The Great Inescapable Anxiety

Working as a therapist, “hints” of death and its accompanying anxiety are never absent. I hardly get through my sessions without sensing a cry for help from individuals hurt by dire consequences and relationships.

It’s not private bias or indulgence on my part. It’s a universal concern we all have as human beings.

This “death anxiety” though is often invisible. A male patient in his early 40s told me about his much younger cousin who died recently of cancer. After learning it, he suddenly felt a rushing in his panic attacks.

Once while inside an airplane, everything was well when he took his seat. Then suddenly, he became so uneasy and felt, “This plane is where I am and it’s about to crash!” No amount of care from his wife or plane assistants could calm his anxiety and fear.

We have two choices to deal with “invisible death anxiety.” We either face the truth directly or we try to flee the anxious feelings and not attempt to come to terms with it. I think the latter response appears more common in modern times.

In the “Hour of Death,” author Philippe Aries writes, “Except for the death of statesmen, society has banished death. In the towns, there is no way of knowing that something has happened … Society no longer observes a pause; the disappearance of an individual no longer affects it’s continuity.”

Ernest Becker, in his “The Denial of Death,” describes the reality of the human condition. He says, “Man is a worm and food for the worms. This is the paradox; he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual … Literally split in two… He sticks out of nature with a towering majesty and yet goes back into the ground a few feet … to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and have to live with.”

Thus to make invisible our inherent death anxiety makes little sense. Our society focuses us more on the “economic” or “making a living.” Such conditions us to deny or be unprepared to dying. Yet we all need to face the reality of it to live well.

Free from the non-essentials of life or unnecessary personal disabilities. Free from “denying the problem,” “immature defenses,” “distortion of our reactions,” or projecting fears to things or persons.

Death anxiety is not beyond human control. If it’s made visible and faced head-on, it can bring much quality of life. Especially in light of our limited supply of years. I believe the measure of a good life is how we view and transcend our own death.

Is Freedom For You?

Self freedom and the matter of “willing and choosing” has a close linkage. It’s apparent, viewed from the perspective of healing, wholeness, action.

I also call this psychological principle as “taking responsibility for your self.” As Sartre put it, we are the authors of ourselves.

A patient, Benjamin, has a recurring dark side to his mind in viewing his present predicament. He constantly blames others for his debts and business bankruptcy, his physical illnesses, and his family disintegration.

And with avoidance of personal responsibility comes Benjamin’s string of psychological disorders, such as anxiety panic attacks, depression, obsessive compulsions, and substance addictions.

Each one of us is a “constituter” of the world we find ourselves in. We author the form and meaning that we give not only to our internal but to the external world as well.

We each process events, circumstances, and relationships in our lives through our own neurological and psychological apparatus.

Through the accretion of these individual choices, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and our failures to act in constructive ways, we ultimately manufacture our selves and our worlds.

We cannot avoid this personal responsibility — this freedom of “willing and choosing” for our selves. No matter what happened to us, done to us, from the outside, we remain our own primal world freedom “constituters.”

We remain responsible for our own response and existence — nobody else. Those who deny, ignore, or become unwilling to take responsibility for themselves end up remaining sick or stuck.

Such principle is a highly essential visible freedom-fostering denizen in all psychotherapy treatment.

Are You Loving From An Empty or Full Tank?

This week, I received a heartbreaking message from a divorced, 32-year-old Middle Eastern woman I’d call Riza. She is currently remarried after a time of promiscuity from the first divorce and left everything to be with her second husband in a foreign country.

After just less than a year of being with her second husband, Riza texted me the other night to pour out and describe her latest update. A part reads, “I have walked out and gone to international airport to leave the country as my self esteem is very broken with my husband.” What strikes me about Riza’ s declaration is that it’s her self esteem which got very broken, not the relationship with her husband.

I feel for Riza. My heart goes out to her. She is in a very painful place. Despite her natural beauty and “wanting to love and be loved,” Riza still finds her self empty and have not been making good progress learning to truly love and receiving love with the various men who passed by in her life. She has a “mountain” to climb but has to learn from the pain first about her self and her former love relationships before she can move on to climb the top.

Divorce or ending of a love relationship is especially traumatic and destructive for those who “love from an empty bucket.” If the center of your life and love is in your partner and the relationship dissolves, your center is suddenly removed. Since the bucket is empty, what else is left of you?

What could it be like if the loving is from a “full bucket” within a whole person? If loss, divorce, or ending of a love relationship comes, you would still experience pain and trauma. Of course. But it would not be so devastating and destructive because you love from a “full bucket.” You would still be a whole person.

Are you loving from an empty bucket or a full tank?

Beyond Gambling Addiction

Multiple times I’ve come across patients who’ve become addicted to winnings in casino gambling. At first, when they’re allowed to “win,” they felt high and proud like rock stars. They thought well of themselves and were cheerfully congratulated by smiling admirers. They giggled, kissed, and hopped up and down!

Then as time went by, the unbridled ecstasy turned progressively into increasing losses. Debts began to pile up. And one’s urges got out of control. As one patient Daniel told me in one of our sessions, “So what? I want my money back! I live for the next chip, borrow again and again — striking more to get my money back and cancel my losses.”

