Is there perhaps one basic insight, one key awareness, that we humans have to learn, and learn quickly, to help us avoid catastrophe from climate change, nuclear weapons, spreading psychosis, and multispecies extinction?
I recently purchased a book titled A Gap in Nature: Discovering the World’s Extinct Animals, which has on its book jacket an artful rendering of a Dodo bird. When I was a young teenager, I spoke about this bird, this phoenix of Mauritius, at a school speaking contest. I mentioned that human interventions had wiped them out, and apparently my voice’s sorrowful mystification at that point convinced judges (did I guilt-trip them?) to award me first place.
I’m not mystified now as to why we might soon follow the dodo into the void. I understand why the human race is fated to self-destruct. The knowledge is found in depth psychology, which exposes our compulsion to recycle and replay unresolved negative emotions and to suffer the accompanying self-defeat. Are climate change and nuclear weapons just props or means we’ve created to act out this fate?
Our extinction can and must be avoided. We may be fated collectively to self-destruct, yet we’re not destined to do so. We’re destined, I’m sure, to create a world in which we become increasingly peaceful, united, and wise. When we learn, one person at a time, to see ourselves more objectively, with insight into our compulsion to act self-destructively, we acquire the knowledge and wisdom to fulfill our destiny.
The notion that our species is compulsively self-defeating and self-destructive has been explored extensively by psychoanalysts for more than 100 years. (Readers can find summaries of these discussions at Wikipedia, under repetition compulsion and death drive.) Many people desperately don’t want to believe we’re so foolish and obtuse. They can’t deal emotionally with inner truth, which is experienced as highly offensive to our ego and self-image. Even modern psychology denies the fact that hidden dynamics in our psyche make us our own worst enemy, claiming that such a contention blames the “poor” victims of emotional suffering for fostering their own misery.
Nobody is to blame. We don’t usually produce our suffering consciously. Emotional suffering and its accompanying self-defeating behaviors occur because the extensive inner conflict that simmers and often clashes in the psyche of most people operates beneath conscious awareness. Human beings are dodos when it comes to recognizing the various aspects of these inner dynamics.
When forced to acknowledge, say, the daunting mental health crisis, experts blame the problem on deviant genes, irregular brain chemistry, flawed thinking, bad parenting, poor leadership, and the stupidity or malice of others. The conflicted psyche mostly goes unmentioned. Little useful information is revealed in the media or in schools concerning how we ourselves unwittingly maintain and act out unresolved psychological dynamics that generate misery.
I couldn’t see inner conflict in myself for the longest time. Most people have more than one such conflict, and here was one of mine: Consciously, I very much wanted to feel my value, yet deep in my unconscious, at an emotional default position hidden from my awareness, I was strongly identified with myself as a person lacking in value.
Unconsciously, I looked for opportunities to feel this lack of value or respect. I didn’t understand at all my emotional attachment to this feeling. I took personally any slights from others or signs of their indifference. A sucker for suffering, I repeatedly jumped into the frying pan to simmer in the juices of unworthiness.
To cover up (defend against) my hidden willingness to endure this painful negative emotion, I would often blame others and get angry at them for supposedly disrespecting me. How clever of me to hide inner truth from myself! How self-defeating and self-damaging it was to go on deluding myself in this way! I simply didn’t have the self-knowledge that would have brought fuller intelligence to my rescue.
Millions of everyday people are plagued by the impression of being a lesser person. This largely unconscious identification is an emotional and psychological misreading of one’s essential value, a misreading that derives from inner conflict: “I want to feel value but I’m unconsciously compelled to resonate emotionally with the impression of lacking it.” Inner truth reveals this conflict and exposes the degree to which we’ve been denying or covering up our resonance with (or emotional entanglement in) this feeling of lacking value. Inner truth, in other words, empowers our intelligence, which in turn leads us out of conflict and suffering.
How important is it to know this? It is, as just one example, the driving force behind white nationalism, and it’s a factor in the ascendency of Donald Trump. White nationalism (or any pretense of racial supremacy) arises in people who need some tribal or group identification to sustain themselves emotionally. They feel their value is diminished as they observe other racial groups flourishing. Their inner emotional foundation is weak, yet they’re unable for a variety of reasons to recognize and take responsibility for this inner weakness. They grasp at some illusion of value to avoid collapsing into reactive blame and anger or the depression and despair associated with self-doubt and self-alienation.
People don’t want to see how emotionally attached they are to various negative emotions, such as feeling unworthy, refused, deprived, helpless, criticized, rejected, abandoned, and unloved. Much of the time, we unconsciously indulge in these emotions. We cozy up to them at every opportunity. As just one example, we unconsciously engage in a psychological process called “negative peeping” whereby we look for situations in daily life that we interpret in such a way as to generate these negative emotions within us.
Parents aren’t to blame for this, though bad parenting can make things worse for us. Inner conflict originates in human nature, as an aspect of our biology, in a process that I describe in many of my books. We simply go on repeating, even when painful, what is unresolved. Sigmund Freud was right to call this dynamic the repetition compulsion. Very rarely now do psychotherapists disclose to their clients the facets of the repetition compulsion and the inner dynamics that generate negative emotions. Psychotherapists cannot help us find our inner truth until they, within themselves, have grappled with and made headway in overcoming this dark side.
It’s important now to distinguish self-sabotage from the underlying emotional attachments that are mentioned in italics two paragraphs above. Inner conflict consists of emotional attachments to those above negative emotions, while self-sabotage is the consequence of our entanglement in (and unconscious willingness to recycle) those negative emotions. Self-sabotage has, of course, a wide variety of manifestations, including anger, hatred, cynicism, greed, apathy, bitterness, regret, hopelessness, unworthiness, disconnection from self, lack of self-regulation, and impressions of being a victim.
As we study this knowledge, we can trace our self-sabotage back to its source. Our intelligence and wisdom are enhanced when we uncover within ourselves the hidden dynamics that have been supporting psychological dysfunction. We also expose the emotional-mental operating systems that have been supporting our defenses, projections, identifications, and transference, all of which have been undermining our intelligence. We manage to uncover and understand the biggest conflict of all, the daily battle between our inner passivity and our inner critic.
Learning all of this doesn’t have to be any harder than becoming adept at a new software program (providing we overlook unconscious resistance). The learning dismantles the primitive inner dynamics and empowers our intelligence. We connect with our authentic self and now have much greater capacity to flourish in life and to embody higher attributes.
We’re trying to raise our consciousness. Higher consciousness involves a growing range of understanding of what is real, true, and important. We might, for instance, understand that consciousness permeates all of life and that, as humans, we stand, in regards to our planet, at the apex of consciousness. Logically, this would make us custodians of the planet, just as we would hope that some sort of transcendent consciousness throughout and beyond our planet functions as custodian of our wellbeing and that of Earth.
Our consciousness can be elevated in a wide variety of ways. Anyone who tries with some success to live with kindness, to become wise, to honor the unity of life, and to resist the appeal of self-aggrandizement is becoming more conscious. Learning inner truth, the underlying facts concerning the operations of our personal psychology, also makes us more conscious.
When we’re inwardly conflicted, just living with kindness can be very difficult. Many well-intentioned people are unable to muster kindness and generosity. When inner conflict is not understood, negative emotions are likely to contaminate our perceptions and cast us into painful self-absorption.
Lacking deeper awareness, we’re compelled to be enablers of our suffering self. Humans have a mandate to become loving creatures, and inner truth expedites the process. Now more than ever our mind must seek inner truth because our spirit and planet are starving for more consciousness.
Read Peter’s latest book, Who’s Afraid of Inner Truth, at Amazon.com