Our emotional wellbeing is usually related to the degree to which we’re connected to (or disconnected from) our best self. We can support and enhance our personal mental health by seeing our emotional and behavioral problems in the light of connection and disconnection.
This post is not about acute cases of disconnection such as depersonalization or dissociation. Instead, it’s about a milder but more common variety, namely the generalized disconnect from one’s best self that many people experience as a normal human condition, as if this is how life is meant to be.
A majority of people are sorely lacking in terms of understanding (or even knowing the existence of) unconscious dynamics in their psyche. These dynamics, usually in the form of inner conflict, largely contribute to this disconnection from one’s best self, and the disconnection is often experienced painfully as dissatisfaction, emptiness, apathy, negativity, and general unhappiness.
People who are disconnected tend to know themselves through aspects of life that are secondary to their best self. For instance, they identify with their mind or with their ego, or with their material assets, personality, gender, nationality, physical appearance, line of work, race, religion, power and influence, or sexuality. These identifications, when emotionally embraced for validation and orientation, are too limited. People usually have little understanding of how much their perceptions and intelligence are influenced and limited by these identifications.
Some people identify with being a failure or with being a success, or with being good or being bad. They might identify with themselves primarily as victims of some alleged oppression or injustice and see others in terms of friends or foes. They often live under a sense of oppression with no awareness of doing so, let alone of how, psychologically, they cultivate that impression.
Again, all such identifications and perceptions are limitations of our consciousness that overlook the core of our essential nature. Under this influence, we’re disconnecting from (if not rejecting or abandoning) our best self.
We can also be disconnected from our best self when being chronically indecisive or bored, when lacking healthy self-regulation, and when angry, bitter, cynical, and negative much of the time. This disconnect is also behind feelings of being a fraud or imposter, as well as feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose. When more acute, the disconnect is experienced as a psychological state of depersonalization. Read what I’ve written on these subjects here and here.
Many people experience disconnection when they identify as helpless failures. Inwardly, they mock and condemn themselves (through their inner critic) for allegedly being unworthy, for being losers, and for lacking self-regulation and motivation. In desperation, they might resort to alcohol, illicit drugs, and overeating, which can temporarily create a hazy sense of being good, worthy, and connected. However, when the solace of the food and the alcoholic or narcotic effect wear off, these individuals end up feeling, more than ever, a painful disconnect, often involving self-criticism and self-condemnation.
Being disconnected from self results in more indecision, worry, stress, and anxiety because an individual, in failing to access her source of strength, is failing to support herself emotionally. People who painfully feel unsupported by others and who blame others for being unsupportive, are usually failing to support themselves emotionally.
When we’re feeling disconnected from others, loneliness and feelings of abandonment and unworthiness can arise. It’s important to appreciate this direct correlation: Feeling disconnected from others, from life, or from a sense of purpose directly reflects the degree to which we are inwardly feeling disconnected from a sense of our own best self. When acute, the disconnect can become the primary identification: The person knows himself or herself primarily through self-doubt, inner emptiness, and a wounded, conflicted, or false self.
Feeling disconnected from one’s partner (or family or friends) is often a byproduct of how an individual is feeling disconnected from himself. Unconsciously, we get all tangled up emotionally in the feeling of being disconnected because, in being a deep-down identification, we have no choice but to experience it repeatedly. No matter how painful, the disconnect becomes a primary way of knowing and experiencing oneself. It is a universal quirk of human nature to feel, deep in one’s psyche, a lack of value and significance and to behave as if this subjective impression reflects some essential truth about oneself.
Online posts and articles about this problem of feeling disconnected describe the symptoms accurately enough, but they don’t get to the heart of the issue. The posts and articles offer advice on what a person might say or do to alleviate the symptoms, but the information doesn’t offer real insight concerning the unconscious mischief at play in our psyche.
We have to go deeper into our psyche if we want to expose the degree to which we’re determined (or programmed or compelled) to go on feeling and experiencing ourselves in a second-hand way, through old unresolved conflict that creates self-doubt and self-alienation.
Take the example of chronic loneliness. Consciously, the lonely person wants to feel connected and loved. Unconsciously, though, this person is likely to be inwardly conflicted and thereby unable to avoid becoming entangled in the other side of the conflict, which is to activate and experience familiar emotional associations with feeling rejected, abandoned, betrayed, unworthy, and unloved. The temptation to experience this negativity is unconscious, yet it is compelling and emotionally addictive. We can liberate ourselves from this pain as we expose inner conflict that invites us to revisit old hurts, grievances, regrets, losses, and helpless feelings.
