I've seen a worrying trend in people who've learned introspection and self-improvement methods from CFAR, or analogous ones from CBT. They make better life decisions, they calm their emotions in the moment. But they still look just as stressed as ever. They stamp out every internal conflict they can see, but it seems like there are more of them beyond the horizon of their self-awareness.

(I may have experienced this myself.)

One reason for this is that there's a danger with learning how to consciously notice and interact with one's subconscious thoughts/feelings/desires/fears: the conscious mind may not like what it sees, and try to edit the subconscious mind into one that pleases it.

The conscious mind might try, that is, but the subconscious is stronger. So, what actually happens?

The subconscious develops defense mechanisms.

Suppressed desires disguise themselves as being about other things, or they just overwhelm the conscious mind's willpower every now and then (and maybe fulfill themselves in a less healthy way than could otherwise be managed).

Suppressed thoughts become stealthy biases; certain conscious ideas or narratives get reinforced until they are practically unquestionable. So too with fears; a suppressed social fear is a good way to get a loud alarm that never stops.

Suppressed feelings hide themselves more thoroughly from the searchlight, so that one never consciously notices their meaning anymore, one just feels sad or angry or scared "for no reason" in certain situations.

At its worst, the conscious mind tries ever-harder to push back against these, further burning its rapport with the subconscious. I think of pastors who suppress their gay desires so hard that they vigorously denounce homosexuality and then sneak out for gay sex. They'd have been living such a happier life if they'd given up and acknowledged who they are, and what they want, years ago.

Now, sometimes people do have a strong desire that can't be satisfied in any healthy way. And that's just a brutal kind of life to life. But they would still do better by acknowledging that desire openly to themselves, than by trying to quash it and only hiding it.

How can we become more integrated between conscious and unconscious parts, and undo any damage we've already caused? 

In my talk about the elephant and rider, I suggested (or gestured at) a few relevant things:

  • Pursue basic happiness alongside your conscious goals (and make sure that's happiness for you, not just e.g. keeping your friends happy by doing the things they like)
  • Use positive reinforcement on yourself rather than punishment - it's especially important not to punish yourself for noticing the "wrong" thoughts/feelings/desires/fears. Reward the noticing, even with just an internal "thank you for surfacing this".
  • Treat the content of these thoughts/feelings/desires/fears with respect. You might think of them as a friend opening up to you, and imagine the compassion you'd have when trying to figure out a way forward where both of you can flourish.

It's important to be gentle, to be curious, and to be patient. You don't have to resolve the whole thing; just acknowledging it respectfully can help the relationship grow.

There are other approaches too. Many people believe in using meditation to better integrate their thoughts and feelings and desires, for instance.

When you do something that you thought you didn't want to do, or when you're noticing an unexpected feeling, it's an opportunity for you. Don't push it away.