“Anxiety is loves biggest killer. It creates the failures. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds onto you. You know he will strangle you with his panic.” (Anais Nin).
This quote struck me with force when I read it as it explains something I have wrestled with for a long time in my work and in my life. I was suddenly able to understand something that has never been satisfactorily explained before.
Anxiety can creep in almost unnoticed in any part of life and can affect anyone. Even when first recognised it is usually dismissed as ‘being silly’, or ridiculous; to be breathed through (usually in the wrong way), or to be overridden whilst the the serious and more important business of ‘sorting things out’ is dealt with.
This cognitive flaw covers up our damaging and damaged unconscious feelings and drivers: the fight becomes counterproductive, addressing the wrong aspects of our being first.
The emotional and the spiritual come before the cognitive, I would suggest. That is so often forgotten in our “rationally” driven lives today. when this confusion and dissonance occurs; the tentacles and feeder roots of anxiety insert themselves into the fabric, first of the body and then the mind.In the body, breathing changes for the worse, sending signals to the brain that all is not well. the brain responds to old fight or flight schema, not reality; but it is reality; as one thing has been forgotten. I will come to that shortly.Then the mind interprets what seems to be an irrational weakness and tries to override the signals.
In a very short time the foundations are established of a noxious, rampant weed that grows quickly and whose roots entwine in a way that makes eradication in the normal way almost impossible. Also the roots are poisonous,creating a toxic sludge of tissue that absorbs the mind and sickens the body, introducing free floating unconnected feelings of nausea that heighten the anxiety. To compound the problem, any unresolved unconscious issues around self worth,abandonment,any early trauma,discounting the self-anything afflictive-anything that can be a midwife to shame is potentiated by anxiety (the effects multiplied exponentially).
Shame here is that sense of being defective as a human being, broken and unfixable and has nothing whatsoever to do with guilt or being ‘ashamed ‘ of behaviours that violate an internal moral code. Those are normal and healthy if attended to correctly. This can also be complicated by a belief that these issues ( of shame), have been previously resolved in earlier therapy.
Thus destructive shame is magnified by anxiety and each feeds the other. The sensation of nausea can be the insidious herald of shame’s secret presence and becomes co present with the presenting issue of anxiety.
Living in a therapeutic milieu that is rationality driven, it is the anxiety that receives the attention.
This entanglement is made even more deadly (and make no mistake it can be deadly),when the shame becomes ‘toxic’. which is to say it pervades ones entire being and creates the unconscious desire to remain hidden to protect against the horror of being seen as ‘unfit for purpose’ Any attempt to uncover this is met with fierce resistance ,as the ego defences seek to protect the core of being against perceived attack. Any threat will be vigorously defended and can show as anger, depressive symptoms and a lack of presence to reality, or perversely, a desperate neediness in relationships or partnerships of any kind.
What can be explored is a spiritual solution upon which other therapeutic insights can be safely overlaid on a sound base sense of self as ‘part of” not autonomous and alone.
A Spiritual Solution:
So many of the modern therapies that are supported by government agencies and promoted by Academia are based on a purely and supposedly “rational” approach in what are frequently presented as ‘evidence based’ models. this desire for rigour is laudable and in some ways valuable and necessary, but this stance adopted has lead to therapeutic models that have been acknowledged as efficacious for millenia-for example ‘mindfulness’, being left on the periphery for far longer than has been valuable for potential clients. It seems sometimes that client needs are rendered secondary to social science needs to be seen as ‘scientific’.
Now of course, ‘mindfulness’ is all the rage, as studies, better late than never, have validated what devotees have known for centuries-that it works. The same is being experienced by the Christian mystical tradition. Eastern practices are now de rigeur in the West and the Christian tradition tends to be avoided as somehow embarrassing, although there is mounting scientific evidence as to the value of prayer, a belief in a Higher Power, and the adherence to a core ritual in the lives of many thousands (and more) of people in recovery from life threatening addictions and other trauma based experiences.
This is not an academic paper in any way shape or form, so my suggestion is you explore my comments for yourself ; read, research and decide on the truth or otherwise of what I am suggesting. I will however offer one supporting reference to this and that is the synergy established between the processes of Centering Prayer as a fast developing Christian mystical meditative path (Lectio Divina) and current research in Family Systems Therapy. Furthermore, scientific research of the influence of heredity on behaviour is beginning to mirror the Family Constellation work popularised by Hellinger at al, nearly 50 years ago, which now supports strong therapeutic communities around the world and which work suggests a general principle that a ‘Field’ surrounds us all, within which care and order can be achieved in a healthy relationship with the self-in-the-world.
So a spiritual approach to the issue of hidden shame would be to consider the nature of a relationship with a ‘caring’ or ‘benevolent’ universal presence.
A power greater than that which currently forces you to your knees with its overwhelming unconscious power; for that is what shame does. If power greater than that, that can persuade your mind that you are the most powerful force in the universe; if a power greater than that exists, maybe there might be a way that allows a rationality of belief in a benevolence, or God-manifested in whatever fashion feels comfortable; maybe that power can be called upon for assistance in becoming whole.
Not only in becoming as a healthy and potent ‘self’, but more importantly as a self that surrenders to something much greater, that will magnify health, being and becoming and create an awareness of being ‘part of’ rather than as an autonomous, but lost, soul. This latter state being the acting out of free will, but without any true freedom.
This universality of proposition, to allow for the possibility of the universe being the “Isness”-which is God or Higher Power, magnifies our presence in the possession of this hugeness rendering a ‘livingness’ of shame and toxic shame absolutely unnecessary and quite contrary to the reality of who we are and are becoming. Thomas Merton the great mystic and writer once wrote, (paraphrased) that if we realised the Divinity that exists in every individual we would bow down before every human being.
A wise old gardener once said to me that if we could draw aside our ego from its constant interfering in our mind and just listen, we would meet God, to find that he/she/it had always been there.
For years I have seen this being manifested in friends , clients ,writers and other artists and I have been the recipient of an extraordinary and life saving example of that glorious word, “Grace”; that I offer it as something so close to home, so simple, that it often gets missed ,as I missed it for so many years.
In my next posts I shall try to simplify and deepen my struggle with the right words for this wonderful possibility: that shame cannot exist in the presence of pure love and without the presence of that shame, there can be no anxiety.
We treat the soul with love; not the mind with coping mechanisms.