Reconnect to your Core.Chapter 6 - excerpt.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety doesn’t mean that you’re afraid of anything «out there». Anxiety is simply a danger signal to the ego that warns against «dangerous» feelings that might result in separation from your attachment figures and a loss of their love. Anxiety is therefore not a feeling, but merely the unconscious muscle tension that tries to prevent your feelings from reaching conscious awareness.
Anxiety serves an adaptive biological and evolutionary function by making sure that your attachment bonds will not be broken. Any thought or feeling that previously has led to unwanted separation from an attachment figure or their love is experienced as dangerous and will evoke anxiety.
Aggressive feelings and impulses may lead to separation from parents if those feelings were acted out upon. If the anger of the child were to be fully unleashed towards the parents, the result might be that the child kills his parents. Alone in the world he now has to feed himself, protect himself, and nurture himself. The reptilian brain «understands» that this will not be possible and that it would increase the likelihood that the child will die due to not being able to survive on his own. Therefore guilty feelings will emerge that his ego immediately tries to repress.
It’s not just anger that has the potential to trigger the UAM. Other feelings may also be perceived by the reptilian brain to endanger the attachment bond between child and parent. If the mother reacted negatively every time the child was happy, the reptilian brain would quickly learn that happy feelings might potentially destroy their attachment. To not have his happy feelings accepted would trigger the anger-guilt sequence towards his mother which would trigger his UAM. The UAM would therefore cover the child’s happy feelings with anxiety since the child would become angry-guilty in response to his mother’s reaction. Every feeling may therefore potentially trigger anxiety depending on how parents met the child’s feelings.
The main motivation of the reptilian brain is survival and it has the capability to override the emotional need of the mammalian brain. The survival mechanism of the reptilian brain has first priority in the mind and replaces mammalian feelings or human spiritual, logical, and rational capabilities with anxiety whenever it wants to.
Anxiety doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you or that you’re mentally ill. Anxiety is something that we all have to some extent since it’s a part of our central nervous system. It’s just the body’s alarm system consisting of unconscious muscle tension in response to our feelings. About 15-20 % of people have very little muscle tension in response to their feelings and are given pretty much direct access to their feelings by their mammalian brain without the reptilian brain’s interference. About 80-85 % of people have so much unconscious anxiety that they make decisions in their lives without knowing why they’re doing what they’re doing because they’re tense in their body and their primary goal is to rid themselves of this anxiety by the use of defense mechanisms.
However, only 25-30 % report that they’re struggling with «anxiety». This means that about half the population is walking around «blind» not knowing what goes on in their body or why they’ve become the person they’ve become. They develop symptoms and behavioral patterns which gives them problems, but they’re unaware of the link inside them between their feelings, anxiety, and defenses which causes these problems.
The difference between anxiety and symptoms.
Your body is built to tolerate anxiety, at least for a short while. However, many people develop a chronic state of anxiety which drains the body of energy. When anxiety develops into a chronic state it will result in psychological and physical symptoms. Different psychological symptoms caused by anxiety are the main reason people seek therapeutic help. Whether it’s fear of public speaking, shyness in social settings, restlessness, depression, somatic pain, procrastination, worrying, OCD, self-attacking thought patterns, burn-out syndrome, or relationship issues, they’re all basically symptomatic expressions of a chronic state of anxiety.
Anxiety is not your defense mechanisms.
Many people confuse their bodily anxiety with the defense mechanisms of the mind. They believe that worries (i.e. their thoughts) are causing their anxiety, therefore they confuse the corners of the Triangle of Conflict and end up confused about themselves. They believe that what they’re worrying about while they’re anxious is somehow true. They believe that since they’re anxious and worried about a certain outcome that this outcome is more likely going to happen. They believe that their worries are in some way a profound advice to be followed. And they also believe that their worries are going to keep them safe.
Just to make it clear. That fact that your body is tense and anxious does not mean you can predict the future or read people’s minds. I know your ego is trying to convince you that you’re able to do just that, but that assumption is not based on reality. You don’t have any magic powers!
To give you an example. Say you’re going to have a presentation at work and just before the meeting is about to start your heart begins beating fast, you start sweating, and your stomach tightens. Does this mean that you’re afraid of holding presentations? Afraid of making a fool of yourself? Afraid of rejection? Does it mean that you should avoid holding presentations? Does it mean that you should walk away? Does it mean that you are trapped? No. That would be buying into the defense mechanisms of worrying (i.e. believing you can predict the future), rationalization, projection, mind-reading, and passivity.
In fact, when you look around you then you will most likely see an office setting where your colleagues are sitting down, some drinking their morning coffee, some looking at you, some with eyes half shut trying to stay awake, and some with pen and paper in hand ready to take notes. However, and this is a big «however», you’re in no immediate physical danger at the office. There probably isn’t anything to fear in the environment that’s a threat to your survival. Unless your colleagues are armed to the teeth with assault rifles and battle axes you’re going to walk out of the room unharmed. So if this is the case, your physical health and well-being is under no threat, then why is the body tense and acting all funny? Again, this is because of unconscious feelings in you, not because of threat out there.
