Example of an Inner Conflict due to Indirect Motivation

Here is Erika’s situation: Her husband is not home yet tonight at the time she usually goes to bed.

Her Ego-References are that she has to accomplish all the following (hidden-from-herself) goals in order to feel-good-about-herself and thus have a (fleeting) experience of her Substitute Sense of Self. These are her Ego-References:

  • Have peace of mind (in order to be able to sleep well)
  • Sleep well
  • Look fresh and fit in the morning and be in a good mood
  • Not create drama, problems, or quarrels
  • Be flexible about her husband’s behaviors, because of her fear of abandonment (another Ego-Reference)
  • Be productive at her work every day

Her fear of abandonment is because her husband’s approval is the current substitute for her childhood caretaker’s approval, and she would experience being abandoned as being annihilated as a person, with no hope of ever feeling even remotely close to being a “real self.”

So the Hidden Agenda of her Indirect Motivation is to experience the weak, unhealthy version (Substitute Sense of Self) of being taken seriously, being taken into account,  being acknowledged as an independent and autonomous person. That’s as close as she ever gets to those experiences: feeling good about herself because she gets someone’s approval.

The main Ego-References conflict because she can’t go to bed for fear that her husband might not like that and find her a rigid person. Therefore, even if she did go to bed, she knows she can’t really get a good sleep before he comes home and goes to sleep as well, yet she can’t ask him to change his schedule. That would be selfish (would it now?) and he might not like that.

So she’s caught now between two completely incompatible needs: She needs to not cause him any problems, or make any demands, or cause any drama by asking him to be home by her bedtime, or by being upset when he isn’t, but also she needs to sleep well to be in good shape and do well at her work the next day, and she can’t sleep well until he gets home.

In other words, she has an Inner Conflict because two (or more) main Ego-References are demanding opposite behaviors from her: ‘I must sleep well (Ego-Reference: have to be well rested), and I must not speak up (Ego-Reference: no quarrels) – but if I don’t speak up I won’t sleep well.’ In either case she needs her husband’s approval, mirroring her behavior as OK, which to her means: ‘Everything is OK, you are safe.’

You might truthfully say these could be ordinary, everyday inner conflicts. Yet there is a significant difference. For these conflicts, there can be no compromise between the two sides, because both seem (subconsciously) like matters of life and death. The outcome of each Ego-Reference action is a feeling-good-about-oneself, which is the Substitute Sense of Self.  Erika’s Substitute Sense of Self is what gives her a sense of ‘being allowed to exist’ and that feels to her like a matter of life and death. In a way it is; her experience of being ‘a person’ (rather than a non-person) depends on it.

So on nights like this, Erika lies in bed, stressed, with a buzzing nervous system, with no conscious idea of what is playing out within her. She feels like a victim of circumstances that she is unable to control.

She has too many different feelings which she is not consciously aware of.

If she could express all those feelings, in words, here’s what she might say:

Feeling 1: “I don’t agree with his coming home so late, but he doesn’t listen to me. So I don’t come across (Note: her Hidden Goal is ‘to be taken into account.’) I am not being taken into account; that shows I don’t really exist. So I feel bad about myself, that I don’t really exist; I have to change that. I can’t sleep when I feel bad about myself. I need to feel-good-about-my-Self (as a Substitute Sense of Self).”

Feeling 2: “It’s late and I need to go to bed (Ego-Reference: have to sleep well). If I make a quarrel right now, if I openly disagree with him, he’ll disapprove of me, and then I won’t sleep because I won’t have a good-feeling-about-myself and I won’t feel safe.“ (Ego-Reference: Must be nice to him.)

Feeling 3: “I can’t create a drama because I can’t afford to lose this guy because I am not supposed to create problems (Ego-Reference). I also depend on his approval to get my Substitute Sense of Self and without him I wouldn’t be able to feel good about myself at all.”

Feeling 4: “I’ll feel like a nobody if I can’t do good work tomorrow. (Ego-Reference: I have to do good work.) I am a workaholic and if I don’t do good work I feel-bad-about-myself (no Substitute Sense of Self).”

Feeling 5: “I feel dirty and ashamed if I don’t sleep well. Everybody can see it from my face and then I feel I don’t belong to the workforce, and therefore I’m not a real person.”

It’s important for us to understand that the actual content of the issues is not what really matters to Erika. None of this is really about sleeping well nor about arguing with her husband. Those are Ego-References. They are vehicles for the Hidden Agenda of ‘feeling-good-about-the-Self’ (having a Substitute Sense of Self) instead of feeling in the agony of the inner void of no-self.

What is worse is the by now known fact that ‘Erika’s life isn’t about her life at all, nor about that of her husband for that matter. It is only about maintaining the Substitute-Sense–of-Self-oriented System to function. It is like being a slave of one’s own survival strategy.

You can well imagine that in a no-way-out inner conflict like this, Erika’s body is in an extreme “fight/flight/freeze” state. She simply cannot comply with all the current demands of the Substitute-oriented System in her situation, because they dictate opposite behaviors!

A state of panic might arise for ‘loss of Substitute Sense of Self’ (no good-feeling-about-Self,) and the nature of this panic is fear of annihilation.

So she might have a bad case of insomnia. She might also have a panic attack or even a fit of extreme (unreasonable) anger/rage/violence.

With enough time and help in understanding what’s going on inside herself, Erika could become conscious of the conflicting ‘commands’ and feelings. She could do the hard inner work of understanding the true nature of these Ego-References. Then, they could be laid to rest, and would stop disrupting her life and ruining her Quality of Life QoL-level.

That is what the insight and understanding of HolisPsych’s Motivation Theory aims to offer to you.

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