When we’re feeling disconnected from friends and loved ones, we need to consider to what degree we’re not only feeling this way because we’re disconnected emotionally from our best self but also because we’re compelled, even driven, to go on experiencing this painful emotional state. We are, in a sense, haunted by old identifications associated with negative emotions.
Feeling disconnected can operate as an emotional attachment. This means that an individual, given an opportunity to feel connected or disconnected in some encounter with others, will unconsciously chose to experience a disconnect. People who are tribal or who create a feeling of separation from others on the basis of religious dogma are motivated unconsciously by their attachment to feeling divided, conflicted, and disconnected. They can erect a defense that goes like this: “I’m not identified with inner conflict and with separation from my best self. On the contrary, the world is to blame. The world is a bad place, and I have to disconnect from it for my own protection.”
Be Conscious of the False Self
We have resistance to becoming more connected to our best self. Psychologically, people have a tendency to deny or disown their best self. This allows them to hang on to the negative states of mind with which they identify, including fear, regrets, bitterness, worries, cynicism, anger, and passivity. Many people know themselves, in large measure, through conscious and unconscious negative memories, associations, and attachments.
Many people also actively work against their best interests. They are simply afraid to grow. They’re too weak (as a result of inner conflict and misleading identifications) to submit to the temporary disorientation that psychological growth requires of us. Unconsciously, many choose substance abuse, wealth accumulation, or indulgent self-gratification for the purpose of disconnecting from the burden (as they experience it) of being responsible for maintaining a moral compass and developing their humanity. They settle for a false self that belittles the gift of life.
The growing wealth divide is under the influence of this process. With chaos and complexity arising throughout the world, the rich might be growing more and more desperate for a sense of security. Because of the disconnect from their best self, the only security they can relate to is based on increasing wealth.
This best, authentic self that we want to connect with (and stay connected with much of the time) is watchful, vigilant, appreciative, non-judgmental, kindly, harmonious, mostly silent, and often moved to wonder. With this connection, we can feel our integrity. We no longer take our consciousness for granted; we treasure it. We have more emotional resonance with nature and with each other when we know our own nature.
We can sometimes feel connected to a pleasing sense of self when we’re high on alcohol or drugs, or when we’re excited by social connections, group validation, and the inducements of materialism and consumerism. At such times, we’re likely to be high on the fireworks of sensations and egotism, which are unstable as emotional supports compared with the connection to our best self. Egotism has its ups and downs, and the downs can be frequent and painful, especially when our “precious” ego encounters the indifference or hostility of others. A connection to self, when it has been established, is much more solid and comforting, and it’s the custodian of inner truth.
What else is blocking us from making this connection? Within our psyche, unconscious conflict stirs up feelings of self-doubt, fear, unworthiness, helplessness, and loss. Many people identify emotionally with themselves through a sense of weakness and insignificance. In our psyche, we’re under the influence of inner passivity, which entangles us in helplessness, guilt, and shame. This inner passivity facilitates inner conflict by making us a target of mockery, scorn, and chastisement emanating from our inner critic.
Because of inner conflict, many people seek to avoid connection with their inner self. This self feels to them like a center of hurt, which is associated with guilt, shame, and unworthiness. At this point, they need to begin to understand the basic dynamics that maintain inner conflict, negative emotions, and deep hurt. Depth psychology enables us to expose (make conscious) these inner dynamics, thereby enriching our intelligence and liberating us from what is, we come to realize, unnecessary suffering.
As inner conflict is resolved, our thoughts are better regulated. They’re more sensible, rational, considerate, discerning, generous, and understanding. Now our thoughts know their place, and they no longer bombard us relentlessly. Random thoughts more easily retreat into the background, replaced by heightened presence to the moment and appropriate spontaneity. We’re likely to be more intelligent, creative, and loving.
To become connected to our best self, we usually have to knock on the door of inner growth. We have to go looking for self-knowledge and we have to be prepared to be humbled by what we find.
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’re able to establish a good, harmonious relationship with yourself. Ultimately, you are trying to uncover the strong, gracious, loving self at the core of your being.
A small insight a day keeps darkness away. One client realized that he had missed an opportunity to be at his best when he failed to complement an acquaintance who was volunteering much of her time for an environmental cause. He told me, “I could have just said, ‘Your efforts here are noted and greatly appreciated. Thanks for doing it!’ But the words didn’t occur to me. I was passive at that moment, disconnected from myself.”
To recognize this oversight, this man indeed had to connect to his best self. A spirit of generosity, along with a resolve to identify with his best self, arose within him when he made this connection.