Anxiety and fear, imagination and reality.
Where’s the dividing line between actual physical threat and imagined threat based on the defenses of worrying and rumination? Imagine you’re on an airplane. Even before the airplane has begun its taxing and take-off you sit there anxious and nervous. The heart is racing and you feel tightness in the chest and stomach. These are signs of anxiety. You’re anxious not because there’s an actual threat to your survival but because feelings inside you aren’t allowed to reach the surface.
However, since you’re boxed in on a plane you can’t use your usual defenses of withdrawing and avoidance (which are parts of the DAEC). Since feelings emerge from the unconscious without your consent, the ego understands that feelings will now come to the surface no matter what. This is what the ego freaks out about. Since sharing feelings is a personal and intimate act, and since this has caused trauma earlier in life, anxiety is created to avoid sharing any feelings. This anxiety was previously avoided by avoiding similar situations such as tunnels, elevators, traffic jams, and presentations and speeches (i.e. social situations where you’re the center of attention), which all to the ego resembles the situation of being «stuck on a plane». But without the availability of familiar defense mechanisms (i.e. you can’t hide or withdraw on a plane) anxiety increases due to the fact that the ego becomes helpless since feelings will be shared and its defenses for handling this have been removed.
Fear on the other hand is based on an actual threat. Say you’re on a plane and both engines catches fire in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Now fear comes to you. It feels almost the same as anxiety, but they’re two different things. The stimuli and cause of fear is not based on your worries and wishful thinking, rather it’s based on real life threats and reality. That’s a huge difference.
Many people that suffer from social anxiety focus their attention on hypothetical outcomes in the future (i.e. What if’s). However, that which is hypothetical is not reality and does therefore not exist. That is why worries about social interactions and their outcomes are anxiety-based, and not based on fear. Underneath the worrying the person has feelings towards another person which haven’t been made conscious or felt. The ego will want you to believe that you can predict the future but that is not the case, the best you can do is block your wishful thinking and try to feel your feelings.
Anxiety is without words.
Now this is a very important point: anxiety is wordless! It is without thought, it is just a physical activation, an unconscious muscle tension in order to avoid feelings. It doesn’t mean that «the plane will crash», that «people won’t like me», or that you «won’t be able to tolerate the anxiety». It only means feelings are now activated that you’re not conscious of.
If you don’t have this understanding then the defenses of worrying and rumination will take over in your mind and convince you that you’re in danger. By keeping you occupied in your «thinkingness» the ego keeps you away from your feelings. The ego will intentionally contemplate on the perceived external reasons to your anxiety rather than focusing on the real cause to your anxiety which is feelings in yourself. Your ego is through the defense of worrying trying to convince you that anxiety is caused by something out there (e.g. the belief that «people won’t like me if I’m nervous»).
Do you see the difference between the mind (the worrying/rationalizing thought) and the feeling (the bodily activation and impulse)? It is important that you do, so that you become able to turn on the thinkingness-defenses such as worrying and rationalizing.
Your ego is trying to convince you that the thoughts it is feeding you while you’re anxious are somehow related to reality, that they’re true, that they’re a good advice, and that they will keep you safe. But really? I didn’t know you had the ability to foresee the future. This is what you’re actually claiming to be able to do. Maybe you’re not aware of it but you’re actually claiming that your thoughts while you’re anxious are true and somehow a sign of what’s going to happen. Talk about magic!
Anxiety is wordless and is triggered by unconscious feelings. It’s just the physical activation and the emotional wave in the body. It’s not the same as your thoughts and worries. Thoughts and anxiety, they’re two different things.
The payoff of being anxious.
The reptilian brain is happy when it gets to entertain you with worries, wishful thinking, worst-case scenarios, and ruminations that distract you from your feelings. Yes you unfortunately sit there anxious and worried, but as long as the reptilian brain can avoid unconscious feelings that are perceived to be painful and a threat to your survival, it is happy.
When the mind is in conflict, the survival instinct of the reptilian brain will always trump the need for emotional expression and personal integrity. Worries and rationalizations have the function of reducing anxiety because you distract yourself away from the anxiety by being busy in your mind while at the same time avoiding painful feelings. Therefore the reptilian brain is satisfied when you’ve «been convinced» that you’re able to foresee the future.
Many people are convinced that it’s their worrying and constant thinkingness about every eventuality that can go wrong that causes their anxiety. However, secretly many also believe that this thinkingness is smart and keeps them safe, therefore they’re at the same time reluctant to give it up. Perhaps the most common worries are about what people might think of you, whether you’ll get rejected or approved by others, or if people will like you or not. Worrying about these things are your thoughts, they’re not the cause for your anxiety. They’re just the ego’s attempt at regulating your anxiety. Again, there’s nothing wrong with thinking about such hypothetical scenarios if they entertain you. But now that you know the truth why torture yourself? To feel your feelings instead and avoiding the drama is preferable if you value peace and happiness. However, the ego is addicted to the «emotional juice» it gets by entertaining such thoughts and is therefore reluctant to give it up.
