Healing ourselves: How to resolve our inner conflicts and use our power for good (#106)

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Jean Latting
May 23, 2023
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What if you had no inner critic telling you you’re just not good enough? What if you learned to silence your inner critic? What could you accomplish?

Highlights of today's interview

This week Jean interviews Peter Michaelson – depth psychologist, therapist, and author of nine books – about how our inner critic sabotages our growth. His work appears on his website, WhyWeSuffer.com. Below are highlights. For the full interview, read the transcript or watch the video.

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Introducing Peter Michaelson

This week Jean interviews Peter Michaelson – depth psychologist, therapist, and author of nine books – about how our inner critic sabotages our growth. His work appears on his website, WhyWeSuffer.com. Below are highlights. For the full interview, read the transcript or watch the video.

Jean intro 0:10

Welcome back to Peter Michaelson, a depth psychologist and therapist who has now written his ninth book, “Our Deadly Flaw: Healing the Inner Conflict that Cripples Us and Subverts Society,” which goes in further about self-sabotage and how we use it to undermine ourselves.

We had a great discussion earlier [blog #73, Turning passivity into strength: How to overcome self-doubt and self sabotage] where he talked about how to overcome self-doubt and self-sabotage.

The compulsion to self-punish

Jean 2:24

Let’s begin at Chapter 6, called “recognizing the compulsion to self-punish.”

Peter 2:56

Unconsciously we are in conflict with our inner critic. It comes at us with all sorts of allegations, insinuations, accusations about our assumed weaknesses or deficits and deficiencies. And it simply has that energy about it, a self-aggressive kind of energy. And if we allow it, if we take it seriously, if we don't see it clearly enough, then we absorb punishment from it.

There are two voices: the inner critic, which is more punishing. And the inner passivity, which is a sort of a weaker, self-pitying voice within us.

Jean 4:13

How would you describe it?

Peter 4:22

It accepts a lot of the punishment. Sometimes we make mistakes and do things badly. But the inner critic is relentless. Its nature is to inflict that aggressive energy upon us.

We try to defend ourselves, but at least a large part of the time, we don't do well when we allow our inner passivity to represent us, because it's a weaker part of us.

Sometimes we make mistakes and do things badly. But the inner critic is relentless. Its nature is to inflict that aggressive energy upon us.

Our inner critic and our passive enabler

Jean 6:29

Why do we accept that then? Why do we allow it to happen?

Peter 6:39

We don't see exactly what's happening. We just feel this rather vague sense of right and wrong. Did I do right? Did I do wrong? And we also allow it to happen because there is a passive side of us that somehow rather enables the inner critic. It's a primitive part in our psyche.

Once you see the dynamics, then you realize you have the capacity, you start to understand how you have the capacity to shut down the voice.

Jean 10:34

We've got the inner critic and the inner passivity over here. And you've contrasted with better self and consciousness. And how are we supposed to find them somewhere in ourselves?

Peter 10:51

With a better self is the belief in yourself. When we're strong, we really connect with that, it becomes part of us, becomes more stable within us, and then we're connecting with our better self.

Jean 12:56

You say here the inner critic's job is to criticize and the inner passivity's job is to defend.

Peter 13:27

The problem there is that once you start defending, then you give credence to the inner critic. It's like you're starting to take the inner critic seriously. So, you learn not to take it seriously.

Jean 14:10

The idea is, when you are protesting too much, you're acknowledging the credence of that power.

Peter 14:27

If you don't defend like that, it's kind of like dropping the rope in a tug of war. And then you can get more into the heart of the conflict, you can penetrate beyond that back-and-forth accusations and defending and get more deeply into the issues for the purpose of resolving.

Jean 15:57

The way to counter that is to recognize that you're caught in that loop.

Peter 16:14

The more conflicted you are within yourself, the more you'll see the world in terms of conflict. And the more you'll get triggered by all the challenges of life. Because conflict is how you experience the world, starting with yourself. If you're in harmony with yourself, then your emphasis is to look for harmony in the world and be a force for creating harmony in the world.

The root in our inner fear

Peter 17:42

Everybody has some degree of inner fear. Maybe that comes out in childhood; but with this inner fear, we feel it on some level inside ourselves, we usually can't differentiate it, we can't identify exactly what it relates to within ourselves.

We tend to project it then outward into the world. And see reasons to justify our sense of fearfulness. We'll be determined to see things that appear to be reasons to be fearful, when in fact, we're looking to somehow rationalize our own inner fear.

Peter 19:03

The more passive we are and the more conflicted we are, the less able we'll be able to deal with that reality effectively, to bring reform. We still have to deal with all these challenges, but it doesn't have to be agonizing. It can rise to the level of being more heroic, when we rise to the excitement of the challenge and feel ourselves being at our best.

Jean 20:12

There's the external reality. And then there's what I allow my perception of the external reality to do to me. And whether I let that mess with my life and my sense of self, that's the distinction you're making.

Peter 20:41

Yes. Sometimes we want to engage with it and try and be the reformers. But other times, it's easy to feel like we're helpless on that level.

Jean 21:47

Engage with it, become part of the solution. I know for me, part of the reason I'm not down under is because I feel like I'm contributing to the world.

So all these folks who say, but I can only do this a little bit, or I can only do that, you're saying, do your best, and you can't do more?

Peter 22:43

You can't necessarily just deal with the outer without some foundation within you from which to operate. Some solid place where you are more confident that you represent what is true and real, you know that you'll be on the side of the angels, rather than on the other side.

Peter 23:46

Our best self, sometimes a true self or the authentic self, is so fabulous. It's wonderous. And it's all good. And that's integrity and truth and honesty, and all those wonderful things are all part of it.

