus. It empowers your intelligence, which in turn helps to liberate you from your emotional attachments and your old painful identity.
Before I schedule a session to talk to you, I have to ask, how long does it take to be free from my suffering? How many sessions do I have to do? Do you have clients who become free from serious negative issues after one session? What should I expect? – K.L.
I can only offer my clients the knowledge and insight from depth psychology that pertains to their personal issues. They determine through their own inner processes whether this knowledge is helpful. They might be able to make that assessment immediately or it might take several or many sessions. If what I offer is accurate as it pertains to them, then they’re likely to make progress, providing they’re not too resistant.
Even with excellent psychotherapy, the timeframe for which painful symptoms subside varies from person to person. The main thing is to get yourself pointed in a good direction, supported by the best insight. When psychotherapy is effective, the client can enjoy her progress, even if it seems to be on the slow side, because she will begin to notice an easing of her symptoms and she’ll be increasingly confident that she’s doing her best.
After reading two of your books, I’m inspired to actually study depth psychology. Would you be so kind as give me information about where to take courses? Or is there any particular institute that in your opinion is good? – J.N.
If you were to study depth psychology and become a psychotherapist, you would be choosing a most worthy profession. However, the university or college you attend to get your required degree would likely only offer behavioral, cognitive, and brain studies. Little or no study would be devoted to the investigation of the psyche and its inner conflict.
Many professors speak disparagingly of depth psychology, considering it unscientific. The psychology departments of universities throughout the world are all basically the same in terms of this more superficial approach. Even depth psychology courses you might be able to enroll in would likely teach content quite different from my approach. Psychoanalytic institutes, as well, have their different “brands” of depth psychology, some of which are quite superficial.
Nonetheless, getting a psychology degree from one of these schools can work out well for you. Learning the full range of psychological thought has value. Once you graduate and become licensed, you then decide what therapeutic approach you are going to adopt. If you were to use my method at that point, you would be doing so because you had experienced its value in your own self-development. Remember, you need to do the inner work. Psychotherapists can only help another person grow psychologically to the extent that they themselves have experienced inner growth.
I have been obsessing for many years about whether I am gay, even though I have had fulfilling and loving relationships with women. Still, it plagues me whenever I think of committing to my new relationship. When I finally break up with a girlfriend who I’m unable to feel sure about, I become sad and depressed.
Anyway, my last ten years have been filled with self-doubt. It’s unpleasant, and it impedes me in many situations … What’s my question here? Well, how to better identify my passivity, and would activity as opposed to passivity consist in just identifying the thoughts, or should I be taking specific actions that are opposite to what the passivity is suggesting? – L.W.
It’s not about replacing passivity with specific actions. Activity is not the opposite of inner passivity. When you are overcoming inner passivity and inner conflict, you become less reactive. For instance, you’re less (and often much less) moody, cynical, angry, bored, apathetic, confused, lonely, indecisive, or discouraged. This might lead to more activity on your part or to less activity. Either way, what matters is that you’ll be less conflicted, therefore more in harmony with yourself and the world. Specific actions will flow naturally and appropriately—enhanced creativity perhaps—as a result of your psychological growth.
As for passivity, whenever you make the effort to understand and recognize inner passivity and its influence upon you, you’re engaged in healthy activity. Every time you produce insight about what’s happening within you, you’re acting with power. In seeking good insight, you’re choosing strength over weakness and inner freedom over the oppression of inner conflict. In this manner, you establish a wise inner authority and come to know your own mind. No longer will you obsess about sexual identity because you’ll no longer be compelled to experience life’s challenges through inner conflict.
I’m currently having some problems studying. My goal is to become a dentist. In the country where I live, you have to pass the entrance exam first … It’s a very hard exam and currently I’m having problems focusing on what I’m trying to learn. I never was a studious person in the past. I actually escaped doing homework and studying whenever I could. My parents forced me to study, but it didn’t really change anything since I never cared about what they said.
Last year, I finally made the decision to study. I dedicated most of my daily time to it, and I enjoyed it. Fast forward to this year, I now have a school counselor. She helps me choose which subjects to study … and she teaches me techniques to do better in tests. The problem is I can’t focus anymore. Whenever I sit to study, there’s strong resistance in my mind against learning. … Studying is not fun anymore, it’s a burden.
Also, there’s stress since my classmates are studying hard as well and I can’t compete with them. Probably my whole future depends on this exam but I’m having a very hard time doing what I must. … Do you have suggestions on how I can enjoy studying like I did last year? – T.E.
I would have to get more personal information from you to know with more assurance what’s going on. However, here’s one possibility. You mentioned that, in the past, your parents forced you to study. It’s possible you are now forcing yourself to study, meaning that you interpret the process of studying emotionally, as something that requires the feeling of being forced.
This emotional misinterpretation is activated by inner passivity. You feel reluctant to study because you’re reacting, through inner passivity, to the misleading impression that studying is being forced upon you. Your psyche doesn’t care whether the feeling of being forced comes from your parents, from your school counselor, or from within you. Your emotional attachment is to the feeling of being forced or controlled, and to cover up or defend against awareness of this passivity you rebel against feeling forced by refusing to learn, which is a passive-aggressive defense. Note that you might have been passive to your school counselor in the choice of what subjects to study.
Your passive-aggressive refusal to study would consist of an oppositional defiance or stubbornness within you that produces an illusion of power. Unconsciously, you employ this illusion of power (defiance or stubbornness) to override the passive feeling of being forced. The illusion, through self-defeating, is preferred by you to the possibility of being humbled by the realization of the underlying reality, which is your identification with, or emotional attachment to, your passive side. When you understand inner passivity, you’ll be able to experience studying with pleasure or at least acceptance instead of with a sense of oppression. Keep reading about inner passivity on my website to more fully understand this.
To all my readers, it’s important now that we begin to develop a greater ability to determine what constitutes high-value psychological knowledge. As I keep saying, we have to know ourselves more deeply if we’re going to govern ourselves democratically and become wiser to save the planet.
In my writing and therapy services, I strive to give people a means, through clarity and jargon-free language, to judge for themselves whether the knowledge I present has value for them. I connect a wide range of self-defeating symptoms to basic dynamics of inner conflict. It’s for you to decide whether this knowledge resonates with you. Trust yourself to be capable of knowing what is real and true. Wisdom is your birthright. Your growing consciousness, the refining of your being, is by far your greatest asset.
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.