No surprise that people are emotionally challenged by the staggering advances of modern technology, the economy’s abrupt U-turns, and the disruptions of old established ways. We’re future-shock fast-forwarding, hoping the zeitgeist can survive the frenzy.
How are you, dear reader, holding up? Are you feeling confused, anxious, or overwhelmed? Are you slipping into cynicism, hopelessness, or despair? The times are perilous, yet being overwhelmed by events and circumstances derives from an emotional weakness we can learn to overcome.
Many people—perhaps most of us—can feel our emotional resilience buckling at times. It’s a passive feeling, the sense of being impaired, stressed, or exhausted to some degree by life’s difficult moments and challenging circumstances. We find ourselves befuddled, undecided, and acting incompetently, while pulled in all directions.
People struggling emotionally often claim their problems stem from an overwhelming world rather than their own psychological frailty. They’re fooling themselves. Sure, we’re facing climate catastrophe, and people are dealing with money worries, stressful jobs, relationship disharmony, and family dysfunction. Yet it’s inner conflict, a congenital infirmity of human nature, that most often instigates the undermining sense of being overwhelmed.
Just about everyone vacillates between wanting to feel strong while succumbing to feelings of weakness. This happens when we struggle with cravings for sugar, alcohol, or drugs. It happens when we decline to address deteriorating situations at home, in the workplace, or the nation. This weakness can be fatal: It’s at play in our passive reaction to the threats of climate change.
Inner conflict compels us to experience mental and emotional weakness and misery. Monitor your thoughts and feelings to get a sense of this. For instance, if you harbor resentment toward certain people because they’ve apparently done you an injustice, you’re giving them the power to continue to disturb your peace of mind. They’re not your problem. Your problem is your unconscious willingness to go on feeling annoyed or hurt by something they might have done days, weeks, months, or years ago. Here you’re entangled in inner conflict. You want to be strong, yet you’re also enticed to cozy up to lingering self-doubt and feelings of being disrespected, helpless, victimized, and oppressed. Back and forth you go between wanting to feel strong versus generating experiences of feeling weak, defeated, or victimized. Now, you’re knowing and experiencing yourself through inner conflict.
I have many examples here of inner conflict. They’re intended to show the broad scope of such conflict and how it contributes to feeling overwhelmed. Hopefully, these examples are not so plentiful as to, uh, overwhelm readers.
We can easily feel overwhelmed by choices and decisions involving food, diet, exercise, career, relationships, and social or political involvement. Indecision, procrastination, ambivalence, and faltering self-regulation are fraught with inner conflict and the sense of being overwhelmed. When we get caught up in a never-enough-time feeling, or find ourselves rushing to get somewhere, we can be unwittingly intensifying the feeling of being helpless and overwhelmed.
When we’re passive to the processes of our mind—particularly to incessant and negative inner chatter—we can feel overwhelmed by our mind’s “refusal” to come to heel. An anxiety or panic attack—or chronic fearfulness—are other intense feelings of being conflicted, disconnected, and overwhelmed. Some people are overwhelmed by guilt and shame.
Gambling casinos take advantage of this inherent weakness; they want their “patrons” to operate in a passive trance. Authoritarian governments depend, of course, on docile people. Anti-abortion activists are driven in part by an unconscious compulsion to impose a passive acquiescence upon women. Driving this compulsion is their unconscious willingness, as they identify with the plight of tethered women, to resonate deep in their own psyche with compliance and submissiveness.
Minorities and the poor can feel overwhelmed by their exploitation in labor, housing, and financial markets. Their psychological weakness brings out the worst in themselves and in their oppressors. The oppressors can feel compelled to maintain the oppression, with its accompanying sense of superiority, to cover up or deny the inherent weakness and self-doubt at the core of their own inner conflict.
People who gravitate to political extremes of the Left or Right can be using their ideological positions as forms of stubbornness or resistance. Their grievance-filled ideologies are an illusion of power that covers up the weakness built into underlying inner conflict. They adopt their dogma unconsciously, to “protect” them from what their psychological resistance determines to be an overwhelming challenge: becoming less conflicted, thereby wiser and more balanced. Meanwhile, exhibitionistic politicians on the political fringes are swept up in self-importance, which is their unconscious reaction to inner weakness. Determined to pose as strong and forceful, they’re in fact overwhelmed by their own narcissism and rendered stupid by it.
We can feel conflicted and overwhelmed trying to separate truth from falsehood. Many people have latched on to irrational beliefs (e.g., the federal government staged 9/11; the QAnon nonsense) because such beliefs provide them with a stubborn certainty that quells the anxiety arising from their inner-conflict induced failure to emotionally assimilate complexity, chaos, and scary realities.
