Psychology and psychotherapy, at their best, can be opportunities for self-knowledge and well-being. While it’s true that any of us can become seriously troubled with psychological problems, we do so usually because we fail to understand our own psychology, not because we are “sick” or “ill.”
Science and technology have made great progress. We all enjoy things that would have been unimaginable to people living 100 years ago. Smart phones, GPS devices, computers, cars, planes were all just dreams not long ago. We make time to learn how to make good use of this technology. But we often don’t make the time to learn how to use our minds well. Our culture does not seem to value learning how to “live psychologically.”
That’s a shame because we suffer tremendously as a result.
For example, if our schools taught us how to manage our thoughts and feelings, not only would there be much less suffering in the world, but we’d be a lot healthier in mind and body. We now know that “negative self talk” is at the core of problems such as anxiety and depression. And chronic anxiety and depression drive the behaviors that lead to substance abuse, heart disease, diabetes and other debilitating illnesses.
Negative self talk results from our mismanaged thoughts and feelings. This sets the stage for a vicious cycle of negative states of mind and inaccurate, but powerful, negative assumptions about ourselves and our lives. We need to learn how to respect the power of our thoughts and feelings. They can create joy and well-being, or woe and misery. If we learn how to manage our thoughts and feelings, we’ll be able to have more joy and less misery.
We pay a steep price for our wrong assumptions about what is “normal and healthy.” We tend to evaluate our own lives on the basis of these false assumptions. One false assumption that leads us astray is the idea that normal and healthy people have one stable identity, a trouble free “I” or “me.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Our psychology involves forces that are often in conflict. If we deny and avoid these conflicts and contradictions, we cut ourselves off from important parts of who we are.
There is an art and science to learning how to creatively work with all parts of ourselves. In doing so, we generate self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is the basis of a high quality and healthy life. The difference between living with, or without, self-knowledge is the difference between driving at night with your lights on or off.
The ancient Greeks understood the need to cultivate a balanced and harmonious relationship with the gods. The gods of the ancient Greeks were not in the sky. The Greek gods were the forces at play in human psychology, personified as gods.
By believing the false-to-fact assumption that we should be only one stable identity, we cut ourselves off from many of the “gods” and so from the deeper parts of our lives.
These deeper parts are the realm of soul and spirit. A life of depth and meaning is a life of inner work and self-understanding. If we live at the surface, we can get caught in the American hypnotic trance that money is the way to keep score in life.
A life filled with boatloads of money and material things is not necessarily the good life. However financially wealthy we might become, if we live in a surface identity the size of a postage stamp, without access to our depths, we’ll wind up living poorly.
Our “psychological problems” can be coded messages that we are not living true to our heart. If we’re confined in an ego identity too small for who we deeply are, then we can’t create a life that can be well lived, loved and understood.
We didn’t come here to be confused, age, get ill and then die. The painful crush of life drives many of us to close up and become hardened. The exit from misery and the opening of our deepest possibilities often comes by facing our pain and confusion with friendship and generosity.
Often times we need to recover what the Dalai Lama refers to as the “gift of tears.” To connect to our pain and weep, instead of holding it in and shutting down, grants great relief. It’s like a profound psychological sneeze. Facing ourselves with a tender heart opens up opportunities for a fresh view. And for more positive self-talk sourced from love, humor and wisdom.
Dr. Jim Manganiello is a clinical psychologist and diplomate-level medical psychotherapist based in Groveland and West Boxford. He is also an author and teacher focusing on stress, personal growth, meditation and “inner fitness.” His book “Unshakable Certainty” is available on Amazon. Email him at email@example.com or visit www.drjimmanganiello.com.