It’s been some time since I last wrote some psychotherapy stuff. My life was more or less a roller-coaster during the last couple of years, while changing countries and languages, and trying new things like personal development & leadership stuff, psychiatry articles, socio-political articles, writing my Romanian language book or creating mobile apps. But during the last months I began to feel the need to settle and do what I do best: explaining psy stuff. Although my personal writing articles will likely continue (as my workplace undoubtedly triggers me), I felt I need to grow (towards what?) and resume my psychological (spiritual?) quest, hence the return of my psychotherapy articles.
Some time ago I said that everything in life has a price. If it’s not a dream or a surprise, if it’s a goal, then you must pay for it. So make sure it’s your goal and not someone else’s. Dreams are free, surprises (miracles or troubles) come without your intervention, but goals must be paid with your effort or your time or something else. Today I want to expand a bit this subject, using a psychotherapy frame.
If you take a look at the image I made and attached above, you can see the 3 main nasty emotions and some concepts that sit opposite them. For those who don’t know, there are roughly 5 main emotions: anxiety (angst, fear, panic), anger (fury, rage), sadness (often mistaken for depression, in this case above seen in an existentialist way as the lack of fulfilling one’s desires), joy (which rarely requires psychological assistance, unless it’s a manic state, for instance) and surprise (which has limited value in psychotherapy, as it fades rapidly in time). Opposite anxiety is the need for stability/safety, opposite anger is the need for power/control and opposite sadness is the need for pleasure/comfort. And there is a logic behind the entire model, a logic some of you might be familiar with from the Jungian psychology – the logic of the extremes, of light and shadow – namely, if you exaggerate in one direction, the opposite grows accordingly. To simplify things, there is a simple rule that goes like this:
The need of … leads to the opposite emotion …
I’m not suggesting anything here; everybody is free to do (or be driven by) whatever he/she wants, but it would be a good idea to assume consequences. That is, assume the price to be paid.
Some people need a lot of power and control in their life. They want to be free to do what they want, they want to control many aspects of their lives (money, relationships, other people, etc.), but by doing this, they fall prey to anger. Remember: Nothing in this life is under control!
“Why are you so stupid? Why do I have to do everything in your place? You’re my headache!”
“I wanted to be a freelancer, an entrepreneur who’s his own boss, but I can barely sleep because of the stress involved… I have to deal with a lot of idiots, with a lot of weak-minded individuals who are not open enough or too lazy and bureaucratic. I fight every day with these individuals so as to stay relevant and earn my money… I am a lone wolf, I hunt alone and eat alone, but I must guard myself aggressively.”
“I am the head of the department. I am squeezed daily between the political power and my team. My family says they can barely cope with my daily anger…”
“The patient told me that he stopped medication without telling me. He told me that while smiling. I am a control-freak. I wanted to kill him right away. I worked for many months to heal him and he just ruined everything in a couple of days.”
“It drives me mad when patients don’t come for the monthly checkup. Why don’t they phone to tell me they won’t come?!”
As you can see in these random examples I created on the spot, every time we (or I) want to control stuff or exert my power on others (or situations, or things), I must be ready to face the emotion of anger. This is the price – the right price – for being too controlling (or power-hungry). Don’t tell me life is unfair! It is normal to feel anger, but you just thought an exception will be made just for you, right?… No, it won’t be made! Also, be aware that sadness and anger can look similar. When I make it back home after a tiresome day in which I struggled with all kind of people, I might tend to say I’m depressed (sad), while in fact I’m exhausted by excessive anger. Know the difference!
Some people need a lot of safety and stability in their life. They want to play it safe. But a steady life, a predictable life in which everything relies on precedence (carefully prior designed strategies), will give birth to anxiety. Remember: Nothing is truly foreseeable in this life! And nothing lasts! We’re building sand castles!
“I secured a beautiful family, I have healthy kids, a good job… but since my neighbor got cancer, I started to have panic attacks. I am afraid I might lose everything now. What shall I do?”
“My children are living and working abroad. They are happy there, I visited them on several occasions and they are fine. Yet, I am worried about them all the time. See all these terrorist attacks everywhere? It’s not like having them with me, under my eyes, every day. Who knows what might happen to them?!”
“I bribed everybody and did all kind of things to make it to this job… don’t make me mention them!… On several occasions I even had to sacrifice my friends and blackmail one close family member so as to get to the top. Now I live everyday with the fear that I might lose what I conquered. I am always on the lookout for potential danger. It’s becoming stressful to be always watchful (fearful).”
“I returned to this place where nothing happens. I go to work and come back home. All is well. But it’s so freaking boring… And for some time now… I am quite restless when night falls… Could it be anxiety?”
Safety and stability are a huge source of anxiety. People are afraid that the status quo might one day meet its end. People are afraid of change. Change can also be the very fact that one must die. Being alive, being healthy, not being in danger… are plagued by the fear that one day they will disappear. Too much stability, too much boredom, comes also with the price of anxiety. Any taste for adventure?!
Some, or should I say, most people, need pleasure, comfort, belonging to some group, fulfillment of their desires. Or, to put it more generally, they need that life should be adequate to their desires. They want to have it all, in all aspects of their life. Life should be fair. And life should be easy. And it isn’t. Remember: Life in this world is not (only) about us! We’re part of it but we’re not the main character, the ultimate protagonist!
“I can do everything. I am an excellent husband, boss, community member. On the surface. But I secretly know one thing: I never loved. It was all about appearance, about the stage and about the role I played. I feel like an empty carcass. What I truly wanted was to love. And now, at the end of my life, I am filled by huge sadness… That’s why I tried to commit suicide.”
“I was married 65 years until my husband passed away. I married him because I wanted to please my mother and because he had money and social status. Now, in the seniors’ home and at the end of my life, I remember… him. He was the love of my life… I lost contact with him when I got married with your grandpa… I wonder if he’s still alive… Not being with him during this life… is my greatest regret…”
“I often go to the cemetery to see my could-have-been brother-in-law. Every time I am filled with a deep sadness, as I remember all the things we never had the opportunity to live together. We could have traveled and spent so much time together, we could have been a bigger family and his parents would’ve never had to be in such a dire situation, of having to visit him in the graveyard. When I must assess patients on the oncology department, I walk every time by his former room, where I saw him alive for the last time, and my soul is heavy and grim. A family has been smashed into pieces… Can my life – and especially the life of my loved ones – ever heal?”
“I always thought that I prepared myself to be an active and wise member of the society, someone who could lead others and get them out of the swamp. My desire was to help rebuild the country, to help it become an important European nation. I was an idealist. Now I am a sarcastic critic of the system, a cynical isolated individual who powerlessly watches the decay of his former dream. And I will take this sorrow with me in my grave.”
Not all people have desires. Surprisingly many individuals are only at the primitive level of frustration (or fear-anger). But once you grow or develop desires of your own, once you create depth in your personality, you are prone to suffering through sadness. Again, don’t mistake anger for sadness. A superficial woman who has just lost her boyfriend (which was, worse, stolen by someone with much more sex-appeal) is likely to cry because she is angry (frustrated), and her tears don’t indicate sadness at all. These tears will quickly fade away when a new conquest will be accomplished.
In conclusion, be aware of the price of your choices. Too much focus in one direction means extra burden from the opposite side. But this doesn’t mean we should absolutely be in the center. There are times in one’s life when one accentuates more one need or lives excessively one emotion. That is flexibility. Then, the personality traits shape a lot the available experiences. But the main idea behind the entire article is the one of acceptance and of being assumed. And of paying the price in complete awareness.