Sunday, April 21, 2013

Internal Conflicts and Mental Constraints: Part 1

For several years I have been trying to understand my internal conflicts and been disappointed by the lack of resources on the subject.

Our internal conflicts are related to our mental constraints, the structure that we impose on our life. This structure comes from many sources, such as practical needs of life (basic needs, career, health), religious beliefs and spiritual concerns, and social and emotional necessities. Our mental constraints are also related to our ability to form expectations about the future and plan accordingly. These expectations and plans are sometimes formulated directly, explicitly and at a conscious level, oand sometimes indirectly, implicitly, and subconsciously. The structure that we impose on our life is important in resolving the ever present tension between our short-term and long-term concerns. As such, mental constraints become the source of our internal conflicts and struggles too.

Mental structures, and internal conflicts, are not necessarily harmful. They often motivate us to improve. There are times in our life, however, when we feel their overburden; when they become intolerable. Too much structure makes us prisoners of our mind and our past and drives us to ``depression.'' High levels of internal conflict results in self-sabotage in different forms, from simple acts of procrastination to serious addiction problems, and problems in implementing our own plans and dealing with important matters in our life. Moreover, to the extent that rigid mental structures limit our spontaneity and creativity, they also alienate us from our true self and generate lack of identity and purpose in life and emotional instability.

The signs of rigid mental constraints are important to recognize, specially when they appear together.

  • Depression that does not respond to medication. 
  • Inability to enjoy life without either working long hours or numbing oneself (with different types of addiction and addiction-like behaviors: drugs, alcohol, porn, tv, internet, ...). 
  • Serious trouble with implementing plans. 
  • Serious procrastination. 
  • Feelings of alienation. 
  • Lack of purpose.
  • Swinging moods.
What is the solution?

A complete solution has many components. One should definitely consider seeing a therapist. In very serious situations, when suicidal thoughts or impulses are present, one needs a therapist who can write prescriptions too, as a period of medication may be necessary. Mindfulness practices, as well as exercise and physical activity, help. I want to focus on a less discussed aspect of the solution here.

This part of the solution is related to the ideas that I have been developing in the past few months, including transitional space ([Transitional Spaces]), authenticity ([Authenticity], [Not-me and Trauma], [Not-me, Dissociation, and Enactment]), [On Guilt, Shame, and Authenticity]), creativity and playfulness ([Imagination, Art, and Psychoanalysis], [Intentionality, Eroticism, and Playfulness], [More on Unconscious]), subjective vs. objective decision-making ([Love, Promises, and Freedom], [Found God or Something], [Psychic Agency and Vulnerability!] ).

Dealing with too rigid mental constraints requires awareness, and reevaluation, of the different level of rigidness that we assign to the constraints. Some of these constraints are undeniably rigid: I cannot walk on water no matter how much I want to. Some are not so: I can choose what I eat for dinner tonight, or I may decide to skip dinner altogether, or to follow a certain diet. The basic idea behind my approach is very simple: Overly rigid mental constraints and excessive internal conflicts are essentially the result of mixing hard and soft constraints that happens for different reasons, and the solution involves creating enough (transitional) space between them to foster creativity, authenticity, and life.

[To be continued]

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