Liberals and progressives will benefit from acquiring deeper psychological knowledge to bring to the political fray. As a psychotherapist, I see plenty of blind spots in my fellow liberals.
I have, incidentally, sympathy and respect for conservative points of view. Actually, political designations, as I see it, are overrated when it comes to understanding or resolving personal or national issues. These designations have limited value because they don’t, in themselves, penetrate all that deeply into what is real and true. Both liberals and conservatives lack insight into human nature.
What we need is for everybody to smarten up, and an excellent way for us to achieve this involves understanding depth psychology. I address liberals in this article, yet much of what’s written here also applies to conservatives.
Many of us liberals are injustice-collectors, meaning that we’re unconsciously determined to experience matters of justice through our unresolved readiness to feel maligned or unfairly treated, either personally or through identification with others. Injustice collectors embellish, within themselves, feelings of being mistreated, oppressed, disrespected, or rendered powerless.
This weakness originates in our psyche, and it can be recognized in the weak unconscious defensiveness we muster against our inner critic or superego. Because of this inner conflict, we are more easily triggered emotionally when dealing with friends, family members, strangers, corporations, and those who oppose our political and social points of view.
We often get resentful or angry at those who we perceive to be oppressing or mistreating us, but this reaction is often a defense that covers up our unconscious readiness to feel rejected, criticized, or somehow victimized. The anger or resentment covers up the degree to which, through our own self-doubt and inner passivity, we resonate emotionally with feeling marginalized, unworthy, and helpless. This is our “stuff,” our baggage, the emotional or psychological issues we have not yet resolved.
The more we resonate in this unhealthy way, the more we’re in danger of acting out what we’re unconsciously expecting or looking for, namely actual mistreatment, disrespect, and oppression.
We tend to identify with those who we perceive to be victims of injustice. It’s certainly right and proper to care about injustice and to do something about it. But injustice-collectors detour down a dead-end. They contaminate their intelligence with their own unresolved emotional issues. Political correctness, as one example of this, becomes righteous and intolerant under the influence of injustice collecting, thereby widening the political divide. Conservatives, meanwhile, feel oppressed and disrespected by this righteousness.
Some liberals come alive and feel their best when in opposition to people on the right. We feel power in opposing the powerful, but we don’t necessarily know what it means, within ourselves, to really feel powerful. If we’re struggling with self-regulation issues such as overeating, excessive drinking, compulsive spending, indecision, procrastination, and relationship dysfunction, we’re not inwardly familiar with what it means to be powerful. Rather than embracing real power, the best we can do is to defy it or adopt a pretense of it.
Psychologically, we tend to identify with this feeling of lacking power. This personal self-doubt arises from inner passivity, which is an aspect of human nature that thrives in our psyche, determined to be experienced whenever possible. Most people, to some degree or other, live under the influence of a commanding self, a subtle illegitimate inner authority, which is a formulation of inner passivity and the means whereby we give away our power. It’s not the commanding self but our authentic self that we want to know and cherish.
Rather than feeling true compassion for victims, we’re prone to resonate with this inner weakness, which in turn causes us to identify with real or alleged victims of injustice or malice. Identity politics arises from our unconsciousness willingness to identify with, personally or indirectly, the plight of a real or alleged oppressed group or minority. This identification is entangled in the unconscious choice we have made to suffer with our own unresolved issues, though we pretend our concern for alleged victims is solely indicative of our kindness and awareness.
We do feel a semblance of power in defying and mocking the powerful, but this tends to be reactive, passive-aggressive power, a poor substitute for the real thing. Liberals are often uncomfortable with power because it can feel to us that power is somehow inescapably abusive. We make this association because our inner critic, that primitive inner agency that holds us accountable and demeans our efforts, does indeed treat us disrespectfully and abusively, though we unconsciously enable and tolerate this abuse through our unrecognized inner passivity. (Our commanding self, as I understand it, is a symptom of inner passivity, while our inner critic or superego is a force or drive onto itself.)
