The initial steps for managing severe physical or mental health problems focus on controlling symptoms. We want treatment for our distress. The emotional bleeding of regret and anxiety must be curtailed. The paralysis of hesitation and doubt must be relieved. Likewise, we want comfort for our major losses and frightening experiences. We expect reassurance about our failures and consolation for defeat.
These first aid techniques must eventually be supplanted by long-range efforts to address the underlying problems. The crucial issues in psychic self-destruction are the basic vulnerabilities that keep us on the edge of anxiety, discouragement, resentment, and guilt. Until we repair a wounded self-concept, the habits of pessimism, fatalism, and our distrust of people, we will retain the seeds that recreate much psychic self-destruction. This means working to build up the beliefs and practices that generate confidence, competence, cheerfulness, and many other qualities that we need for success.
The core issues behind repeated psychic self-destruction usually involve a faulty view about our life experiences and who we are. All the reassurance in the world will not cure us if we still believe we are incompetent, unloved, and unworthy. Even angels blessing us with continual joy will not cure persistent depression, if we cling to the conviction that life is miserable and nothing good will ever happen. Likewise, the individual who wallows in resentment about the “terrible injustices” they have suffered will not recover as long as they keep renewing their anger.
Genuine cures for psychic self-destruction require us to change our fundamental paradigm. We need to overhaul the values, convictions, and beliefs that continually reproduce disappointment, incubate resentment, and energize anxiety. While any effort to make these revisions will arouse every one of the ego’s bodyguards, we must break away from our old ways that perpetuate our suffering.
In effect, we must update our “mental software.” This will require developing new definitions of health based on mature qualities—not the absence of distress. We will need new methods for coping that are entirely proactive—not defensive. Building and protecting our self-esteem must come from activities we perform and control—not by demanding that others change or by finding fault with them. Our awareness of the richness of opportunities must increase, and we will need to expand our understanding of our human and divine potentials. While this task is daunting, there are several helpful techniques we can employ.
The very first step requires us to apply authentic rational thinking to re-examining our major memories, views, and habits. This means we must do more than reshuffle old beliefs and stereotypes. Many seemingly mature adults have not had a fresh thought about old problems and distress in years. Instead of an honest mental review of our major experiences, most of us just recycle old feelings. We search our personal archives only for the same old interpretations and conclusions. The attempt to “think through” our experiences is therefore just another wasted effort that reshuffles old beliefs and assumptions. Not surprisingly, the same old attitudes and convictions are rediscovered. While many of us truly believe we are making an honest effort to understand old problems and heal them, most of the time we are just reinforcing the same old stereotypes.
The solution is to take a fresh look at ourself and our experiences—especially our frustrations. We need a new way of viewing them that allows for fresh insights and interpretations—not just the usual effort to list and relive the damage and suffering we have experienced. This inquiry can be directed by questions such as:
- What healthy message can I glean from this situation?
- What is a better attitude to take about this event?
- How can I build up a more confident view of my current circumstances?
Naturally, as soon as we attempt to make basic changes in our beliefs, the bodyguards of misery will be alerted to abort this process. They will attempt to supply the usual rationalizations—that we have been neglected or abused. In this way, they lure us back to blaming others, condemning society, and excusing ourself of further responsibilities. The most effective way to disarm these bodyguards is to begin by correcting the imbalances and inaccuracies that keep corrupting our ability to think effectively. Only then can we achieve an accurate analysis of what we have been doing to sustain our dark moods and misery— as well as what we can do to liberate new understanding, hope, and courage.
The updating of our mental software for thinking begins as we review and correct some of the major distortions in how we view and respond to our personal experiences. Many of these corrections occur in the process of growing out of childhood assumptions into adult beliefs. However, many never truly complete this process because they eventually presume their growth is complete. What they “just know and feel” about their life is valid forever. Unfortunately it is only a phase we are meant to pass through—not a stopping point.
There are many imbalances that distort our interpretations of life and conclusions about the meaning of our experiences. Until we recognize them, our view will be excessively colored by our personal pools of gloom, fear, resentment, and guilt. As a result, our habits of psychic self-destruction continue to generate much misery for us even after we have long ago passed through old conflicts and hardships.
The first imbalance is the tendency to concentrate excessive attention on what is wrong about our life, ignoring what is right. Not only do we make too little of our achievements and strengths, we make too much of our defeats and losses. One bit of criticism often seems more powerful than ten compliments. A single unpleasant memory of failure or embarrassment can be remembered frequently and in great detail— while good memories are taken for granted and then forgotten. Our obsession with the bad experiences of our life dooms us to a progressive decline in our ability to look at our situation with any degree of accuracy or fairness. Unless we make an effort to correct this imbalance, we will continue to miss much of life’s joys and rewards.
