Insight: Key Points

Insight: Key Points

“Like waking up from a bad dream.”

What Is Insight?

  • Insight means understanding the factors that shape your reactions.
  • Your reactions are not fixed and inevitable. They are constructed within your mind – which is very hopeful, since it means you can send them in a better direction by:
    • In the moment, seeing how factors in your mind have distorted your perceptions, or intensified your reactions, or colored them negatively.
    • Over the long-term, you can work to reduce these factors or control them better.


Kinds of Factors

  • We’re going to look at several major kinds/groups of factors:
    • Temperament
    • Issues related to both autonomy and intimacy
    • Material transferred into the present from childhood
  • Additional factors you should look into:
    • Attachment style: secure, insecure-anxious, insecure-avoidant
    • Gender, in both its biological and cultural patterning (nature and nurture)
    • Influences due to race and class and religion and culture
    • The Enneagram, with its nine types
    • Jung’s typology of thinking-feeling/judging, sensing-intuiting, introversion-extroversion
    • The spectrum running from extreme pessimism to extreme optimism


Wanting to See What Is True

  • The condition for insight is you have to want to see the truth – even if it is uncomfortable.

  • Reflect on the benefits to yourself and to others of you understanding the factors inside yourself that make you feel badly or act badly.

  • Consider how you may be avoiding or resisting seeing those factors inside.
  • Establish your true intentions about seeing the truth about yourself, good and bad
  • To support your truest, highest intentions in life you could “take refuge” when you first wake each morning in good things that support them, such as your own deepest nature, or spirit or God, or Buddha-Dharma-Sangha, or in reality itself.
    Similarly, upon waking you could set your highest intentions for yourself, like: “May I be clear, calm, and loving today.” Or: “I know I’ll stay sober today.”



  • These are pretty stable, largely innate characteristics of a person.
  • We all have screwy, imbalanced qualities in our nature that we just have to deal with. It’s not about your tendencies, it’s about how skillful you are in dealing with them.

  • Throughout, please consider:

    • What’s your nature with regard to that aspect of temperament?

    • How has your nature in that regard affected your life?

    • How have you, or how could you, work with that aspect of your temperament?


Baseline emotional inclinations

  • This is your emotional resting state, typically a little anxious/fearful, or a little wistful/melancholy/sad, or a little irritable/frustrated/aggressive/angry, or a little guilty/remorseful/ ashamed/inadequate.
  • Effects: Shades your experience of life in general. Tilts your perceptions of and your attributions of intent in others. Amplifies small emotional reactions into big ones.
  • How to work with it: Put in a conscious, overriding correction factor. Deliberately look for emotion-specific counter-evidence. Internalize the knowing and the experience of this evidence so it becomes a permanent part of yourself (the inner skill of Taking In).


Orientation to the world, especially other people

  • Move toward, away from, against. Note the three major types within the Enneagram.
  • Effects: Primes your opening approach to people and situations. Primes your reactions. Could affect your orientation toward yourself. Often leads to mixed signals.
  • How to work with it: Put in a conscious, overriding correction factor. Do appropriate experiments in which you deliberately make yourself do something that is against your inclination. Notice the evidence that it goes alright when you don’t manifest your typical orientation to the world. Internalize the knowing and the experience of this evidence so it becomes a permanent part of yourself (the inner skill of Taking In).


Range of reactivity

  • From inhibited/rigid/cautious . . . . through mellow/easygoing/ phlegmatic . . . to intense/volatile/labile/prickly/manic.
  • Reactivity affects both emotional responsiveness and impulse control.
  • There are strengths at every point along the spectrum of reactivity. For example, inhibition includes watchfulness, restraint, and guarding the sense doors. Intensity includes passion, enthusiasm, and a transparency to others.
  • People who present as inhibited are often actually highly sensitive, and thus shut down to manage feeling overwhelmed by internal and external stimuli.
  • Effects: Pervasively shades your response to the outer world of people and situations Also shades your response to your own inner life. Inhibition shuts down useful information (that comes from our responses to life) . . . intensity magnifies the suffering of our reactions.
  • How to work with it: Put in a conscious, overriding correction factor. Do experiments where you make yourself go against your dispositional tendency. Internalize the positive results of these experiments so that they become a permanent part of yourself.

Issues with Autonomy and Intimacy



  • These are powerful drives fundamental to every normal human being: to be independent and to find people one can depend on . . . to be oneself and to be connected to others . . . to express the self and to receive the expression of others.
  • The two drives complement each other. To explore we need a secure base (very fundamental to the attachment experiences of young children). To be close we have to feel that we won’t be smothered. Individuation, being our own person gives us something of value to offer in relationships. “Fences make for good neighbors.”