We need to become conscious, as precisely as possible, of the dynamics of our inner weakness. The remedy is to apply insight to the big or little emotional challenges of everyday life. Here are a few quick examples of liberals engaging the world with a lack of self-assurance or power. A liberal client complained, frequently and chronically, about feeling rushed and never having enough time to handle all his duties, though the deeper problem was his unconscious willingness to embellish the feeling of being oppressed and overwhelmed. Another liberal client’s panic attacks while driving her car stemmed from feelings of being a child trying to do something beyond her ability. Another client, who had a passive relationship with his mother, sought out a similar relationship with an older woman soon after his mother died.
Shopping for clothes, a liberal friend became upset at an aggressive salesperson who hovered at her shoulder. She left the store in a huff and told me later she was still upset about it. “Through your inner passivity, you were unduly influenced by the salesperson’s presence. Emotionally, you made that person’s presence a big deal, and then covered up your role in generating that impression by getting upset at her.”
“I got it,” she blurted with irritation. “Don’t say another word.”
I’m fortunate to have friends—and readers, too—who tolerate my analytic volunteerism.
Bless my liberal and conservative clients who come back for more. One of them had for years been preoccupied with the why of things, especially in the quest to answer tough existential questions. Her passive mother had subscribed to the expectation that, “If only I knew the rules, I’d be okay.” One time my client became distraught because she couldn’t figure out why a dog she’d seen running by the road was running so fast. Anxious about it, she’d mulled over a dozen possibilities, to no avail. Inner fear, an aspect of inner passivity, can be driving her reaction. More to the point, she was obsessing over this question for the unconscious purpose of accentuating a sense of her helplessness. The running dog was her prop to feel and recycle a deep passivity, her inability to make sense of an everyday occurrence.
This growing feminine power on display with the #MeToo Movement is desperately needed. I don’t consider this to be feminism per se, but rather consciousness enhancement for women and men. Depth psychology informs us that humanity still functions, in part, according to certain primitive instincts. One of these instincts prompts people to be aggressive whenever they encounter passivity, in part because the aggressor can be aroused both egotistically and sexually by the victim’s submission or helplessness. Enhanced consciousness overcomes this primitive instinct. Women are doing their part, if not leading the way, in the development of consciousness that is freeing itself from inner passivity.
Much liberal attention is focused anxiously in opposition to the latest Supreme Court nomination. Again, it’s both wise and imperative for citizens to resist political skullduggery. But liberals, through inner passivity, are bestowing an inordinate amount of power on the lawyers who occupy the Supreme Court. This constitutes misuse of the emotional imagination, which is the compulsion, acted out internally, to recycle, through our visual drive, our attachment to unresolved negative emotions. In this case, the negative emotion involves feelings of being weak, helpless, and obliged to submit.
Partisans on the right, in particular, enshrine the Supreme Court because the conservative patriarchy feels and believes that some “great authority” possesses the last word in telling us what is true and real and how to live our lives. Unwittingly, both conservatives and liberals jump at the chance to feel oppressed. Doing so maintains self-doubt and makes all of us anxious and fearful—thereby more likely to proceed unwisely.
Our progress is going to come from our own personal self-development. The nation and the world will be saved by growing consciousness, the knowing in ourselves of what is true and false, right and wrong, and by the power to act accordingly.
Liberals are inclined to express the idea that they form a resistance to the Trump Administration. This is a passive perspective. It’s the Trump Administration that is the resistance, and it is resisting the growth of human consciousness. We all have this resistance in our psyche. Trumpism is, above all, an externalized, collective expression of the strong resistance we each experience when we undertake self-development for the purpose of realizing our potential. Such resistance is dangerous in the sense that it often produces self-defeat, and many fail to flourish and to fulfill themselves. Of course, we must overcome such resistance, starting in our personal life.