This topic is addressed as an exchange of e-mails between me and a visitor to this website.
Reader’s comment: I have always been a studious person. Grades were important . . . I was also interested in learning and still am. However, now that I’m at university I’m avoiding studying. It’s not laziness or not caring. I feel fear. I have studied by myself all my life, so absence of family is not a big factor.
Whenever I do manage to study, I feel depressed afterwards. I feel like I have no energy, am mentally foggy, and at the mercy of my thoughts and criticism. All other life issues come back in full force, and I often cry. I also feel depressed again. I used to be very depressed, but now manage to keep it in check and mostly stand up for myself, except when it comes to studying.
Unfortunately, studying is necessary. I want to understand this reaction. More importantly, I want to feel pleased with myself after having studied for the allotted time. . . With all the inner work I’ve done, it feels as if this reaction has a strange power to put me right back to the beginning. I find it very painful.
Is it because studying is a “passive” thing to do? I feel much better after physical activity and such. But after studying, I feel robbed of the little inner strength and confidence I try hard to build every day. . . Why would this be? Do you have any ideas?
My response: I’ll suggest one possibility. Let me know whether you think it applies to you. Indeed, it appears that you’re having a passive reaction to studying. You may be approaching studying as something you’re “forced” to do (out of a sense of necessity and the need to perform at a high level, as well as due to threats of punishment coming from your inner critic). Instinctively, you resist this feeling of being forced, and you thereby resist doing the studying. When you do manage to study, you feel as if you were forced to submit or “give in” to that requirement or obligation. This emotional interpretation of your experience would leave you feeling depressed afterwards. Notice that you say, “Unfortunately, studying is necessary.” Your use of the word “unfortunately” suggests that you regard studying in a negative sense, as something that’s unpleasant and onerous. Unconsciously, you’re using studying as a way to experience unresolved inner passivity. To understand inner passivity more thoroughly, read “Escaping the Clutches of Helplessness.”
So you interpret the need to study as an obligation that you’re forced to comply with. This is an emotional, irrational interpretation—not a rational one. Meanwhile, you’re also passive to your inner critic (as indicated by your statement, “. . . at the mercy of my thoughts and criticism.”) You fear that your inner critic is free to attack you harshly should you, in failing to study, do badly on exams. Your inner critic can also attack you for any procrastination on your part and also for your passive feelings as you struggle through your studying.
Through inner passivity, you’re tempted to feel passive to your inner critic. As a result, you allow your inner critic to operate as your inner authority. We all do this to some extent, and then we try to cover up, through unconscious defenses, our propensity to be passive in this way. You could be saying in your unconscious defense: “Oh, I don’t want to do poorly on exams and suffer from an inner critic attack. Look at how fearful I am that I might fail.” This defense covers up inner truth about your unconscious collusion in feeling passive to your inner critic. The defense also contributes to your suffering because you produce fearfulness as part of your defense.
You can also simply be willing, through inner passivity, to feel passive or helpless in the face of an important task (studying): “I don’t want to feel helpless. Look at how much I really do want to study. Look at how bad I feel because I’m not studying.” The resulting procrastination is one form of self-defeat produced by inner passivity.
If this analysis is correct, you can begin to apply the insight to your daily experience. You want to stop your inner critic from being so intrusive in your life. That requires you to recognize your inner passivity which is the unconscious part in your psyche that enables and tolerates your inner critic. Deeper insight reveals your emotional attachments to feeling controlled, helpless, and criticized.
As we emerge from inner passivity, we connect with our authentic self. When this sense of self emerges from within, we are empowered, and we start to recognize and represent our best interests. Now you would be able to stop interpreting the need to study as something you’re forced to submit to. Ultimately, you want studying to be a conscious choice you make to acquire knowledge, empower yourself, and feel the pleasure of fulfillment and accomplishment.
Reader’s reply: I think you explained it very well. It has already helped a bit. I think I have a lot of inner passivity. Just doing things to prove the “critic” wrong is often not enough. It pops up in every area of my life. It’s very hard to get under control. Seeing through this dynamic takes a lot of energy. When I’m tired or feel ill, passivity is more likely to creep in because it all feels too familiar.
Do you think this evolved consciousness settles in eventually? After such realizations, I sometimes still rebel against my better self and refuse to look deeper again. Or I get lost in the outside world and I forget my own role. It does take energy to keep focusing on yourself.
Your book has been very helpful, but I feel as if both my inner critic and passivity are so strong and familiar. . . Just wondering, does it get better? Can it become your “first” nature? Would you have any tips to beat passivity when you physically feel low in energy?
It feels difficult for me to stay in control of myself, yet not be rigid or fearful of “forgetting this knowledge and reverting back,” especially after wallowing in passivity for so long. Indeed, when I let go and get very submerged in something (like studying), I’m overcome with helplessness and I have difficulty raising my hopes again—even with new knowledge. Overall, I cannot say how much your insights have helped me. It means so much to me to know there is a way out.
My response: It can take a long time—sometimes many years—to work inner passivity out of our system and tame our inner critic. If we practice daily attention to this knowledge, we can observe gradual progress from month to month. This can leave us feeling deeply gratified and encouraged. It helps to be patient as we allow our destiny to unfold.
The inner critic will continue to “pop up” on a regular basis. Now, though, we see it more clearly for what it is—a primitive aggression in our psyche that will continue to rule us unless we intervene. Each time we expose it, and manage not to take it so seriously or be intimidated by it, we are weakening it.
You say, “It does take energy to keep focusing on yourself.” Actually, we focus on ourselves in a negative way (and plunge into self-centeredness) when we’re hopelessly caught in inner conflict. In contrast, we benefit by deeper awareness because it starts to shift the focus from our suffering on to the dynamics of our psyche. This awareness protects us from our harsh inner critic. We no longer need to concoct inner defenses that burn up a lot of energy.
You’re right that inner passivity can be a bigger problem when you’re tired or feeling ill. Yet inner passivity can be directly associated with feeling tired or ill, so you’ll likely feel better physically as well as emotionally when you’re breaking free of it. My tip: Keep your eye on the ball and don’t let inner passivity or the inner critic run your life. See these aspects of yourself in a neutral way, not as something to regret or be ashamed about or feel overwhelmed by. Try to love yourself even as you see your weaknesses.
A deeper connection with our authentic self becomes our “first” nature as we resolve the conflict between inner passivity and inner aggression (the inner critic).