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Dysfunctional People, Dysfunctional Government

By       Message Peter Michaelson       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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I used to hate the government. That was back in the early 1980s, and it wasn't because any particular president was in office. I simply believed, quite sincerely in my mind, that my limited sense of freedom was the fault of the government. Somehow the government was the source and instigator of all the deprivations, restrictions, and injustices I felt weighing me down.

I wrote a book-length manuscript--thankfully, never published--about how my sovereign self and the self of others were quashed by the malice and tyranny of government. I dwelled in that anarchistic state of mind for about two years, and then I outgrew it.

My anger at the government had covered up my own willingness to indulge in feeling deprived, restricted, and victimized. These were negative feelings that I already possessed, going back to childhood, and which I had not resolved or even recognized as a problem. When such feelings from childhood are unresolved, all of us unconsciously find ways to experience them in our world.

As a writer, I cleaned up my prose as I began to see and understand my own participation in the creation of enemies and tormentors, real or imagined.

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In place of enemies I now saw challenges. My biggest challenge involved confronting my emotional issues and dispelling my demons. Along came the realization that if I didn't expose the conflicts and negativity in my own psyche, I would blindly project that negativity outward and believe that something external (i.e., the government) was the source or the cause of my negativity.

To be objective about social dynamics, we all have to have, psychologically speaking, a good sense of where we're coming from. I know from my work as a psychotherapist that we generally are tempted to re-experience and 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.

This brings to mind Tea Party activists. In my view, much of their anger at the government is a cover-up of their own unresolved issues. Sure, disgust and anger at this government of ours are appropriate. Ideally, these feelings are expressed constructively and creatively. But Tea Party activists show all the signs of being emotionally weak in the face of inevitable social and economic transformations. As our world wobbles into its new orbit, they're entangled in feelings of deprivation, helplessness, and victimization. Unconsciously, they react from their own emotional baggage, all the while casting themselves as pure and innocent patriots protecting the constitution.

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Their hostility toward the government feels like power and sweeps them up in an illusion of redemption. This pseudo-power produces delusions of heroism and other gratifying sensations, but this sense of power covers up their underlying emotional entanglement in feelings that also include passivity, insignificance, and fear.

It's a knee-jerk reaction to blame others for our emotional reactions to new challenges and circumstances. The government, as a symbolic parent-figure with power over us, easily becomes the target, especially after cunning psychopaths use the media to put that target in the crosshairs. The Tea Partiers do have, in their conviction of sincerity, a kind of innocence about them. They really ought to have access to better knowledge. Educators and the psychological establishment have failed, just for starters, to teach the public how basic psychological principles or tenets such as projection, transference, and identification profoundly influence and mislead us. This educational failure is a significant ingredient in the prospect of national self-defeat.

Tea Partiers have been betrayed by the economic and educational elite. Yet they can't clearly identify the source or nature of that betrayal. Many progressives, too, have not (at least until now) seen the full nature and extent of our betrayal. When a person or society is healthy, the real enemy is typically perceived correctly. But unhealthy or unaware people often can't see the real enemy (e.g., America invades Iraq). That's because their projections, being unconscious, serve as psychological defenses that are intended to distort the truth. Some harmless "enemy," even an imagined one, can serve a person's defenses, denial, and self-idealization. Actions then become emotional reactions. There is no center of inner guidance, only off-the-wall misguided indignation and self-righteous outrage that produce anger and other reactionary behaviors, as well as self-defeat.

If the Tea Party needs an enemy, the banksters are a more rationale target. In what may be a side skirmish, some Tea Partiers are heading off to battle the Federal Reserve instead of empowering the government to rein in Wall Street. They have aligned themselves with the GOP in a program that will most likely strengthen the banksters at the expense of the government and the people.

Even the banksters aren't the real enemy. Sure, they are perpetrators of social abuse, but the people as a whole are passive enablers. We complain, but we're too passive, too dependent on the government or others, to reform the situation. There'll always be people who'll jump at the chance to dominate and abuse those who are passive and unconsciously receptive to being dominated.

I'm not saying we're our own enemy. The enemy is our lack of self-knowledge. The division and discord we see in the country reflect the conflict in our own psyche. People are oblivious to the fact that, for a great many of us, our inner condition is more authoritarian than democratic.

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As an optimist who nonetheless sees the national crisis worsening, I believe we're getting ready for a breakthrough in the years to come into greater peace and harmony. My clients in my psychotherapy office often go through a period of emotional intensity and upheaval before breaking through into the clear on the other side.

We've 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 part 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.

As I see it, Tea Party activists are passive people who can't tell friend from enemy, who fight battles on the wrong front, and who are not connected with their value or power in any meaningful way. When triggered by social turmoil, they only have the power to make mischief, which they mistake for real power. Of course, they're not alone in tussling with human nature. All of us struggle to some degree believing in ourselves, expressing our feelings, discerning truth, and practicing the power of self-regulation.

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Peter Michaelson is an author, blogger, and psychotherapist in Plymouth, MI. He believes that better understanding of depth psychology reduces the fear, passivity, and denial of citizens, making us more capable of maintaining and growing our (more...)

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