Archives for April, 2012
Everybody who has ever had an anxiety attack knows how hard it is to reign in thoughts during such an episode. We completely buy into whatever frightens us. Sometimes, people don't even know that they are having an anxiety attack and instead get caught up in the physical symptoms that come with it. They freak out over heart palpitations and sweaty palms, and with increasing fear the chest starts to feel tight and before they know it, some people worry about having a heart attack. If you are prone to having anxiety that gets out of hand quickly (and the same goes for anger too), it's important to intercept it as soon as possible. Most of the time, the fear revolves around a certain topic. What kind of situations tend to get you into trouble? What are the thoughts that come with it? How do the worries tend to spiral out of control?
So often we get caught up waiting for something big to happen so we can finally feel ready to make a change. "Once I have my college degree I will go out and take charge of my life." "As soon as my daughter is out of the house, I can start taking care of myself." "I can make new friends as soon as my social anxiety is gone." Thus are the hindrances of the mind that prevent us from living life. We keep waiting for some important outside event that will enable us to get going, and jolt us out of our passivity. But we don't have to wait. We can start any time. In a small way.
So many of us feel starved for support and attention. We feel alone, and riddled by doubts about what we should do and who we should be. We constantly obsess about what is lacking from our lives. How many of us have woken up in the wee hours of the morning, anxious and in the grip of fear. "I shouldn't have said that, now I'm going to lose that person.""I wish I wasn't so lonely." "I don't have enough friends, I am all alone in the world." And so on. We tend to lose sight of what is already present in our lives, and that we can rely on them. I came across this book by Byron Katie, called I Need Your Love - Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead. It was published a couple of years ago. I'm a bit of a newcomer to self help literature, but she is quite popular, so you may have read or heard about it many times before. I was struck by a quote in the book that reflects our most basic existential fears so eloquently that I want to just type the whole thing:
One of the most destructive forces in our own minds is the critical voice that seems to comment on much of what we do. “Why did I say this? I look like such a fool.” “I could have jumped in here and helped my colleague out, I’m such a dope.” “This didn’t turn out right, I have to do it all over again.” It seems like in many ways we are our own worst critics. Yes, sometimes we do mess up. But most of the time we do the best we can. If we want to change, we have to first and foremost deal with the self judgement we put on ourselves.
So often, we are unaware of the effect of our words on others. Something we say may linger in another person's mind, and we underestimate the importance it may have on them. Something that was said weeks ago may linger in our minds, and is brought up after the other long forgot about it. Our perception, as well as our memory, is extremely selective. We tend to pay attention to only those parts of a conversation that are important to our own agenda. We usually remember only the words that have emotional significance for us, and neglect everything else that was said - including our own thoughtless statements. These imbalances are exacerbated when there are power discrepancies. Like the one between parents and children. Teachers and Students. Psychotherapists and their patients. I have recently been on both ends of such miscommunications.
A poor body image is often connected to low self esteem: We don't like not having a perfect flat belly. We hate our poor thighs and ankles because we want them to look differently. We squeeze every pore and rip the skin off our cuticles to try and gain control over what is so hard to control:our emotions. When we are anxious or feel critical of ourselves, it seems that we have to do something. We have to distract ourselves from our negative thinking, and since we have a hard time getting a grip on our feelings, the body becomes the battlefield of our endless self improvement projects. Rather than having to change or bodies, how about we change our attitude?
I've been listening to a series of talks given by Caroline Myss on Self Esteem. Much of what she says is highly valuable. But I noticed how she keeps propagating a staunch attitude of absolutely not blaming anybody for their misdeeds. Instead, she insists in a tone that sounds (as she says herself) punitive, that we need to take responsibility for ourselves at all times. Of course we don't want to get hung up on pointing the finger at others. Especially in relationships with a partner or a close friend, it's highly detrimental to insist how only the other is to blame for whatever is going wrong. There also is a limit as to how long we can blame our caregivers for the sins of the past. All parents make mistakes. It's a built in feature of being human. And some parents never admit to their terrible misconduct or take responsibility for the damage they've done. We have to deal with the sins of our abusers. We have to confront that we were victims at one point. That we had no power over what was done to us. That we suffered at the hands of the people we were supposed to trust. We need to acknowledge the powerlessness of these situations and grieve the abuse. Then, at some point, we need to move on.
We all get defensive at times. I know I do when I'm having a really bad day and feel like I'm not being heard or misunderstood. And let's face it, we are not being heard or understood by others all the time. It's part of being alive. Defensiveness is one of the most destructive dynamics among couples. One, or maybe both at the same time feel tired, fragile or insecure, and when the other one has something unsupportive to say, the walls go up. In an attempt to protect our fragile state of mind we lock the other person out, and if the other person isn't fully on their toes, a confrontation is inevitable. The essence of every fight is when both parties feel they have to arm themselves against an attack from outside. That is when we put on the armor and grab our mental weapons and enter the path of war. We cannot hold back the onslaught of overwhelming emotions that arise in us - anger, hurt, feeling attacked - and point the finger back at the offender in an attempt to draw attention to the imperfections of the other person. When such strong feelings arise, it's very difficult to intercept the automatic unraveling of a beginning fight.