01/26/2012 03:21 pm ET Updated Mar 27, 2012

Romney and Gingrich Share an "Inner Life" Problem

Both liberal and conservative political writers have been commenting on the negative public reactions to Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, despite their being the leading Republican contenders for their party's nomination. For example, conservative George Will portrays Romney as the person we don't trust -- writing of the "... impression many Republicans seem to have of his slipperiness...(and) the suspicion that there is something synthetic about him." Liberal Eugene Robinson describes Gingrich as the person we don't like, citing both Fox and CNN polls showing that Gingrich has about a 57% disapproval rating.

But there's something both Gingrich and Romney share -- though in opposite ways -- that contributes to these negative perceptions: It's a problem within the inner life of each, as it drives their outer life personas and behavior.

In essence, Mitt Romney is perceived by many as stiff and too scripted; unable to connect with ordinary people or be spontaneous in his interactions with them, even when trying to be humorous. Writing in the National Review, Jonah Goldberg refers to Romney's "... 2 percent milk personality... his authentic inauthenticity problem isn't going away. And it's sapping enthusiasm from the rank and file." I don't think Romney's patrician background can account for this. The Kennedys, for example, generated a strong sense of connection with the lives of ordinary people, despite their wealth.

On the other hand, Newt Gingrich has, in fact, aroused a strong connection with Republican voters, who seem to feel a shared anger and resentment about current problems. And yet, he's simultaneously perceived as arrogant, grandiose and unstable -- both by the very voters who support him as well as by conservatives. For example, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan describes him as "... a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, 'Watch this!'" and Charles Krauthammer writes that "Gingrich has a self-regard so immense that it rivals Obama's -- but, unlike Obama's, is untamed by self-discipline."

So, what's their inner life problem? To explain, your inner life is the realm of who you really are, on the inside. It includes your level of self-awareness; your capacity for knowing your own heart, your values, desires, and fears. It's the realm of your emotional truths, your capacity for love, empathy, generosity; your deeper sense of purpose -- what you're living for.

Your inner life drives what you do in your outer life -- your decisions, commitments, and the responsibilities you take on; and the goals you want to achieve in the external world and how you pursue them. An awakened, healthy inner life informs those external choices and actions by providing centeredness and truthfulness about yourself, to yourself. That's essential for knowing what demands or allures of the outer world you want to go after or let pass. For a more complete description, see two previous posts on the inner life and how to build it in today's world.

Looking at Gingrich's and Romney's public lives through this lens, Romney conveys an absence -- or more likely, repression -- of an inner life. And that can drive outer life behavior in ways that look inauthentic, hollow, or not "human." That doesn't necessarily repel people, but it doesn't attract them, either. It alienates. It fails to engage others because it creates a sense that, as Gertrude Stein wrote, "There is no there there."

On the other hand, Gingrich conveys an inner life that appears to exist, all right, but is highly distorted by ego-infatuation and grandiosity. That shows you can have a strong sense of self, including your internal values, beliefs and how you want to enact them in your outer life; and yet, that inner life can be so warped that you're out of touch with your true self, your motives, desires and conflicts. If your inner life is distorted by ego and joined by supreme, publicly displayed confidence, you can in fact attract people, especially those who feel that you voice their concerns, outrage or resentments.

Both the absence of inner life awareness, as well as an active but deformed inner life are potential problems. Your inner life becomes inaccessible and is pushed deeper into the realm of unawareness. Or it becomes consciously rationalized into falsehood through distortion and dishonesty. All of those inner life deformations become visible in your outer life, in some form. For example, Romney's strengths of efficient organization and disciplined execution of objectives fail to impress because they appear driven solely by external life goals, without any internal core or source behind them.

Moreover, you can become so intoxicated by the allure of the external realm -- material pleasures, power, money -- that your external life overwhelms and deforms your inner life. Then, you identify your internal self with who you are -- or think you are -- in that outer realm, just as Gingrich has been criticized for. That renders you unable to regulate, channel and focus your energies with full awareness and judgment. Ultimately, that can be hazardous to your psychological and physical health.

The media regularly reports stories of people whose self-destruction of their outer life success reveals a significant disconnect from their inner lives: Corporate executives led away in handcuffs for corruption. Political leaders whose flawed personal lives destroy their credibility and careers. Clerics who moralize from the pulpit but are sexual predators or adulterers behind closed doors. These are our contemporary Shakespearian characters, whose outer lives become toppled over by unconscious aims, destructive arrogance or personal corruption.

And that's regrettable, because a strong and healthy inner life brings your "private self" and your "public self" into greater harmony. That's the foundation for knowing how and why you're using your mental and creative energies in the ways you do, in the outer world. Then, you're fully tuned in to yourself with a "heart that listens," as King Solomon asked for.

Are there any political figures in the current political world who are immune to ignoring or disconnecting from their inner lives? Probably few, if any. Romney and Gingrich are just the most visible examples at the moment.

Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a business psychologist and psychotherapist, is director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, D.C. You may contact him at To learn more about him, click here.