Everyone needs a story, as the saying goes. The best kind of story provides us with meaning and purpose, and it reflects values and beliefs to which we subscribe. Ideally, it tells us right from wrong, explains our suffering, and guides us going forward. Such stories, which go back in history to ancient creation myths, are cornerstones of our humanity.
Many of us, in order to flourish, need to change our story. Some stories that people adopt (or are unconsciously burdened with) do their existence and intelligence a great disservice. “I am a worthless nobody and a loser” is a story that many people follow. Some people believe, as another common story, that they are the helpless victims of what is (or what they subjectively perceive to be) injustice and malice. Such stories develop out of our inner conflict, and invariably they produce self-defeat and self-sabotage.
Keep in mind that terrorists and criminals, along with greedy and self-aggrandizing people, operate according to stories that feel real and true to them. Sometimes the stories most fervently subscribed to are rationalizations for being cold-hearted and close-minded. We obviously don’t want to be acting out a story that incorporates a lack of belief or trust in oneself, is borrowed from others, or has been contaminated by unresolved emotional issues.
We can have more than one story at a time, a personal story, for instance, as well as a story that frames our worldview. It’s normal that our story would borrow heavily from parents and culture, even as we’re struggling to forge a unique, personal story.
History, science, politics, literature, and religion provide us with stories, as do the deeds and inspiration of friends, leaders, mentors, and teachers. A lot of influences bear down upon us as we construct a story that resonates with our time, place, and sense of self.
A good or true story, one that keeps faith with our potential, is obviously the best kind. How can we acquire or develop a story that we trust to be good and true? A personal story, if it’s to do justice to our humanity, usually needs to be aligned with inner truth. A test for the integrity and truth of one’s story is measured by how, as it unfolds, a person is liberated from inner conflict and negative emotions, thereby becoming more at peace with himself and others. What else could we trust to be true but a growing wisdom that is successfully lifting us out of misery and self-defeat?
Self-knowledge enables people to change their stories for the better. As an example of how this works, let’s look at a person who, deep within, resonates with feeling unworthy and unimportant. This individual, let’s call him Larry, is intelligent and holds a good job. Yet he’s anxious and distressed much of the time, and he’s aware of being highly sensitive to how he’s seen and regarded by others. Larry is thrilled to receive praise or even flattery, yet frequently he feels overlooked and unappreciated, which quickly brings up angry or critical feelings toward others. He is also chronically unhappy, plagued by a brooding sense of not living up to his potential.
Larry is living a false story. It doesn’t reflect the truth that, in his essence, he’s as worthy as any other person. It’s also a story his father lived, and it goes back generations.
Driven by this unhappiness, Larry seeks out psychological understanding of his predicament. He learns that he’s entangled in emotional conflict. While consciously he wants to be appreciated and to value himself, unconsciously he’s prepared to feel and know himself through negative emotions associated with feeling unworthy, weak, and unimportant. He’s also conflicted in another way: His unconscious identification with himself as being unworthy means that, in his psyche, he doesn’t possess the inner power to ward off his inner critic that assails him on a daily basis for his self-doubt and lack of confidence.
Larry learns that his anger at those who apparently treat him with indifference or disrespect covers up his emotional resonance with feeling himself to be unworthy or unimportant. This cover-up, the psychological defense, reads: “I’m not looking to feel unworthy or unimportant—Look at how angry (or critical) I get at those people who treat me that way.” (It’s very important to understand how we try to cover up, through psychological defenses, an awareness of our unconscious willingness to experience ourselves in negative ways.) As Larry sees his inner conflict more clearly, he begins to realize the underlying issue has little to do with others and instead is centered on his own tendency and even readiness to plunge into feeling unworthy or unimportant. He sees how he has been making a choice, albeit an unconscious one, to play up or embellish within himself these feelings of being unworthy. Now, with this growing insight, he begins to take ownership of (or take responsibility for) this dynamic in his psyche that has been inducing him to identify with being a lesser person.
This insight empowers his intelligence. Now, when triggered emotionally, he’s able to recognize his own participation in stirring up feelings of unworthiness. Larry realizes he has been choosing unconsciously to interpret various events and situations through feelings of being unworthy and unimportant, as if such negative emotions truly revealed his essence. His emotional identification with this irrationality had been overriding his common sense. He now realizes his anger at (or criticism of) those who allegedly see him in this negative light has been covering up his readiness to feel this way about himself. With this awareness, he begins to clear out his emotional attachment to feeling unworthy and unimportant. Soon, Larry is able to connect with his goodness and value, a connection that protects him from taking personally the real or perceived insensitivity or indifference of others.
A True Story for Us All
While individually we want to be in possession of a true story, we also need, as a human family, a true story that guides us all collectively. Such a story could originate from new insight—an epiphany concerning human nature—that awakens us to deeper self-realization. The knowledge is available and has been extracted here, at this website, from psychoanalytic literature. It reveals a critically important common denominator among the people of all races and nations. This knowledge, for starters, shatters the common story to which so many subscribe, that “I’m in too much pain and suffering, and infused with too much self-doubt, to do much good in the world.”
This knowledge about human nature can help to heal social and political dissension. The knowledge enables us to see the source of such dissension—along with anger, addictions, depression, and violence—in ourselves. Our new story now incorporates an awareness of the unconscious forces that have induced us to operate unwisely, incompetently, and foolishly—even to be our own worst enemy.
As the details of this unconscious functioning come into focus, we see precisely how we have been failing to connect with our better self. We now can begin to see, as we acquire this self-knowledge, how psychological dynamics have actively alienated us from our better self and from each other.
I write about this knowledge in my books and here on my website. In brief, human nature, as it manifests in our psyche, is inflicted with considerable conflict. The clearer each of us sees the specific dynamics of this conflict as it pertains to our personal life, the more quickly we are liberated from misery and suffering. The main aspects of this inner conflict are described here.
Another level of functioning in our psyche concerns our unconscious compulsion to act out (replay or recycle) the hurt of several unresolved negative emotions (other than feeling unworthy). Much of the time, we operate as if addicted to certain negative emotions. That process of emotional recycling, described here, produces a long list of painful symptoms (such as indecision, procrastination, worry, anger, bitterness, shame, guilt, loneliness, failure, addictions, and compulsions.)
With this knowledge, we realize we have been compulsively making unconscious choices to indulge in negative emotions and even to seek out or create situations in which we can experience and recycle these emotions. In recognizing this, we fortify our intelligence and strengthen inner resolve to avoid making self-defeating choices.
The most important psychological conflict is perhaps the one between the inner critic and inner passivity. The nature of this conflict is described here. This conflict is a main cause of anxiety, indecision, fear, low self-esteem, addictions, depression, and suicide. It is largely responsible not just for the cruelty and violence we act out against one another, but for cruel self-abuse such as chronic self-criticism, self-rejection, self-alienation, and self-hatred. With self-knowledge, we root out the negativity and self-doubt that inner conflict has been generating. When we clear up inner conflict, we discover our goodness and value. Our personal story, in all its richness, is now based on inner truth.
This knowledge from depth psychology is the story of human nature. It discloses our common humanity, while it exposes the lack of evolvement involved in being egotistical. We’re humbled and empowered as we come into acceptance of inner truth. With this knowledge, our map of the psyche is now more accurately outlined and our intelligence is greatly enhanced. For each of us, our personal story is more likely to be good and true when we access inner truth.
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.