Inner conflict

Every day, straws break camels’ backs. Every decision, from “shall I get up now” to “do I need a new job” is balanced between internal, unconscious drives for and against, until something becomes overwhelming and you make the decision. We dither and swither and deny, because overwhelming conscious, acceptable reasons struggle against shame filled reasons the person cannot admit to themself, and we make up stories to justify because we want to seem virtuous when we aren’t. How could emotions fail to be conflicting? Or, at least, there is no precise name for emotions any more than there is for colours on a computer, all 166, or 16,777,216 of them. Emotions mix as watercolours do.

The conscious self, which seems so important to itself, is not in control. It may be just a by-product of unconscious processes, as a rainbow is of water, light and perception. I found this academic article fascinating, though hard work, taking over an hour to read. The authors suggest that as members of a social species we create and continually update a “personal narrative”, an understanding of who we are and what we do, which we communicate to others. That is created by a “central executive structure”, the product of several non-conscious brain systems.

Clearly we have inner conflict. Deferring gratification requires balancing pleasure now against pleasure later. That conflict may be between what we tell others, our personal narrative, and what stronger internal processes desire. So the personal narrative would be closer to Carl Rogers’ “self-concept” than his “organismic self”. What we do is affected by how confident, happy or depressed we feel. Feeling good motivates us better than feeling terrified: pride, gratitude and compassion motivate more than will-power and determination, which are a finite resource.

So I feel that the idea of an inner human, doing socially approved things, and an inner chimp, doing impulsive, selfish and destructive things repellant; but all this challenges my idea that the human being is fundamentally good. I have selfish and pro-social impulses. For the whole self, it would be good to broadcast the pro-social and keep the selfish hidden; so the Personal Narrative and the aspects in consciousness would be skewed to the pro-social. Sometimes obeying rules is clearly beneficial and of no great cost: we drive on the left rather than the right to avoid crashes.

I am also unsure of the ego-less self, which is Love; the inner light; or Mary Oliver’s You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Some people have a calling, knowing what they want to do with their lives early and pursuing that goal, but not everyone. That is appealing because the personal narrative conflicting with actions is uncomfortable. Most would protest that their desires are good, but that is just the personal narrative.

And I can change conscious states, from ruminating about past and future to giving my whole attention to the pear I bite into, or the washing up I am doing- the sounds, sensations and visual stimulation of a quotidian task. Life and the world seems then to take on greater beauty and intensity. It is pleasurable. People say it is spiritual, but I do not know why that should be so. Does it increase appreciation?

What is judging my motivations? I want to write, photograph, perform, to create beautiful things and have them appreciated. These desires seem positive.  I want to survive, which seems basic, essential to all life. I want to hide away, not to be noticed, not to be given tasks as I am sure I will fail.

My motivations may not be wholly “good” as the culture judges, but are good for me, or at least as good as I can manage. Someone tells me I can do better, but I may not believe them. Possibly if the soft animal pursues what it loves, it will be wholehearted, succeed, and do more, to its greater love and delight.

Social status definitely comes into this somewhere.

All comments welcome.

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