After four years of writing, I’m close to completing my latest book. This month’s post is an excerpt from it. The book, still untitled, shows how inner conflict is a primary influence affecting social, political, and economic dysfunction. In general, people have not understood or acknowledged this vital connection between our own personal psychological issues and the collective dysfunction that plagues communities and nations.
This following excerpt is from the start of Chapter 2. Any readers who spot problems with grammar, reasoning, flow or other aspects of syntax please let me know. If a book title pops into your head, I’m all ears! I anticipate being done by March.
(I was recently interviewed by Dr. Jean Latting, Professor Emerita at the University of Houston. The video is here.)
The Sad Sordidness of Inner Conflict
In one of his great poems, the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote (as rendered in modern English), “Oh would some Power the gift to give us / to see ourselves as others see us!” Yes, that would indeed provide us with enlightening and in many cases humbling and even shocking new perceptions of ourselves.
To become free of inner conflict, we need to see ourselves in all our strengths and weaknesses. Yet the psychological dynamics that make up inner conflict are largely unconscious. Seeing examples of this inner blindness can help us to understand why we’re not only blocked from seeing ourselves realistically, but we’re also disinclined to do so.
For more than 100 years, psychoanalysis has been trying to explain the hazards and dynamics of inner conflict. Yet people still don’t get it. Unconscious resistance and denial hamper our ability to see ourselves more objectively. People are not only unaware of the dynamics of inner conflict, most of us, including many mental-health professionals, aren’t even recognizing the existence of it within ourselves.
Unresolved inner conflict is a prime instigator of egotism, defensiveness, passivity, incessant desires, hostility, and violence. This inner discord, when unrecognized, renders us unwitting self-saboteurs who blindly foment personal misery and impair human progress.
We know that America faces a mental-health crisis. And much has been written on the erosion of mental health in the modern world. Contributing to this threat to personal and collective wellbeing is inner conflict, which induces neurotic symptoms in “normal” everyday people, making them more thin-skinned, dull, fearful, passive, and uninspired. The human cost is amplified by inner conflict’s talent for also generating irrationality, stupidity, cruelty, and paranoia. Democracy itself is at stake. Inner conflict is a kind of inner anarchy that involves illegitimate authority, cowering passivity, and arbitrary rules and punishments. In comparison, our resolution of inner conflict establishes an inner governance where rationality and goodwill prevail. With this inner democracy, law and order reign and the best of who we are is in charge.
How do we resolve inner conflict? For starters, exposing it makes us more conscious. We recognize what we haven’t wanted to see and we learn what we haven’t wanted to know. In essence, we begin to see how inner conflict produces a compulsive participation in suffering and self-defeat. Inner conflict is the underlying basis for these distressful inconsistencies from everyday life:
- How many jealous people know (or want to know) that they’re strongly tempted to indulge in the unresolved negative emotions of rejection and betrayal?
- How many compulsive gamblers know they’re unconsciously addicted to the feeling of losing?
- How many envious people are aware that they’re emotionally attached to feeling deprived or refused?
- How many greedy people know their greed covers up their unconscious identification with themselves as lacking in intrinsic value?
- How many bitter and angry people are conscious of the fact that these negative emotions serve, much of the time, to cover up their indulgence in some sense of being victimized, oppressed, trapped, refused, or disrespected?
- How many fearful people know that their fear derives from their unconscious willingness to curry lingering emotional associations of childhood helplessness and powerlessness?
- How many addictive personalities can see that their out-of-control behavior is, to a significant degree, the result of an unconscious attachment (a compulsion to recycle and replay leftover emotional associations from childhood) to the feeling of being helpless or powerless?
People frequently dangle ambivalently between a strong-to-vague impression of a true or noble self who’s awaiting discovery within us versus a “false self” that’s drawn to the riotous excitement of risky or naughty misbehavior. Here’s the thing, self-defeat or self-sabotage are directly connected to inner conflict. These additional examples of inner conflict can help us understand this connection.
— Consciously, we want to feel strong and resilient, but unconsciously we can easily resonate emotionally with being weak, helpless, and lacking in self-regulation. In our psyche, misery abounds as this passive side of inner conflict accepts the punishment doled out by our inner critic.
— Consciously, we want to be respected, yet unconsciously we’re often bombarded by our inner critic’s harsh disrespect. This conflict makes us thin-skinned, sensitive to feeling disrespected, and prone to taking things personally. We’re often first in line to disrespect ourselves.
