December 19, 2010 at 06:59:15 By Peter Michaelson (about the author)
The collapse of the liberal resurgence of 2008, when Barack Obama swept to power, is evidence that some form of self-defeat is at play in the left-wing psyche. Obama is not solely responsible for this collapse. He's manifesting a weakness that's common to most liberals.
I believe that liberals and progressives--count me among them--are weakened significantly by a false article of faith. This false belief holds that national disharmony is caused by the malice, ignorance, and oppression of others, particularly the right wing and the oligarchy.
On a personal level, we also blame our dysfunction and unhappiness on others, namely parents, employers, misguided friends, insensitive loved ones, and soul-crushing society.
Fifty years ago many people had a different take on reality. According to classical psychoanalysis, dysfunctional government is directly related to inner conflict in the individual psyche. Together we create a society that mirrors our inner development. According to this view, the behaviors of bankers, federal regulators, or the media would not be considered the ultimate cause of the current financial crisis. Rather, the crisis arose from the lack of awareness and self-development on the part of us all. Accordingly, collective revolutionary actions won't necessarily transform this country for the better when many of its citizens remain psychologically naïve.
At present, the left is entangled in a victim mentality through which all the bad that happens is perceived as coming from outside sources. This belief is a kind of secular religion, and it causes us to collude unconsciously with the right wing in a political acting-out that maintains and enhances our sense of disappointment, oppression and injustice.
In other words, liberals are looking unconsciously for external elements or circumstances of oppression and injustice, particularly in our relationship to the GOP, in order to recycle our unresolved feelings from childhood of refusal, domination, and victimization. We haven't yet established inner freedom from these negative emotions that influence how we experience ourselves and the world. As we blame external factors and "oppressive" opponents, our acting-out enables us to deny and cover-up our own unresolved emotional issues and inner conflicts. Hence, we must continue to feel we're on the losing side.
The more heatedly we protest and complain about right-wing malice and ignorance, the more we are likely to be covering up (defending against) recognition of our own contribution to the nation's political, economic, and social distress.
Even the liberal fixation on Sarah Palin is a clue to our readiness to be defeated. We help to keep her in the spotlight and empower her because we can't let go of our morbid fascination with the idea of being forced to endure her small-minded mentality. The liberal psyche is titillated with the prospect of being ruled after the 2012 elections by a mama grizzly. (Conservatives do the same in their own fashion when they express fears of being overwhelmed by terrorists, immigrants, or a homosexual agenda.)
Conflicts, whether inner or outer, are typically unstable. They frequently deteriorate. Hence, in our self-defeat we could help to produce an authoritarian government. People invariably create the outcome predicted by their emotional weakness.
This self-defeating dynamic brings out the worst in conservatives, too. Conservatives are just as unconscious about inner processes as liberals, and the right wing becomes more intransigent, irrational, and bullying as its members unconsciously treat liberals in the manner that liberals, through their provocations and passive-aggressive reactions, indicate they are unconsciously prepared and even eager to experience.
The source of left-wing's collusion or psychological "acting-out" with the right wing is our ignorance of unresolved deep negativity in our psyche. This unconscious negativity is the inconvenient truth at the core of human nature. Up until the 1960s, psychoanalysis was hot on the trail of this repressed dark side that originates from the superego as well as from the death instinct (now being acted out by terrorists) and unconscious masochism. Human resistance short-circuited these investigations: the more deeply the dynamics of our psyche are exposed, the more resistance we experience. Our resistance is encountered because our ego feels under attack in a process of exposure that is quite humbling. Just as secret information from WikiLeaks panics the authorities, so do we all panic at secret knowledge from our psyche.
A process of avoidance began decades ago that has been described as "the closing of the American psyche." Psychology, psychiatry, and academia abandoned the study of inner life as the source of suffering and unhappiness. Instead, gender, culture, race, ethnicity, politics, economics, and other outside factors and forces were perceived as the root causes. Meanwhile, psychiatrists began to study only symptoms, not inner sources, as they gravitated to pharmacological treatments. Scientists appeared who promised freedom from suffering through the study of genetics and brain chemistry.
A mass denial of the inner life ensued, along with an exodus from the fascinating yet scary exploration of hidden motives, reactions, defenses, passivity, illusions, and fears.
Inundated by this tsunami of denial, psychoanalysis itself lost the scent in tracking our dark side. It ended up compromising with the emerging paradigm. These days the most common psychotherapies avoid examination of the irrational and instead focus on rational thinking, trying to override powerful emotional conflicts and undercurrents with mental gymnastics.
A creeping, insidious passivity is one outcome of this age of victimization. When we recognize that the sources of our pain emerge from within us, we find relief and even acquire substantial inner freedom through self-knowledge. This involves the study of projections, defensiveness, transference, identifications, and emotional attachments, as each of these apply to us personally. However, when we remain at the surface of our lives we can't fully access our inner power. We are more dependent on "experts" in medicine, psychiatry, and pharmacology, and we become pawns in a profit-motivated system of health. We believe that our suffering and dysfunction and that of others are beyond our reach and comprehension, lost in a maze of external factors.
The learning process involved in acquiring self-knowledge is empowering and contributes to one's overall intelligence. As we strengthen ourselves in this process, we more successfully believe in ourselves, express our feelings, discern truth, and practice the power of self-regulation.
What do we learn through this inner study? We discover that we tend to be attached emotionally to feeling deprived, refused, helpless, controlled, rejected, and criticized. These constitute negative emotions that become default positions in our psyche. These are feelings we already possess, going back to childhood, and which we have not resolved or even recognized as a problem. When such feelings from childhood are unresolved, all of us unconsciously find ways to experience them repeatedly in our world.
I know from my work as a psychotherapist that generally we are tempted to recycle (and even indulge in) the unresolved issues or negativity from our past. Then we cover up our participation in making ourselves unhappy by blaming others, thereby convincing ourselves we're the innocent victims of the malice or ignorance of others.
We have got to see ourselves more objectively in order to manifest our goodness, value, and power. Although it doesn't get much traction these days, classical psychoanalysis did uncover one hidden aspect of our psyche, known as "inner passivity." This deep negativity in us is both the enabler and the victim of our inner critic (superego). This passive part occupies inner territory that we haven't personally explored and claimed in the name of our own self.
People are compelled to experience their unresolved inner passivity, even though it is self-defeating. This accounts for why liberals would be determined unconsciously to continue feeling oppressed by right-wingers. Inner passivity is a key to understanding many variations of dysfunction and self-defeat. Addictive personalities, for instance, are unconsciously willing to recycle feelings of helplessness and submission that go back to childhood. As adults, they find in substance abuse a new battlefield on which to experience inner passivity. Lacking the power of self-regulation, they succumb to the demands of their craving. Their inner passivity makes them easy targets for a vicious superego, producing self-loathing and self-hatred.
I fear that Barack Obama has a streak of inner passivity and doesn't know it. His addiction to cigarettes is one piece of evidence for this. His insistent quest for compromise and bipartisanship could be a consequence and a cover-up of his passivity. It means he's ultimately intimidated by the GOP's primitive tactic of using vehement irrationality to feel and express power. All the while, though, Obama's passivity provokes the GOP to do its worst.
My view is that we can't count on anyone but ourselves. More than ever, "evolve or die" is the twitter of our times.
Peter Michaelson is an author and psychotherapist with a private practice in Ann Arbor, MI. He offers telephone sessions and specializes in marriage and partnership conflict resolution. His blog, books, and PDF files (of his books)are available at (more...
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