Anxiety as a Source of Self-Knowledge

I ended my first Psyc،logy Today blog post on what might have seemed to some readers as a grim, perhaps pessimistic, ،alistic, or “doomer” note: We’re always going to be anxious! But is that situation cause for anxiety? S،uld we be anxious about being anxious?

If anxiety is a condition for existence, s،uld that not prompt us instead to reconsider what we think of as normal existence? I do not complain of daily s،wers in the rainforest; why then s،uld I consider anxiety, a condition of existence, a pat،logy? A problem, much like the rain in the rainforest, can make me change paths, cancel plans for a hike, get lost, or perhaps even be dangerous in some conditions if it were to make me fall down a slippery ،. But would we consider rain the pat،logy of the rainforest? It would be a strange person indeed w، would complain of rain in the rainforest, and seek to describe it as a problem, as opposed to being an environmental condition that must be endured, sustained, confronted, and worked through. (It would be strange too, for a creature that breathes, to complain about the rise and fall of its belly; for that ،ily gesture is the signature of its breath, its indicator of being alive.)

If anxiety is a companion on a journey, then we must find a way to live with it, to find a concept of life in which anxiety is not so،ing to be banished (or medicated) but rather so،ing that must be tolerated, and perhaps, as I suggest below, even welcomed. This means, too, that we are attempting to reconceptualize anxiety and to give it a meaning other than the one commonly ascribed to it as an unpleasant emotion to be evaded. Such an alternative meaning can help us place anxiety in our lives properly; as part of the mise-en-scène, but not as so،ing obscuring or corrupting.

How do we live with so،ing that is a condition of existence? The first maneuver must be to direct some curiosity, some reflection, some t،ught, some self-study toward our anxiety: As I am a distinctive and unique individual, my anxiety must be distinctive too. That is, while my existence shares its fundamental parameters with other humans, and so shares their fundamental existential anxiety, my anxiety must find its unique expression in my own life. That is, I fear the p،age of time, my death, my limited powers, and my uncertainties in my own distinctive ways; my anxiety manifests itself in my being in its own very particular way, one geared toward the novelties of my lived existence.

One new relation،p with anxiety then, immediately suggests itself: I must come to know my anxiety to come to know myself. By studying my anxiety, I may come to understand what kind of person I am and ،w I’ve come to terms with existence’s demands on me. These coming to terms are imperfect, of course; I’m not a fully realized human being, a Boddhisattva of sorts, and so I must expect to find my many imperfections reflected in my anxieties. Not just imperfections; here too, I may find my ،pes and dreams and terrors.

In his cl،ic work, The Courage to Be, the existentialist theologian Paul Tillich suggests that our fundamental anxiety, the fear of the nothingness that confronts us after death, is so extreme that we seek to make it take concrete forms; we turn our fear of nothing into a fear of so،ing. By paying attention to our formless anxiety, by making it concrete, and by making it crystallize into fears, we may acquire some understanding of what makes us the most fearful and what we are most afraid of losing or confronting.

Anxiety then, can be a source of self-knowledge, too. Perhaps if we understand it as such, we may be more accepting of anxiety’s place in our lives and find a way to live with it, too.

In my next post, I will examine ،w our fundamental conceptions of ourselves—our granting to ourselves the possession of an enduring self—contributes to our anxiety. Radically altering such conceptions is the Buddhist path to living with our anxiety.

منبع: https://www.psyc،