— Consciously, we want to feel our value and worthiness, yet unconsciously we compulsively undermine our sense of worth with persistent feelings of being insignificant, unworthy, and defective. This conflict often features intrusive and defeatist memories, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs with which we continue to punish ourselves.
— Consciously, we want to feel loved, yet unconsciously we’re prepared to indulge in feelings of being rejected, abandoned, and betrayed. Self-pity arises, along with the lament, “Nobody loves me, nobody cares.” Fear of intimacy often arises because the possibility of abiding love is associated with the prospect of rejection, betrayal, and control.
Can you see now why we hate to acknowledge inner conflict? Recognizing and understanding it, especially as it applies to one’s own psyche, shatters our self-image. The knowledge exposes the extent of our unwitting participation with the dark side. Our ego structure, with its conscious and unconscious defenses, “protects us” from recognizing inner conflict’s recurring self-damage. Instinctively, our conscious ego refuses to be humbled by realization of this inner folly—and we go along mindlessly with the program. Of course, this ego structure with which we identify is not protecting our best interests at all, but only its self-image and ego-ideal. Because of our ego-identification, inner truth registers as a narcissistic insult.
Let’s look at more examples of how personal inner conflicts contaminate the national scene. Consciously, people want to feel worthy and significant, but many are racists or white supremacists whose noxious beliefs and perceptions serve to deny or cover up their own repressed emotional associations with being unworthy, inferior, and defective. When they judge others maliciously, they’re doing to others what their own inner critic does to them. Even as they actively target others with their racism, they are still identifying unconsciously with the targets of their racism. They’re feeling deep within themselves what it’s like to be marginalized. They make this identification because, due to their inner critic’s self-denigration, they’re familiar with the feeling of being on the receiving end of contempt. Such identifications compound the problem, serving as a feedback loop that stimulates inner conflict and persistently fuels unpleasant supremacist sentiments. Meanwhile, millions of passive bystanders resonate with white supremacy and vote accordingly because their own inner dynamics nod to the beat.
Other times, racism derives directly from inner fear. Irrational fears left over from childhood still haunt the adult psyche. An individual feels the fear unconsciously, semi-consciously, or psychosomatically, and the fear is displaced onto the concept of being overwhelmed or displaced by people of color as if they represent a threatening alien intrusion. The inner conflict here involves the conscious desire to be a strong, mature person versus the recurring, tormenting, unresolved fearfulness that induces irrationality along with feelings of weakness and helplessness.
Dictators, along with many democratic politicians and citizens, are also plagued with inner conflict, one that produces lust for power, fame, and wealth. They prize power and attention because their psyche evaluates these attainments as indicators of personal supremacy. For them, it’s black and white: Either be supreme or else suffer the pangs of feeling empty and insignificant. Just as our inner critic, the faux dictator in our psyche, is dethroned by our growing awareness, so too will be—we dare to decree—dictators and unfit politicians. These psychological misfits are too conflicted and thereby too needy for the ego-gratification that their so-called power brings.
We haven’t accepted emotionally our lack of evolvement, a lack that’s been apparent in the denial of our delicate relationship with this planet. We easily become enthralled with technology, culture, and personalities, in no small measure because, however modest our circumstances, we plant ourselves on a feedback loop that swings impressive human achievement back upon ourselves as personal honor, validation, and grounds for preening individualism. This is not a display of quality consciousness but a measure of how inner conflict seizes on vanity to cover up self-doubt.
Meanwhile, our conscious ego, with which so many of us identify, much prefers the inner status quo, however lacking, over inner growth. When this all begins to sink in, when we finally start to get it, our ego’s first inkling of its obliviousness to the extent of its ignorance produces a jolt of incredulity. As we, through our ego’s frame of reference, realize the extent of our lack of self-knowledge, we’re stunned by a mortifying sense of humiliation. Gradually, as if going through stages of grief, we come into acceptance of inner truth. Fortunately, we’re soon delighted to experience how the detailed knowledge of our unconscious collusion in suffering begins to erode the restrictions on our intelligence, as it diminishes the painful symptoms of inner conflict.
Recognizing our psychological naiveté, we can save face a bit by appreciating that we’re basically innocent, being where we just happen to be on the evolutionary spectrum. Still, innocence might not protect us from annihilation, just as it hasn’t protected so many other earth-bound species that have fallen by the wayside.