Control and Anxiety

The influence of control in my life reminds me of an octopus. It lies unseen in dark places with its eight tentacles probing into my outer world. The first seven tentacles represent resistance, overwhelment, the need to be right, impatience, anger, planning, manipulation Despite my desire to stop at seven blogs on control this eighth tentacle representing anxiety has finally overcome my resistance.

Recently I had been reflecting on anxiety and realized that although not an anxious person on the surface, I frequently suffer from a low grade, unconscious anxiety that has a surprising capacity to impact my life. Perhaps this is why it took me so long to see the relationship of Control and anxiety.

Of course a natural question about unconscious anxiety is how have I become conscious of it? This emerged from my study of Jungian Analyst James Hollis’s teachings around the unconscious and anxiety. Hollis states that we cannot know what is in the unconscious directly but we may discern influences of which we are not conscious through examination of dreams, patterns and behaviours.

He also suggests that addictive patterns of behaviour are anxiety management systems. They can take many forms from the more draconian such a drug addiction or alcoholism to the less damaging such as TV or simple habits.

I became curious about a pattern of behavior that involved watching TV. It was not any TV; it was focused on a specific form of what I now describe as comfort viewing. It would frequently feature repeat performances of old British mystery programs that were familiar, I liked the characters, they were predictable, and nothing would scare me, disturb me or surprise me.

I realized it was a form of escape; it definitely had a pattern to it; it was somewhat mindless, and like a spider could entrap me in a lethargic snare. Reluctantly I concluded it had all the characteristics of a mild addiction.

Following Hollis’s logic if I am engaged in an addiction no matter how mild, there must be anxiety at the heart of it. I realize anxiety is a bit like a referred toothache, it may not be directly associated with the real centre of pain.

This began a quest to examine potential anxieties in my life. I began with the existential anxieties of life: death, health, age and aloneness. It felt healthy to own some of my fears. Hollis suggests that the best way to deal with anxiety is to turn into fear. Anxiety is a child state while our adult self can handle fear.

However I sensed there was more and perhaps something was going on in my life that was causing anxiety that I had not known so it had been repressed.

It was not difficult to identify. I am organizing a major event in Assisi for the Spiritual Community of which I am part. It has taken on a life of its own with 90 people already registered two years ahead of time.

I realized my anxiety had arisen because I was not on top of the organization required. I was telling myself I had lots of time but at some level there was a fear of being overwhelmed.

It had tucked itself away in my unconscious to show up in my pattern of TV viewing. I realized the best way to deal with it was to tackle the problem and within three hours I had everything under control. The effect was palpable, I could engage in my life in a different way. It was as though an invisible restraint had been released.

For some reason at first I did not see the relationship between this anxiety and control. It occurred to me later that as long as I keep things under control my anxiety is managed but when I lose control, the child state once again assets itself and begins to control the agenda of my life. Once again I am held hostage by the past.

This morning the catalyst to this blog came from observing a distinct shift in my feelings and sense of self after reading a relatively benign e-mail. At first I entered a state of denial but it was difficult ignore that I shifted from feeling good to feeling “blaah”.

What had happened? The e-mail was about a pilgrimage that is associated with the event I am planning but not part of it. There is significant anxiety in the community about getting on the pilgrimage because it is a much smaller event than the Gathering. To some degree I have become the focus of this anxiety and accepted responsibility for forwarding names to the organizer.

The e-mail took me off the hook as the organizer had now stepped forward but had triggered anxiety. Why?

This loss of control means I have to accept that all the people who contacted me are no longer my responsibility. The adult accepts this however the child grows concerned and worried that he missed someone.

I turned the anxiety into action and send an email to everyone advising them of the new development and that there is someone else on whom to project their anxiety. My job is complete.

Now I can leave for Europe with peace of mind. Back in five weeks.

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