Mind is sneaky like that. I actually know if I am avoiding (in a more general life sense) something, because I feel depressed or anxious. I see the subconscious as a clumsy barking dog. It doesn't have the vocabulary to tell me what's up, it seems to just generate anxiety and depression ... The biggest suffering is that stuff we pretend aren't the most important things in the world to us, but we are avoiding, and it also takes the most courage to look at.
I agree. I think the most painful things we have to deal with are also often the most banal things. We simply do not want to admit that we're childish, petty, selfish, greedy, etc. Or that we want things that we feel we should look down on ourselves for wanting. We don't want to face what we "know to be true" about ourselves when what we "know to be true" is that we're conniving little liars and attention seekers (or other very ignoble things), trying to make ourselves look bigger and badder than we really are. I put "know to be true" in scare quotes because it's what we believe
to be true, but isn't necessarily fair or accurate (the overly critical self-awareness being the source of most of our problems).
Because we believe we are really very insignificant and useless and stupid and unlikable but don't want to admit it, we present some other problem. We say the problem is that we're depressed or anxious or that people are being mean to us or that we have this undiagnosed physical problem or whatever because it's easier to admit these things than what we really
believe about ourselves. What we really believe about ourselves, the stuff that is really
painful, is always
something that we refuse to admit.
[This gets pretty meta, so bear with me:] We can even use our own "littleness and worthlessness" as a cover for our true littleness and worthlessness. We can complain to our therapist that the problem is that we feel like worthless, pathetic human beings but at the same time
secretly consider ourselves superior to others for being so "honest" and for having "so much insight". This actually displaces our feelings and protects us from really
admitting to ourselves how badly we feel about ourselves. As long as I can think about how smart I am for having such great self-insight, and how courageous I am for being able to admit it, and how clever I am for being able to pull one over on my stupid therapist (who isn't half as smart and insightful as I am), I can avoid really facing
my true feeling of inadequacy head-on. I give my therapist a simulacrum
of worthlessness without ever letting them or myself see what I'm doing. For example, I may consciously
feel that I am inferior to other people, and tell my therapist that I feel inferior, and that this feeling of inferiority is the problem, but all the while the real
problem might be that I actually feel very superior and feel contempt for other people; but this feeling of superiority and contempt is so ego-dystonic, so contrary to my own values, I'm afraid of admitting it to myself. This
is the feeling I repress, not my feeling of inferiority. I don't want to be an arrogant, ungrateful SOB, and I hate myself for being that way, so it's much easier and less painful to feel inferior. And the same can obviously go in the other direction; we can use our conscious feeling of superiority as a disguise for our true feeling of inferiority. I'd rather admit that I'm a narcissist than that I feel powerless and alone. The really
painful stuff is not the stuff we can openly acknowledge that is negative (the stuff you bring to the therapist as the presenting problem) but the stuff that you cannot accept
. The stuff you reject with the full force of your being. If you could accept it, you probably wouldn't need therapy. And until you do, it will mess you up.
We always try to protect ourselves from the full force of our condemnation, and there is really no end to how sneaky the mind can be about avoiding it. To really see it, and to really accept it, is very hard. It can be worse than death. Which is why many people would rather commit suicide than face it. "If I have to be that kind of person, I'd rather not be here at all." We fear we are the very kind of person that we hate (the kind we really
hate, not the kind we pretend to hate), so we pretend to be something else. We'll know we have seen our true self, and accepted it, when we feel true compassion for ourselves. As long as we feel contempt for our own littleness and worthlessness, we are still in the grip of the harsh, critical censor that is creating all of our problems. Mental health IS, imo, the feeling of compassion for oneself.
And thanks. Good luck to you, as well.