The Mental Gatekeeper

One of psychology’s most popular images is that of the gatekeeper strategically positioned between the conscious and unconscious minds to prevent certain unconscious contents from emerging into conscious awareness. We imagine some sort of autonomous process that filters out the unacceptable while allowing only “the good stuff” to pass. The trouble with this notion is the way it absolves ego of any responsibility for what is happening. If the process is autonomous, who, or what, is deciding what will pass through the gate and what will not?

Gatekeeper at Work

Our mental gatekeeper, the origin of repression is entirely of our own making. (Image: Wikipedia)

What we are talking about here is repression and how it happens.

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How to Recognize Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is usually defined as “the feeling of discomfort when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values, or emotional reactions.” (Wikipedia) Or, “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes.” (COED) The less familiar aspect of the distressing mental state – that we can also get into trouble when our beliefs and our actions do not coincide – gets less attention. This situation may go beyond the simple case of conscience and morality, of doing something we know is wrong and then feeling guilty (moral cognitive dissonance). It is quite possible to stumble into serious and painful cognitive dissonance without realizing what has happened.

Cup of Cognition - The Childrens Cup, 1894

When we look upon our actions and see they do not coincide with our beliefs, we become distressed. This is one form of cognitive dissonance, a kind of jarring discord within the psyche. (Image: Wikipaintings)

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Disliking Yourself

Inner emptiness, the inability to tolerate being alone are symptomatic of a lack of self-knowledge, a poorly defined sense of self. Sufferers often describe the chronic condition as a feeling of loneliness. People with this problem usually have a desperate need for the regard and affection of others, said regard and affection providing the means to ward off, or at least ameliorate, painful self-dislike. Since they cannot accept themselves, they have a powerful need to forget themselves, to get out of themselves, to do something, anything, which will promote self-forgetfulness, self-oblivion. Psychologists claim that a lack of happy family life in childhood may lay the foundations for such a plight. A child unloved by its parents never learns to love itself.

Eleanor Rigby Statue in Liverpool

Like The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” you may experience self-alienation as a feeling of intense loneliness or inner emptiness. (photo: Erik Ribsskog)

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Repressed Wishes Can Sink You

For all the blocked writers and troubled individuals out there, here is something useful from Susan Quinn’s biography of psychologist Karen Horney. The book is titled, A Mind of Her Own. Quinn writes, “Only guilt feelings toward repressed wishes have an inimical influence on life, restrictive, making for illness.” In other words, all other psychological (as opposed to medical) scenarios are not severe enough to generate mental illness. Anyone who enters psychoanalysis is feeling guilty about repressed wishes. Many people not in analysis have the same problem.

Traveller with a staff leaning into a stiff headwind.

Trying to press on when you want to do something else can feel like battling a stiff headwind. You are waging war on yourself.

Once someone has entered analysis there are four key aspects to the procedure:

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The Troubled Hero Is a Champion of Individuality

Wotan Visits Mime

Heroes in myth, legend and literature are often profoundly troubled and provide deeper insights than action heroes. (Image: public Domain.)

The heroes we see in today’s action movies are quite different from the heroes of legend and literature. Film – being short and dealing largely with externals – does not easily allow for deep insights into a character’s inner life. Heroes played by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis are neither thoughtful nor subtle. They are never inwardly complex. Their heroism is all in the external world and conflicts are always struggles with other people or life-threatening situations. Such tales are certainly entertaining, but they provide nothing to illuminate the more psychological aspects of being human.

In myths, legends, and literature heroes serve a greater purpose. Through their heroic struggles, they demonstrate more than just singular physical feats or acts of physical courage. There is an inward component to their heroic adventures. These heroes are often profoundly troubled people. They have inner conflicts that have rendered them social misfits. They may be unusually sensitive, and/or intelligent, and because they are so different from the “well-adjusted” they suffer. Their suffering forces them into seldom-used paths quite far from the collective ones approved by society. They strive for things never attempted by the ordinary person. The battles along the way provide a great opportunity for strengthening personal growth. By trying to ease their pain, they have become extraordinary. They have inadvertently become heroic.

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Do You Know What You Really Want?

Silhouette of depressed man

Not knowing what you want can cause debilitating depression. There is a remedy, and you are already carrying it around with you. (Photo: Public Domain Pictures)

Have you become discouraged in life? Has it occurred to you to question what you are doing, or where you are going? Does the nagging feeling that “there must be more to life than this” eat away at you? Worse, have you entered the midlife crisis or had a full-blown psychological breakdown? All these things are distressing to one degree or another, and all, even the less pressing, require a remedy. They all stem from a loss of personal vision. That loss has come about because of an inner conflict, a conflict that probably remains below the threshold of conscious awareness.

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