Participation in wanton mob behavior is fueled by an overwhelming thrill of being on the cutting edge of “righteous” power. The thrill is a defense, a coverup and unhealthy compensation for a passive disconnect from one’s better self. The imposter syndrome is also a symptom of this weak disconnect from self. Such people are likely to be “star-struck” on meeting a celebrity, which is their instantaneous experience of being disconnected and overwhelmed.
Some people speculate in a worrisome way about the future. They’re unwittingly using the future and its uncertainty to feel more anxious and thereby more overwhelmed in the present. Even sensible goal-setting, when accompanied by a conviction that happiness depends on future developments, can be employed unwittingly to feel overwhelmingly helpless to having any influence on the passage of time.
The hidden motivation in many of our activities—involving sports, business, wealth accumulation, social climbing—can be propelled in part by the felt need to create a lifestyle into which we can comfortably frame our existence and quell our anxious interface with the unknown. People choose distractions or zoning-out to the “overwhelming” implications of their existence, adopting a mentality that frames life around safety, vindication, and the illusions spawned by ego-identification.
We can also, in resistance to feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of making friends, hide out in loneliness. Some people are afraid of intimacy because love feels too overwhelming; they fear they’ll lose themselves in the intensity of it. Young adults sometimes continue living with their parents because the outside world feels too overwhelming. Other adults don’t leave their familiar surroundings for more expansive opportunities in urban areas because the idea of doing so feels overwhelming.
As other examples, people become hypochondriacs as a result of being unconsciously prepared to feel, through their physical ailments and discomforts, helpless and passively overwhelmed by the disturbances of their body. Post-traumatic stress disorder is the aftereffect of having been powerfully overwhelmed by an event or series of events.
Feeling oneself to be weak—to a point where it’s experienced as intrinsic to one’s self—stems from the underlying weakness of inner passivity. This weakness, a significant ingredient in inner conflict, is a biological leftover from the many years we lived, as children, in relative helplessness and dependency. The passivity even involves a compulsion within us—a masochistic dalliance with suffering—to linger and become stuck in feelings associated with a lack of resilience, purpose, and direction. In worst cases, people are overwhelmed with the intensity of their self-doubt, self-rejection, and even self-hatred, leading to depression and suicide.
The uptick in adolescent and teenage sadness is understandable in this context. Studies of young people show a significant correlation between time spent on social media and mood disorders. Social media introduce vast new dimensions, complexities, and modes of existence into the lives of the young as they struggle to know and orient themselves. Feeling like voyeurs, not actors, in the drama of life, their consciousness is overwhelmed. As their world becomes more virtual, less real, they feel control slipping away, along with self-regulation. This doesn’t mean social media is dangerous in itself. It means, instead, that we need to teach young people the basics of inner conflict to help us all become stronger emotionally.
Some students feel overwhelmed by the breadth of the knowledge they’re required to learn. They easily slip into painful, self-defeating procrastination. Through inner passivity, they’re inclined to experience their studies through self-doubt and weakness. When stronger and less passive, they’re able to accumulate the knowledge enjoyably, bit by bit, day by day, with the self-assurance of success.
Sometimes the overwhelmed feeling is a product of self-oppression, when individuals, through inner passivity, allow their inner critic to assume a domineering stance that holds them accountable and obliges them to answer to its arbitrary, despotic authority. You feel like the pawn of inner directives.
Ignorance of our psyche’s inner dynamics is dangerous. Artificial intelligence, which some are calling humanity’s greatest invention, is poised to intrude forcefully into our ways of doing things. Will we be overwhelmed by the uncanniness of this technology and induced into more passivity, or will our intelligence, discernment, and wisdom keep us ahead of the game? A.I. development is driven, in part, by the profit motive and egotistic fervor. Has our psychological know-nothingism and hidden masochism embraced capitalism’s animal spirits for the secret purpose of overwhelming ourselves to death?
Greater wisdom is accessed through psychological self-knowledge, especially in regards to the existence and dynamics of inner conflict and its main components: inner passivity, the inner critic, psychological defenses, and neurotic sensitivities to the first hurts of childhood (feeling deprived, refused, controlled, helpless, criticized, rejected, betrayed, and abandoned.) The means to liberate ourselves from this psychological mayhem is laid out coherently in the articles on this website and in my books.
It might help to make a list of the experiences that feel overwhelming to you. Look at the list and try to feel the part of you that gives each item its power to overwhelm you. Recognize that the passive feeling is a repressed, limited identification that operates upon us like an emotional addiction. This awareness can help you feel more in charge of your daily experiences. The passive feeling is a psychological anomaly, not some hard-wired aspect of you. With this self-knowledge, your intelligence can override inner passivity, zap the inner critic, and eradicate inner conflict.
Here’s an earlier post on this subject I wrote on this website almost 11 years ago.