Why we suffer: A powerful perspective

by | Apr 12, 2022

S uffering: it can be debilitating. Still, most days we find the internal wherewithal to go grab some more. “I hate this constant depression and anxiety. Help!” Let’s take a look at a powerful perspective on why we suffer…

By the way, the pool from which the troubling inner choices are pulled? Our unresolved negative emotions from the past.

A few years back, I received an email from a young man struggling with depression and anxiety. He directed me to a website that was extremely helpful to him.

Why We Suffer: Transformative Insights from Depth Psychology contains the work of psychotherapist and author Peter Michaelson.

The reader found the content powerful. So did I.

Depth psychology? Here’s the gist from The C.G. Jung Center…

Depth psychology refers to approaches to therapy that are open to the exploration of the subtle, unconscious, and transpersonal aspects of human experience.

I really got into this article – so much valuable information. That’s why I’m issuing a “longie” alert. Maybe read it in a couple of sittings or give it a print?

Okay, let’s roll…

Why we suffer: Basic principle

On his site, Peter Michaelson presents his Basic Principle of Why We Suffer. The subheading on the page immediately grabs one’s attention: Emotional Suffering is Due to Lingering Attachments to Unresolved Negative Emotions.

Now, before we get knee-deep we need to address the unconscious mind. What is it?

From psychologist Dr. Timothy D. Wilson…

…the unconscious mind comprises mental processes that are inaccessible to consciousness, but that influence judgments, feelings, or behavior.

According to Sigmund Freud, the unconscious mind is the main source of human behavior. He observed that like an iceberg, the most important part of the mind is the part you can’t see.

Unconscious inner choices and unhappiness

Michaelson submits that though we may feel just fine emotionally and mentally, our psyche – the mind in its totality, as opposed to the brain and its physical components – can remain bound to negative attachments that generate feelings of unhappiness.

And it’s our unconscious inner choices that make it happen. It makes sense that Michaelson challenges us to gain insight into the “bittersweet appeal of negative emotions.”

His challenge underscores his belief that at an unconscious level, we actually choose to feel deprived, refused, helpless, criticized, rejected, betrayed, abandoned, and more.

You bet it defies logic. But since when does the unconscious mind operate on rational principles?

By the way, the pool from which the troubling inner choices are pulled? Our unresolved negative emotions from the past.

That’s right, beneath conscious awareness we recreate and recycle these familiar and painful feelings through the events and situations of our present everyday lives.

Fooling ourselves comes naturally

why am i suffering

“So I’ve been fooling myself with these ‘emotional attachments.’ Hard to accept, but…”

In describing our inner conflict, Michaelson runs with the term “emotional attachments.”

He realizes we consciously detest our suffering. However, unconsciously, we’re often willing – determined – to experience the unresolved negative emotions that generate our suffering.

Tens of millions of us possess these emotional attachments, but their presence and impact usually go unnoticed and untreated – because most of us have no idea something like this can happen.

Michaelson believes the other barrier to insight are our psychological defenses. Doing their jobs, they cause us to be highly reluctant to see our emotional attachments and own our participation in our suffering.

No wonder he asserts that fooling ourselves comes naturally.

The blame game

Would you agree it’s not uncommon to blame others for our unhappiness? We may say to ourselves, “The boss is being so unreasonable today and it’s making me angry.”

Michaelson submits that after gaining some insight, a more accurate wording would be “The boss being so unreasonable today has triggered my willingness to experience an unresolved emotion which produces anger.” A bit awkward, but you get the idea.

In addition to blaming others for our suffering, we may go after life circumstances. So maybe it’s “I would really be happy if I was better looking and had a great body.”

Fact is, no matter who or what we try to hold responsible, it almost always comes down to blaming ourselves for our unhappiness. As on target as that insight is, Michaelson questions how we come by it.

For instance, we might say to ourselves “The problem is I’m too lazy.” or “I’m just an angry person, that’s the problem.” We may be right, but laziness and anger aren’t the bottom-line issues. They’re just outward expressions of deeper conflict.

We’ve been fooled, therefore, we missed the point.

And the work begins

why we suffer

“Seems I have two choices – continue to suffer or get to work. Okay, let’s get after it.”

As we cruise through insight and indicated adjustments, we’re going to use the self-statement from above: “I would really be happy if I was better looking and had a great body.”

Michaelson submits if we’re convinced we’re unhappy because of not being attractive enough, there’s a good chance that deep in our psyche we’re emotionally attached to the feeling of rejection. I mean, we’re actually rejecting ourselves, right?

So the problem really isn’t our perceived lack of physical attractiveness, but our determination to experience rejection. Sure, it could come from others, but if it’s convenient, why not deliver it ourselves?

An unconscious choice

Yes, Michaelson is saying we’ve made an unconscious choice, as well as a plan, to suffer in this manner. And, again, it’s caused by an emotional attachment to rejection. Hence, he would suppose we have a history of feeling rejected that goes back to childhood.

To bang the point home, Michaelson points out that we suffer when we feel rejected by others, even though, inwardly, we’re all too willing to reject ourselves.

That being the case, we have to become aware – conscious – of our emotional attachment to rejection. And then it’s on to tracing our surface symptoms – anger, laziness, anxiety, depression, resentment, self-doubt, bitterness, etc. – back to the attachment.

Again, it’s very likely we aren’t even aware that rejection is the deeper issue. And that’s because we’re entangled in surface symptoms, as well as being fooled by our very sophisticated defenses.

Clear vision, insight, and change

Michaelson emphasizes that we have the power to change our attachments to unresolved negative emotions.

But it won’t happen unless and until we see them clearly. Then, with insight, we can trace the painful and self-defeating symptoms that pound us day in and day out to our underlying emotional attachments.

And identifying the deeply buried emotion(s) introduces us to our intervention point.

By the way, rejection is just one of a handful of negative emotions to which we can attach. We can also experience ourselves through feelings of criticism, deprivation, refusal, helplessness, control, betrayal, abandonment, and more.

And never forget, without insight we’ll be completely unaware of our attachments, leaving us mired in, and fooled by, unpleasant surface symptoms.

I listed a handful earlier, how ’bout a long list of those symptoms: anger, laziness, anxiety, depression, resentment, bitterness, stress, confusion, self-doubt, loneliness, cynicism, apathy, pseudo-stupidity, feeling overwhelmed, lack of behavioral self-regulation, and then some.

But in spite of it all, Michaelson reminds us that our suffering can become a distant memory when we strive to understand how our psyche works and make indicated adjustments.

In time it’ll become second nature.

Makes sense to me

Suffering: no doubt, debilitating. But when it comes to depression and anxiety, being willing to find the real intervention points deep within our psyche can bring relief and hope.

True confession: I love watching videos of brain surgeries. And I’m astounded when I ponder the brain’s design, how it functions, and its capabilities. It all leaves me with no doubt that an unconscious mind exists.

So a powerful perspective on why we suffer…

Makes sense to me.

Check out Peter Michaelson’s work on Why We Suffer. You’ll have access to his insight, as well as his books and professional services.

As long as we’re talking about suffering, take a peek at 10 reasons suffering is good for us (Still, it ain’t much fun.)

Hey, speaking of doing some reading, hit those Chipur titles.

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