The whole problem with the money delusion is that it is deceptive. The lust or greed of the heart lies at the root of this lucky-sweepstakes syndrome. We crave instant gratification. Instant inheritance! The love of money and leisure can blind us to the importance of work we give to earn it. Specially in the materialistic world where we all are, we can become those who live only for the paycheck.

From this mindset, the money delusion falsely assumes that we are our happiest self when we think and feel no need to be productive to get the money we want. Or, if we’re able to earn it, we don’t experience lasting satisfaction and contentment. For years money and leisure promises us joy and leaves us disconsolate. Because its fleeting, the self never arrives at its true core and best meaning.

As writer W.E. Sangster once put it, “You seem to have more of everything than anybody else. You have more cars, more televisions, more refrigerators, more of everything. In fact, I’ve noticed that you also have more books on how to be happy than anybody else.” The history of men and women shows that money itself will not produce lasting feelings of self esteem and happiness.

In the process of getting older or when death looms nearer, this money delusion may begin to show its weaknesses to us. With chances of cancer, a heart attack, or costly hospitalization before us, despair over fleeting satisfactions begins to set in. The foolishness of both the money delusion and the leisure delusion gets clearer.

Rather than speed up incoming cash and self indulgences, one asks one’s self then, “Since my final years are short, how can I use my final years to produce what’s lasting and meaningful?” Here, the doctrine stops being purely material. Such self exploration can pave the way for us to understand what life’s purpose truly is.

Will Blaming Heal You?

Blame.

It’s people’s favorite pastime. Blame is to point to someone or something to be responsible for something wrong or unfortunate that happened to you. As a result, you find your self feeling powerless or helpless.

Maria shared during our session that she spent a large portion of her life with a husband who has been long addicted to pornography and women. She chose to remain in the marriage because of the children and his financial support.

Her focus for years was on blaming her husband for her unhappiness. As long as she could vilify him to friends and relatives, she did not see a need to take action. She spent nearly 20 years hurting and blaming her husband and circumstances.

Eventually, Maria and her husband separated. Her husband continued on with his addictions and extra-marital affairs.

Do you want to guess what Maria did after the separation? She found a boyfriend who was a married man.

After several months, her married boyfriend abandoned her for he could not completely commit to her and their relationship.

This in turn wounded her again more severely, allowing her to blame this boyfriend for her predicament rather than be accountable for her choices and actions.

Blaming others can be comfortable and familiar. See, it’s their fault!

Each time and in every circumstance where you blame others, you are reinforcing your belief that you are not responsible. Feeling the victim always, you get centered on your being helpless and powerless.

People who habitually blame others focus on what affects them and what they have no or little control over. By concentrating on these externals, they prove to themselves that there is absolutely nothing they can do.

Indeed, when you are living without personal responsibility and accountability, you move on stucked to the blame mode.

The pathological result is draining energy from your self, others, and the world.

When Addicts Defend Themselves

The psychological defenses that addicts use to avoid dealing with their addiction are typically deep and complicated.

Most people, faced with someone who’s talking and behaving irrationally, the first inclination is to confront and even rage.

In most cases, friends or loved ones attack the addict up front. I’ve observed so often, however, that directly confronting an addict almost never works.

I say this because an addict is not even consciously aware that he is using psychological defense mechanisms to avoid dealing with his problem. Such defenses make the addict unlikely to believe anything you tell him.

There are varied types of psychological defense mechanisms. You must be aware of these if you’re a caregiver of someone addicted.

Addicts in general tend to use more frequently the following more than the others: denial, rationalization, externalization, all-or-nothing thinking, acting out, passivity, conflict avoidance, comparison, claim into health, among others.

When an addict uses his defenses, it enables him to put the best possible face on a terrible situation. At the same time, he crusades and asks his family and friends to go along with his delusion.

How then do you start geting the addict in your life to agree to enter into treatment? Start learning how to successfully deal with and manage his psychological defense mechanisms. It’s hard work.

But if you follow a definite plan and strategy, it can spell a great difference in healing the addict in your life.

Smiles That Heal

One of my recent sessions was filled with joy. A couple, who used to experience bitterness, rage, and anger towards each other learned to smile a lot at each other. With that, they discovered how much they’re capable to feeling kind and compassionate to each other, struggling though they may be. A cheerful smile became medicine to their marriage.

Smiles have a therapeutic effect on our brain chemistry, according to experts. Researchers have found out that “when we smile, it releases brain chemicals called ‘endorphins’ which have an actual physiological relaxing effect.” They say that smiles not only diffuse crisis or tense situations in relationships. They also diffuse tension within our selves.

Have you ever witnessed people using foul language, with rising tempers or careless behaviors towards each other? They usually have stern, frowning faces. Some are used to brawling and slander. They threaten or damage relationships and themselves. Their emotions as well as the way they react to situations are out of control. And they seldom smile. Unfortunately, we live in a world filled with unsmiling, joyless faces.

So, the next time you felt so angry with someone or because of an argument, remember how it affects your health and well being. Look instead at the bright side of things. Tap that part of you inside that feels lighter and cheery. Smile. It can do wonders.