A second imbalance that we must correct is our habit of assuming the ghosts of our past will haunt us forever. The pain of old wounds, losses, and unmet needs will follow us all the days of our life as if they just happened yesterday. The inability to move on from our past can severely limit our capacity to embrace current opportunities. If we are haunted by guilt, fear, or remorse from the past, we create a mental fog that impairs our ability to engage good opportunities, turn on our enthusiasm, or enjoy our day.
Fortunately, the phantoms of our past are only that: powerful illusions we have created and can therefore dispel. All we need is a good imagination, some self-interest, and a bit of self-control. Preserving ghostly old moods of despair or resentment is definitely not in our best interests. These phantoms are just a load of trash we keep carrying around—a self-imposed burden.
There are two major ways to remove these phantoms. The first is to appreciate the differences between how we were when these old events occurred and who we are now. In most cases, the events of old conflicts have ceased. In addition, we are wiser, stronger, and in better control of ourself and our situation. As we repeatedly dwell in the realization of how different we are and how much our life situation has changed, we destroy the tentacles of leftover dark moods and the feeling of being wounded or deprived.
The second way to control the ghosts of past conflict and despair is to use our imagination as a laboratory for healing. We imagine what life would be like today if these unpleasant events had never happened, recreating them in a positive manner. This act of imagination serves as a mental “can opener” to release mature attitudes of confidence, hope, and cheerfulness. It enables us to engage current events and opportunities in a more mature way. The old attitudes will return later, and we will need to chase them away once again. In the meantime, however, we have broken the grip of dark memories. Every time we experience life free of these phantoms, we are exercising our mature and healthy thinking, attitudes, and expectations. This is exactly what we need to stop our psychic self-destruction and repair the damage it has caused us.
A third imbalance we need to correct is the tendency to focus our attention on other people and our outer circumstances as the sole source of our problems—as well as our likely rescue. We may fully understand that it is futile to obsess over these factors, but we do it anyway. Obviously, we need to concentrate on the one person we can control—ourself—plus our beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and expectations. Despite our belief that others owe us respect, support, and compensation, we need to be practical and realistic. It is self-reliance that will be the lifeblood for our healing and repair. It would be ideal if others would help us, but we cannot afford to depend on it happening. We need to focus primarily on what we can do for ourself, not on what others should do for us.
Healing change always begins within ourself. Moreover, it requires something greater than a desire or wish for improvement—we need the knowledge of what to do and the determination to do it. The process begins by identifying and reversing attitudes, beliefs, and habits that have supported or provoked resentment, disappointment, anxiety, guilt, or apathy. This could be the proverbial chip on our shoulder that too often looks for something to resent or someone to criticize. Or it could be our habit of assuming that anything we do will be futile, our ideas scorned, and our wants ignored. Likewise, it could be our tendency to see ourself as weak, incompetent, and undeserving. It is pointless to demand that others appreciate us if we fail to appreciate ourself. If we fail to believe in our own worth, we cannot expect others to do so. Reversing these dysfunctional parts of ourself is our responsibility. This work must be a top priority.
The fourth imbalance we need to understand and change is the tendency to assume everything we know, believe, and accept is valid and true forever. Once we decide “life is difficult” and “most people are out to get us,” we will misjudge almost every person and situation. After we conclude that “life is unfair” and “most people succeed by cheating,” we will have little enthusiasm or motivation to work with diligence or integrity. If we continue to think this way, we will fail to recognize or honor many good opportunities or the merits of good people and what they do. Our vision will be impaired by distrust and cynicism. Life will become a struggle of enduring one difficult experience after another—all because we will have blinded ourself to the noble aspects of people, their behavior, and life.
The correction of this imbalance requires the courage and integrity to challenge our assumptions.
We need to ask ourself several important questions:
- What do we really know about people and life, and how do we know this is true?
- Are we generalizing too much from too few experiences?
- Does the fact that a few people have treated us badly mean everyone will?
- Is a defeat or disappointment something that is permanent, or only until we try again?
These are some of the ways we must challenge old convictions. If we engage in this self-examination honestly and set aside our usual rationalizations, we will shatter many old false assumptions. In fact, frequent repetition will let in the light of wisdom and common sense. In this way, we can more accurately assess the value of current events and the opportunities in them. Unless we eliminate faulty beliefs and expectations, we will keep renewing and adding to our poor judgment and conclusions, thereby sustaining psychic self-destruction.