A lot of people struggle with the challenge of trying not only to feel good about themselves but, more urgently, trying to avoid feeling bad or really bad about themselves.
When individuals understand the primary psychological dynamics that produce self-doubt, self-criticism, self-rejection, and even self-hatred, they can escape from these negative feelings and begin to appreciate themselves in an accepting and loving way.
Being a loving person is our birthright. This ability comes naturally when we clean house, meaning when we identify and resolve the inner conflicts that produce negative emotions.
You can get to love by looking at the inner dynamics that cause you to dislike yourself. Feeling bad about oneself usually arises from an inner conflict involving feelings of being unworthy, unimportant, and deserving of disrespect. What exactly is the conflict? Consciously, we want to feel good about ourselves but many of us still resonate emotionally with (or identify with) the feeling that being disrespected and unworthy is somehow true to the essence of who we are.
Why is this? When we’re feeling bad about ourselves on a daily basis, the most likely culprit producing these bad feelings is self-aggression. This self-aggression is a byproduct of the natural biologically endowed aggression that human beings have required in order to survive. Our ancient ancestors were very aggressive as hunters and defenders of their territory. This aggression has been modified and tempered by civilization. Religious principles have at times helped to contain this aggression, as have legal systems, educational achievement, social and cultural norms, and the threat of punishment and imprisonment. Yet our innate aggression still exists as part of our biology, and we can obviously see evidence for it in the extent of domestic and international dissension and strife.
Keep in mind that healthy aggression can produce much pleasure, as in competitive sports, in striving to excel, and in expressing our voice effectively in the world. But a flaw in our emotional nature causes some of this aggression to be directed against us personally. Inwardly, we unwittingly absorb accusations of alleged unworthiness and weakness from our inner critic (also known as the superego). These accusations are irrational and often cruel and abusive. Because we don’t see these inner dynamics clearly enough, we fail to protect ourselves from the intrusions and abuse instigated by our inner critic.
We become our inner critic to ourself, meaning it feels as if our frequent belittling and devaluing thoughts and feelings originate in our mind as a legitimate self-evaluation. One key insight: Our inner critic has no business butting into our life and holding us accountable for what we’re doing or thinking. (The inner critic is not our conscience, the natural authority that tries to guide us wisely.) Because we lack vital self-knowledge, our inner critic gets away with being abusive and demeaning.
The inner critic is a primitive aggression that has no sensitivity to our wellbeing. But only you or I, through inner awareness, can protect ourselves from its intrusions. We can neutralize or deflect self-aggression as we expose its irrationality and stand up on an inner level to its authoritarian, cruel, and tyrannical character.
On the other side of this inner conflict is inner passivity. Sometimes people are aware of their self-aggression, but they seldom see or understand their inner passivity. Through inner passivity, we become enablers of the self-aggression. We fail to deflect or neutralize the self-aggression because our inner passivity blocks us from awareness of our capacity to do so. Inner passivity even blocks us from seeing the inner critic as an unwarranted inner bully. Inner passivity is like a foggy area in the no-man’s-land of our psyche. To our still evolving consciousness, it’s terra incognito. But as we become aware of this inner passivity and its operating procedures, we begin to know and realize the existence of new reservoirs of inner strength.
Consciously, we certainly do want to feel good about ourselves. Unconsciously, however, we’re so used to being on the receiving end of self-aggression and its disparaging thoughts and feelings that this inner predicament feels natural to us, as if this is who we are and how things are supposed to be.
As a result, being in conflict, however painful that is, all feels natural somehow. We become the embodiment of this primitive configuration in our psyche. We have no idea how it could be different or better for us.
This all means, basically, that we’re attached emotionally to being on the receiving end of accusations and allegations of our alleged wrongdoing and inadequacy. It means that we’re attached to feeling ourselves at the mercy of this aggression. It also means that we resonate emotionally with feeling that others see us as if we are indeed unworthy and deserving of disrespect.
People refuse to see their emotional resonance with these painful feelings because of their resistance to being humbled by recognition of this stubborn perversity in human nature. Instead, they insist they want to be admired and respected. Their psychological defense goes like this: “I feel so good when I’m liked and admired by others. I love it. That proves I want to be admired, not disrespected!” This defense covers up a person’s inner truth, namely the existence of an emotional attachment to feeling disrespected and unworthy, even as we try to live so as to be admired. Also impeding inner progress is fear of change and resistance to breaking one’s identification with the inner status quo.
At this point, a person can employ another unconscious psychological defense that claims, “No, I don’t want to be disrespected or devalued! Look at how upset and angry I get at those who do it to me! That proves I’m not looking for the feeling.” Fooled by this defense, we’re going to have a hard time maintaining that loving feeling.
We can sometimes feel bad about ourself even without much intrusion from our inner critic. This can happen simply because our inner passivity, all by itself, has us stuck in indecision, procrastination, recurring failure, worry, confusion, apathy, cynicism, and helplessness. Our inner critic, though, is always eager to butt in with its bitter mockery, kicking us when we’re down.
We become more loving by becoming stronger on an inner level. This happens as we go inward to eliminate the negative thoughts and feelings that churn around in our emotional life. To some degree, everyone has unconscious attachments to certain negative emotions that were initially experienced in childhood and which remain unresolved in the adult psyche. The post, How to Be Your Own Inner Guide, will help readers understand these unpleasant and often painful emotions and learn how to overcome them.
The main inner conflict in the human psyche is between self-aggression and inner passivity. It produces the effect of wanting to feel strong while identifying with feeling weak and helpless. The conflict means we consciously want respect while unconsciously anticipating disrespect. Other variations on this main conflict include: wanting to be loved but expecting to be rejected; wanting to feel fully satisfied yet looking for the feeling of being deprived; wanting to get but prepared to feel refused; wanting to be decisive but identifying with feeling indecisive; wanting to be in control but expecting to be controlled; and wanting to feel connected to self but prepared and even determined to feel disconnected, betrayed, and abandoned.
As we see the dynamics of inner conflict, we expose our blind spots. This empowers our intelligence, strengthens our rationality, and establishes a solid inner foundation on which we can fully respect and love the creature we are.
We live in a world where truth and reality are being challenged by many forces and developments. Inner truth is the foundation of wise discernment that guides us forward. When we explore our psyche, we can heal inner conflict, establish greater harmony and integrity, and uncover the inner truth that liberates our best loving self.