The gender angle

  • While both are important for everyone, people tend to emphasize one or the other in their life as a kind of overarching imperative. Men tend to put a priority on autonomy, on not being pushed around, on not being one-down in dominance hierarchies . . . while women tend to put a high priority on feeling connected, that “you are with me,” on the stability of relationships.
  • Threats to either of those imperatives jumps to the top of the stack if it seems threatened: it becomes the underlying, true stake in a quarrel that looks like it’s about something else.


You can be more skillful inside yourself by:

  • Seeing differences around autonomy/intimacy as just cultural -like Swedish-Italian – with neither one being right; beware disdain for the other person’s priorities or style!
  • Seeing the strengths in the other person’s/gender’s approach
  • Not presuming threats to autonomy or intimacy when they’re really not there
  • You can be more interpersonally skillful by keeping in mind the imperative of your partner. Do appropriate things to address that ongoing need, and to preempt misunderstandings that you are threatening it.


Schizoid and narcissistic dynamics

  • Most of us have some of both, but one is typically most primary.
  • Each is a fundamental paradigm of relationship learned in childhood.
  • In the schizoid dynamic:
    • The person is focused on optimal distance in relationships.
    • They are uncomfortable getting too close . . . or pursuing self-expression too fully: “the nail that stands out gets hammered down.”
    • They tend to orbit others, never really landing but never attaining escape velocity.
    • While they often appear aloof, they are actually exquisitely attuned to the other person, and quite reactive (behind the mask) to the other’s behavior.
    • They tend to have issues around feeling invaded, feeling like their inner resources will be plundered or exhausted by others, or that they are about to be attacked; the image of the layers of castle walls surrounding an inner keep full of wonderful treasure.
    • They often had parents who ignored, discouraged, or punished bids for closeness – for the normal needs of the child for connection.
    • They often deal with people in confusing ways in which their desire to distance and to connect are both present, in a combo move, like quarreling as a way to connect, or reporting on their feelings in an intellectualized and detached way.
    • When dealing with a schizoidal person, respect for boundaries and “threat-reduction” are paramount.
  • In the narcissistic dynamic:
    • The person longs for “narcissistic supplies,” notably attention, mirroring, and prizing.
    • They often had parents who were alternately idealizing and critical, giving them a taste of the gravy train and then taking it away.
    • They react intensely to perceived slights of their value, often by devaluing others.
    • They often mask their hunger for valuing with a too-cool-for-school attitude.
    • They often seek like-mindedness.
    • They often oscillate between grandiosity and inadequacy.
    • When dealing with a narcissistic person, empathy and genuine prizing are paramount.
      Notice your reactions to bids for narcissistic supplies from others.
  • To address schizoid tendencies in yourself:
    • In terms of closeness, be aware of the fears or other negative reactions to closeness . . . . Let go of them, using the methods you’re learned . . . Notice that closeness is actually alright, and take in the experience of that.
    • Same with fears or other negative reactions to full expression of the self
    • Remind yourself that you are well protected and can afford to get close. Reminding yourself of your independence paradoxically helps you get comfortable with sustaining relatedness. Assert yourself to get the respect for your boundaries you need.
    • Remind yourself that you are much, much safer today from punishments or other negative reactions to expressing yourself. And much, much more able to deal with them if they happen.
  • To address narcissistic tendencies in yourself:
    • Hold your yearnings for attention, prizing, etc. with tender concern.
    • Don’t shame yourself.
    • Accomplish and produce in genuine ways. Beware any tendencies to expect a free ride somehow because of your wonderful potential.
    • Address the experiences of grandiosity and inadequacy as simply experiences like any other: to be aware of, to not identify with, to see the suffering in, to let go of, and to internalize wise and healthy alternatives to.
    • Notice the narcissistic supplies that come to you, and ask for more.
    • Take in the experience of narcissistic supplies down into the hungry hole in your heart, to build up resources inside.


Childhood Material

Why stir up that old crud? What’s the use?

  • To bring up material that can be processed once it enters awareness – and get rid of it!
  • To experience liberating insight: “I don’t need to assume that any more. I don’t need to act that way any more. I don’t need to worry about that any more.”


  • Bring to mind a moderately distressing or upsetting issue. Review the present-day (A) events of it, (B) reactions it stirs up inside you, and (C) how you are acting regarding it.
  • Then try to sense what is young about your response to it:
    • What could be feelings linked to this upsetting situation that come from similar situations when you were a child or teenager?
    • What could be wants from your childhood that relate to this situation?
    • What could be perspectives, ways of seeing things from your childhood that have gotten involved with your reactions these days?
    • What could be postures from childhood, or strategies, or styles, or actions from your childhood that are occurring these days?

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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