We all have a conscious mind and a subconscious mind. The conscious mind refers to what we actually THINK. The subconscious mind contains all kinds of things — what we used to think, what we sometimes think, what we agree with or disagree with. Your subconscious mind is a mixture of a lot of different things.
One key to mental health and happiness is to have your conscious and subconscious minds in sync.
The problem is that sometimes the conscious and subconscious minds conflict.
What this means, in practice, is: Your conscious mind thinks one thing; and your subconscious mind thinks, feels or assumes something different. The clash of the two leads to anxiety as well as depression and other mental problems.
For example: “I love everyone. I am a giving, nonjudgmental person. That’s a good way to be, and that’s how I am”. That’s what your conscious mind might say. But then your subconscious mind says, “I don’t like so-and-so. He’s not my kind of person. I don’t like the way he thinks and acts”.
There’s a contradiction here. You can’t BOTH love everyone and never pass judgment; AND, at one and the same time, view someone as unfavorable or flawed. One of your assumptions has to be wrong. Which one? You can spend some time thinking about it and analyzing it. That’s what self-reflection is for; that’s what therapy (with a good therapist) is sometimes for; that’s what conversations with trusted significant others are for.
The point is: It’s reasonable, normal and natural for your conscious and subconscious minds to conflict. It’s not reasonable or healthy to let those contradictions go unattended to; evading and denial eventually lead to trouble. Your mind, your psyche and even your body cannot sustain huge or numerous contradictions forever. There has to be some consequence. The most common consequence is what used to be called “neurosis”; today we call the very same thing anxiety or depression.
Sometimes the irrational idea is in the subconscious mind while in the conscious mind you’re rational. Sometimes it’s just the opposite. It’s up to you to keep track of yourself so you can become aware of the contradictions and try to resolve them. It’s an ongoing, lifelong process. There’s no “cure” or “fix” whereby you eradicate the possibility of psychological or inner conflict for all time. Our minds don’t work that way! You can change your ideas or behaviors. But you cannot change your nature.
Sometimes contradictions apply to groups. Where I live, there’s a church that proclaims in public advertisements, “We welcome everyone. Jesus is our savior and we judge nobody”. Another group I know of proclaims publicly, “Celebrate diversity. We are one great community”. But then members of these very same churches or organizations have been known to spread false rumors about people, perhaps because of political or other differences. They often arbitrarily discriminate against people they dislike. It’s a contradiction. Just as an individual cannot sustain contradictions for long without consequences, groups of individuals cannot, either.
Another very common contradiction people hold: “I have to please and be liked by everyone; otherwise I’m not a good person”. Usually, this belief is subconscious. Along with: “I want to be happy. I want to live MY life, for my own sake”. Well, those two will never go together. They never have, and they never will. If you live your life with integrity and according to what YOU value, regardless of what you think others think, then you will generally attract the right people. But you will also repel others. That’s OK. It goes with the territory. Unless you resolve this contradiction, you might achieve success, but you will never attain serenity. Why do so many accomplished people self-destruct with drugs or even suicide? Contradictions will always be part of the reason.
It’s OK to have contradictions. You’re not evil or bad because you do. Life and people can be puzzling, confusing or troubling. Many truths are not self-evident. That’s all OK. The only thing that isn’t OK is to pretend you don’t have contradictions when you do. Or to go through life as if you’re incapable of contradictions, or that contradictions don’t matter. Someone who came to me for therapy once said, “I have to stay honest with myself. I hope you can help me”. That’s the right goal. Staying honest with yourself means attending to conflicting assumptions between your conscious mind and subconscious mind. Young people are not learning this in school, despite all the emphasis on “self-esteem”, and many people are not learning this from their therapists, unfortunately. The emphasis seems to be on feeling good about yourself at almost any cost — almost as a mandate, as if repeating, “I’m good, I’m good, I’m special, I’m great” is somehow enough to make it so. Ridiculous!
In watching some highly dysfunctional younger people I have known (and contrasting them with the functional ones), I detect an incredible degree of false self-confidence. “I’m great, I’m great, I’m great”, which most of them have been taught, conflicts with all kinds of subconscious (often more rational and true) perceptions that one has failings, makes errors, and the like. The clash between a conscious, superficial belief of invincibility and a subconscious belief that one cannot possibly go through life like this leads to profound and pervasive attacks of anxiety and panic, and ultimately depression.
We wonder why “snowflakery” is such a dominant trend among younger people. This is part of the reason why. These snowflakes are walking contradictions. They are vulnerable and non-self-assured almost to the point of being absurd caricatures; and yet they possess an incredible degree of unearned, pseudo-self-confidence. They can’t tolerate the idea that they’re anything other than great, unique, special and marvelous … but they possess none of the tools required to bring that potential into actuality.
They collapse at the slightest thing.
They fret and even rage at perceived or actual insults. They are truly snowflakes who think they are made of granite — yet in total contradiction, on the subconscious level, know they are not.
Their rage and mental collapse are the result of a struggle not to face the contradiction, or perhaps not understanding it. They sense they have been sold a bill of goods by their fawning teachers or parents. In a way, they are right. But not for the reasons they think. They will blame capitalism, freedom, rationality, self-responsibility and productiveness — all the things they objectively require for success.
Look at “Greta”, the child environmental activist. She’s a caricature — but she’s real. And she represents a LOT of younger people today. She thinks she’s enraged over the fact people drive cars, fly in planes, depend on trucks for food and medical supply delivery, and so forth. She thinks the fact she didn’t grow up in a pre-industrialized jungle — as if that were utopia — has made her life unlivable. She claims these things have ruined her life, and that her elders did it.
In fact, her elders only failed her by lying to her that she’s so much more than she really is. It’s not that she doesn’t have potential. We all do. But we have to develop our potential and earn our greatness. Greta will never understand that. She has been brainwashed beyond recognition. So she’s left to rage against some of the things that actually make life livable and worthwhile. I know young people just like her. Sometimes it manifests politically, but usually it’s more psychological. The politics — always leftist, it seems — is just a byproduct of the psychological.
The snowflake phenomenon appears to be generational. But the need to bring your conscious mind into alignment with your subconscious mind is timeless, ageless and universal. It’s part of the human condition.
We have to be the most rational and benevolent people we can be. But that won’t happen without continuous self-awareness. A wise man once said, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance”. That’s absolutely true. Liberty is not ever frozen into place. It will always be part of the human condition to struggle and even battle for it. There will ALWAYS be people who wish to take your liberty away.
It’s similar with your mental health and serenity. There will always be forces within your mind aiming to undermine your serenity. It’s because of the issue of contradictions. When you suffer with anxiety or depression, try to remember that these are the end result of contradictions that have built up.
It’s far from hopeless. You can, sometimes with good professional help, uncover and discover your hidden, subconscious contradictions. The mere act of doing so can start to make you better.
There’s always hope: But you have to understand your mind, and how it works.
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