Anxiety is natural.
One thing that keeps anxiety going is our resistance to it. This resistance takes the form of 1) physical resistance (trying to fight tension with more tension) and 2) the judgements and negative evaluations of the anxiety. But trying to resist the anxiety while at the same time condemning it only maintains it and increases its intensity.
Anxiety is a natural human response. Only psychopaths never feel any anxiety. That you try to resist your anxiety, hide it and shame yourself over it, and think that you of all people should be above it actually prolongs its activation. When you indirectly try to refuse reality by saying: «Right now at this very moment the anxiety that I feel shouldn’t be there.», you’re living in denial rather than accepting that what is actually going on right now in your body is something that actually exist and therefore is both real and natural.
On the other hand if you accept your anxiety and don’t try to resist it then it will actually lessen. By welcoming the anxiety, being openly nervous, and not trying to keep it a secret it will diminish. You’re just anxious. So? It’s just a problem because you think it’s a problem. When you give it less importance and are able to be kind to your anxiety you may deal with it as the normal thing it is. «Gee, look I’m anxious, I wonder what feeling I’m having towards you right now.», seems like a more relaxed way of dealing with people than taking yourself so seriously you can’t accept reality as it is.
You can still be personal and relate to people even though the body is tensing up. A tense body doesn’t mean that you have to withdraw, play it cool, or that people will think less of you. By commenting on it during everyday situations you lessen its influence on you. When you treat the anxiety like the natural human thing that it is, you’ll stop thinking about it as a problem and it will lessen in both frequency and intensity.
Anxiety means you’re living outside your comfort zone.
In psychotherapy the goal is to get the patients functioning at their highest level of functioning. That means that some anxiety is good because it implies that you’re living outside your comfort zone. To allow yourself to feel feelings that you normally don’t experience will simultaneously counter the anxiety. To step into the unknown triggers feelings that will be accompanied by some anxiety, but this is not really a problem. The problem occurs if one aren’t willing to experience the new feelings and the accompanying anxiety at the same time. Most people just want to get rid of their anxiety and feel nothing, but that is not possible.
The anxiety needs to be replaced by a feeling, not with nothing, therefore there will be a moment when anxiety and feeling goes together that we need to allow ourselves to experience. This new emotional experience is necessary in order for development and change to take place.
Life is full of challenges, dreams, problems, success, hopes, desires, struggles, and loss. This is all part of being human. Every single activity we do we at one time did for the first time. Doing something for the first time, taking risks, exploring, learning new things, not knowing how to do something, and not knowing what to expect in a situation trigger excitement and emotions. This excitement is natural! We can only grow by learning new things and by expressing our curiosity and playfulness. You don’t want to lose this ability to feel excited and a bit nervous.
But sometimes if our anxiety is too high then we’ll get flooded by it and «forced to return» to the safe haven believed to be our regressive defenses. It’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater when this happens. Excitement and a moderate degree of anxiety can be a good thing. The trick is to be able to regulate the anxiety, and be able to tolerate it to a certain extent while simultaneously increasing your ability to feel your feelings. The goal is not to rid yourself completely of the anxiety (which can’t be done anyway) and in the process also lose your ability to be fully engaged and excited.
Anxiety as resistance to internal conflict.
Anxiety is kept alive by the resistance to it, and when you remove the resistance you remove the core of the anxiety also. Anxiety can hence be thought of as a form of resistance to the emotional reality in the present moment.
Physically the resistance is towards to the muscle tension and the bodily activation, but unconsciously there is also a resistance to the conflicts between our human, mammalian, and reptilian brain. There might be conflicts between different feelings, or there might be a conflict between avoiding sharing feelings versus being your true self by expressing your feelings.
It can ease the task of exploring your feelings by trying to figure out what the different (brain) parts in you want and become aware of which feelings are in conflict with each other. One conflict that often arises is between love and anger. One part wants to maintain the attachment bond to another person, while the other part wants to lash out towards the very same person. Another common conflict is between happiness and sadness. One part wants to be close, personal, and happy, while another part associates intimacy with pain, loss, and sadness. Very often it’s not just one feeling that’s causing anxiety but a combination of mixed feelings. Try staying with the mixed feelings and the conflict inside you. Try feeling both sides of the conflict and notice if this removes the anxiety.
Frederickson comments that anxiety is not triggered by split-off anger towards an «all-bad» person we have devalued. Rather anxiety is triggered by anger towards someone we love that we have mixed feelings towards. If you recognize your love towards someone and feel anger towards that person at the same time, the combination of love and rage will trigger unconscious guilt which will then trigger anxiety. To accept this internal conflict and allow yourself to feel all the feelings of the GSU will help you reconnect with your humanity.
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