Most so-called ‘spiritual’ movements and religions tend to make things worse for people. They tend to feed straight into the superego, the part of us full of should and shouldn’t. The superego is already a cause of much misery without deliberately adding to its demands that we should act and feel in ways that are foreign to us. For example, consider someone who adopts a new belief system which says that anger is wrong. If a person believes this they will begin to deny that they are angry when in reality they are full of it. This will cause considerable inner conflict and suffering. It is also dangerous since such a person is quite likely to explode over some quite trivial incident.
In the Gurdjieff work, for example, it is believed that most of our emotions are negative. This is, of course, a value judgement, and Gurdjieff groupies who think this, may spend all their lives trying to push water uphill denying the very things that cannot be denied. Our emotions are our authentic response to the environment and any value judgement is merely an invitation to denial and suffering.
This kind of programming, more often associated with religions, supercharges the superego, so it becomes our inner judge. Meanwhile, our genuine needs and desires are pushed into the background, and this monster we have created within us tries to take control. The programming is intense and is exacerbated by prescriptions for behaviour we ingest from books and people who believe they know how we should behave.
As we exist today, we are divided within. The real part of us, called the id by some, reacts to the environment in an authentic manner. The superego will have none of this and believes that its programming tells us how to behave, and also what to judge. It also dishes out punishment if we transgress, making us feel inadequate, depressed, unworthy, or a thousand other destructive emotions.
There is a way out of this deadlock. The id should not just run wild. It is after all only concerned with sex, food, comfort, power and anything else that might increase the likelihood of survival. We cannot live in a society where the physically strong take what they want from the weak – not if we wish to avoid an elimination competition with just a handful of brutes left battling it out. Equally the superego should not displace the real emotions and drivers that come from the id. The solution to this is understanding. If we can understand why we feel envy, hatred, excitement, derision, love and any other emotion, it has the effect of reducing its power. This is what psychiatric practice is all about.
Remember our emotions are our authentic response. There is absolutely nothing wrong with excitement, hatred, envy, obsession, pride and the rest. All we are required to do is understand them and why they occur. This is not an attempt to deny emotions, but merely to understand them as we might understand anything else. The effect of the understanding is well demonstrated by the fear caused by thunderstorms before people came to know that they are not the wrath of angry Gods, but merely electrical discharges. And as long as you are not some fool waving a golf club around on open ground, there is nothing to fear.
So, we need to cut ourselves some slack. Whenever we hear the inner voice that condemns, we should root out why it is in the superego in the first place, determine whether is serves any useful purpose, and if not, work to throw it in the trash can. The result is less inner conflict, a greater understanding of our real emotions, and periods of inner peace.