Inner conflict can lead us to punish others

Jean 24:13

I'm reading from Chapter 6: “Wwhen we are receptive to punishment, we're more willing to inflict it on others. Hence, we treat others or regard them the way our inner critic treats us.”

So, this cycle, we were talking about how one group is disdainful of another group, and that group then reflects it back, and you're saying the inner critic of both sides is what's running the show?

Peter 24:53

The inner critic is the main driver within us, but its enabler is inner passivity. So, the relationship we have with ourselves is so much based on the degree to which we allow our inner critic to be so influential in how we feel about ourselves.

Jean 27:04

So, we allow others to beat ourselves up if we're used to beating our own selves up.

Peter 27:13

Yeah. Others to oppose us, and then to feel like we have to dig in our heels and somehow resist them or oppose them or fight them.

Jean 27:34

Here I'm reading [from Chapter 6 again]: “A good example is the unconscious willingness of multitudes of people to live with the sense of being maliciously oppressed by others when their misery is mostly the result of inner conflicts' self-expression.”

Peter 28:33

Racism is another example of a legit real oppression, obviously. But the person who is on the receiving end of racism can still feel strong within themselves and mitigate the effect of that oppression.

Jean 29:50

I don't remember when racist comments stopped being feeling personal with me. But it just stopped. It became all about that other person's lack of awareness, their ignorance, their own misery.

Peter 30:44

It's a wonderful thing when people realize they have this inner power to neutralize that incoming hostility. Now you just see where the other person is at.

Our right to be assertive

Jean 31:24

Before, they had power to hurt me. And now they're just human beings trying to get along in the world.

Parents and people in general often experience self-doubt over their right to be assertive, or to command. What you're saying is it’s part of the inner passivity that's dominating.

Peter 33:11

Yeah, because of inner passivity, people can be uncomfortable with the feeling of power, their own sense of power.

And their own passivity blocks them from being more comfortable with feeling power, and trusting themselves to use the power wisely, to use it benevolently, and to guide people, to teach people.

Jean 34:20

A lot of people are not going to see any connection between who I am and an oppressive economic system.

Peter 36:12

The more we bring our wisdom and awareness to it, the more we're going to be interested in reforming it.

Jean 37:58

Shouldn't we fight?

Peter 38:03

Well, there's different ways of fighting. My way of fighting is just to penetrate deeper into all the aspects of it; we have to fight it with our intelligence and our awareness. Certainly not violently, of course.

Jean 39:23

People don't understand change, they don't understand how people change. What you're saying is that if we want to address these oppressive systems, we have to have an understanding of what's happening. The system itself operates on autopilot.

Peter 40:16

Yes. And if we bring that to the table, in the ways that we can, then that's going to influence people who want to see things more properly.

Jean 40:59

Can you give an example of that? Can you imagine a discussion between someone who’s pro-life and someone who’s pro-choice?

The advantage of trying to bridge the gap

Peter 41:28

Well, the first thing there is for the two people to try to feel like they have some respect for each other, and that they appreciate each other as fellow human beings, trying to figure things out. Then just gently start having a discussion.

They might not change their mind, but they might open their heart. And so, there can be a softer sense of each other, rather than more conflicted, or hardnosed sense of each other. It can soften the dialogue.

So even if you don't have much influence on the other person, you'll feel pretty darn good about yourself.

Jean 44:59

And you're bringing something positive to the world, instead of all this animosity. You bring the positive energy into the world.

What gets in our way is the idea that power is inherently manipulative or abusive. If I disrespect power, how can I allow myself to be powerful? How can I allow myself to bring forth my better self?

Peter 46:52

Well, you begin to see the bias that you bring to that sensitivity, based on your own issues with power, that you yourself can't quite allow yourself to feel it. So, you don't trust yourself fully to represent power wisely.

Jean 47:56

I'm thinking of people I know who don't want to feel powerful. And you're saying they're not giving themselves the credit to be able to use power wisely.

Peter 48:08 

Yes, they're basically somewhat afraid of it. They're afraid of it from others, and they're afraid of it allowing it to blossom in themselves. And partly, there's resistance to the whole process.

Jean 49:09

Tell us the name of your book, how they can find it, and how they can reach you.

Peter 49:33

It's called “Our Deadly Flaw: Healing the Inner Conflict that Cripples Us and Subverts Society.” Available at Amazon and through my website, WhyWeSuffer.com.

Peter Michaelson headshot

Peter Michaelson

Psychotherapist Peter Michaelson is a former journalist and science writer who possesses a unique ability to render depth psychology into easily understood self-help information.

Peter spent the 1970s and early 1980s searching for answers to his own dissatisfaction and career setbacks. In 1985, he began doing weekly sessions with a psychotherapist who worked very deeply in the unconscious. In these sessions, he acquired the insight that resolved the inner conflicts that had been disrupting his life. In 1987, he obtained his master’s degree in counseling from Antioch University in Ohio.

Since then, Peter has been using this unique psychotherapy with his own clients. He has now written nine books that discuss different aspects of this deep approach. These books examine the causes of low self-esteem, addictions, indecision, compulsions, loneliness, depression, failure, self-sabotage, and inner passivity. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

His website is WhyWeSuffer.com: Transformative Insights from Depth Psychology.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. Do you have an inner critic? What does it tell you? How do you respond?does your inner passivity allow the inner critic to bring you down?
  2. What could you accomplish if you had no inner critic? If you allowed yourself to feel more powerful

Conscious Change skills
covered in this blog:

  • Clear emotions
    • Clear your negative emotions
    • Build your positive emotions
  • Conscious use of self
    • Accept responsibility for your own contributions
    • Maintain integrity
    • Build resilience through self-affirmation
  • Initiate change
    • Commit to personal change
    • Acknowledge small wins

#SelfDoubt #SelfSabotage #InnerCritic #InnerPassivity #BestSelf

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