Chapter 1 -- The Essence of the Deadly Flaw

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of my latest book, The Best-Kept Secret in the World: The Hidden Source of Unhappiness, Conflict, and Self-Defeat (2010, 280 pages). This book can be purchased as a PDF file at

Thinkers over the ages have speculated about a flaw in human nature—whether in the form of original sin, an enemy within, or a death instinct. My thesis contends that a hidden flaw does indeed exist. It was discovered in the last century by a relatively unknown psychoanalyst. Only a tiny percentage of the population have recognized or understood this flaw or even heard of it.

The innocent of the world, the good people, are carriers of this emotional quirk, as are the less noble among us. This flaw, however, gets the best of us only when it remains unconscious, hidden from our awareness in our psyche. It is analogous to a sabotaging virus, bug, or worm in a computer system. Even an excellent system is compromised by a troublesome quirk. Such a system operates at its best once that problem is removed. Obviously, the problem has to be identified before it can be removed. Here, briefly described in the next two paragraphs, is the essence of the problem.

It does feel like blasphemy to say that we like our suffering. It is outrageous to suggest that we are secretly interested in holding on to our negativity. Yet this is the paradox of this deadly flaw. It compels us to recycle our old hurts from our past, as it tricks us through our defenses into covering up our collusion in our suffering. These hurts consist of unresolved emotions associated with deprivation, refusal, helplessness, criticism, rejection, betrayal, abandonment, and a sense of unworthiness.

Because of this flaw in our human nature, we decline on an unconscious level to let go of our negativity, and we also secretly look for ways to recycle or relive this negativity. Our flaw compels us to indulge unconsciously, and sometimes semi-consciously, in our unresolved negative emotions. This produces self-defeat, as well as national and worldwide dissension and disharmony.

Our fate as a species, I believe, is to be defeated by this quirk of human nature, while our destiny is to overcome it.

Is it any wonder people don’t want to see too deeply into their psyche? It’s like bingeing on humble pie. Be heartened by the fact that a pleasing sense of liberation can follow the initial mortification.

I first learned about this peculiarity in human nature in 1985 from the writings of psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler, MD. Bergler wrote twenty-five psychology books, many of them issued by major New York publishers of that time, including Harper & Brothers, Doubleday & Co., and Collier Books. He also wrote about 300 articles that were published in leading professional journals and popular magazines. Many of his titles are in print and available at International Universities Press (

Despite the brilliance of his writings, Bergler, an Austrian Jew who fled the Nazis in 1938 and died in New York City in 1962, is completely ignored by modern psychologists and researchers. Many PhD graduates in psychology from leading American universities have never heard of him. No biography of him has been written. A new book of his, likely written in 1952, was published by International Universities Press in 1998, thirty-six years after his death. No mention was made in the mainstream media of such a noteworthy publishing event, nor did any reviews of the book show up in my latest Google search.

All this rejection of him and his findings makes perfect sense: As mentioned, it is a psychological axiom that we are repelled and inwardly terrified by the deepest truths about us. The knowledge Bergler uncovered is forbidden, meaning that emotionally we experience it as taboo. It is dangerous. It shatters our sense of who we are. We are afraid of this knowledge because we don’t know who we will be without our attachment to suffering. Losing that sense of identity feels like a kind of death. Better the sufferer we know than the mysterious stranger we don’t.

Through denial and psychological defenses, we’re always repressing vital inner knowledge that would threaten our egotism and self-image. We relegated Bergler to obscurity for the crime of discovering the truth about us. Thus, we avoided the mortification our ego experiences whenever we get an inkling of how ignorant we are of vital self-knowledge.

Bergler, a post-Freudian, agreed with classical psychoanalysis that we retain in our psyche those feelings from childhood of being deprived, helpless, and controlled. As adults, we interpret our experiences through these unresolved emotions. Whatever is unresolved in us will continue to be experienced in a painful and self-defeating manner. In childhood, we also acquire impressions of being rejected, unloved, betrayed, and criticized. Even if we are loved and respected, our emotional side is still likely to be entangled, to some degree, in these negative impressions.

Bergler plumbed a new depth of understanding when he claimed that we are emotionally attached to these forms of lingering negativity. The realization first came to him in 1932, and he elaborated on his theory of compulsive suffering over the next thirty years. According to Bergler, our defense system is designed to cover up our collusion or indulgence in this hidden negativity. Through our defenses, we often blame others for our negative feelings, convinced that their ignorance and malice are the causes or sources of our failure, disappointment, self-doubt, envy, anger, or apathy. We convince ourselves we are the victims of injustice and cruelty. Not many of us are willing to acknowledge that the negativity we feel is produced by us alone.

So the suffering principle is a powerful force, the antithesis of the pleasure principle. The flaw in our psyche, Bergler said, constitutes a “basic neurosis,” a condition common to all humanity. This dark side hides out in us all, and it can produce many varieties of self-defeat and suffering that include defensiveness, apathy, self-pity, self-absorption, as well as cruelty, greed, hatred, and violence.

It’s now time for humanity to acknowledge this flaw, this quirk of our nature that for many of us becomes a human tragedy. We can feel appalled about its existence, but we need not be devastated. Its exposure, really, is cause for celebration. Its existence is certainly not our fault. Nor is it our fault that we haven’t previously exposed it. It is an infantile aspect of our psyche, meaning it emerged out of earliest childhood. In seeing it, we accept that we are a work in progress and that human suffering can be greatly abated. The challenge is to be mature and grown-up from this point on, and become conscious of how we generate and indulge in negative emotions. That’s the first step to overcoming this self-defeating inner program.

This book identifies many of the forms and variations of our willingness to suffer. As I explain in detail later, negative emotions such as anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, envy, and hopelessness are symptoms of the flaw, not the flaw itself. These negative emotions are examples of the negativity that we can feel and see directly. A jealous person, for instance, knows he suffers for his jealousy. He is not likely to know, however, that his jealousy is on the surface and that deep negativity—his emotional attachment to feeling rejected, betrayed, or devalued—is the hidden source of his suffering. A hateful person knows about his hatred and often will acknowledge it. He’s not likely to know, however, that his hatred is created through his emotional indulgence in feelings of being refused, controlled, rejected, devalued or otherwise victimized.

This flaw is, at least in part, the source of our instinct for violence and war. (The Star Wars creators were right to warn us about the power of the dark side.) Personal and national self-defeat and self-sabotage can be understood as the consequences of having this flaw. Historian Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly chronicled how governments down through the ages have committed the stupidest, most painful acts of self-defeat with depressing regularity. Tuchman’s book ends with the debacle of Vietnam. But the folly continues with ongoing wars and worldwide financial and environmental crises. Self-defeat of deadly magnitude is inherent in our flaw. The negative emotions that emerge from this source within us are so powerful they frequently override reason, decency, and common sense.