Tag Archives: Safety

Fear of Societal Collapse

Throughout my life I have gone through periods where I have worried about societal collapse. Sometimes it would fill me with a such a feeling of dread that I found it difficult to go about my daily activities and carried this feeling around with me for weeks at a time.

Realistically, although unlikely, this sort of thing is not impossible. Societal collapsed happened in the 400s to the Western Roman Empire, so there is precedence for this. When I was younger I worried about nuclear war and swarms of killer bees. After the fall of the Soviet Union I worried about peak oil, an asteroid or commit hitting the earth, the super volcano in Yellowstone Park, the dollar collapsing and viral pandemics. All of these are possibilities and could destroy civilization as we know it causing untold death and misery to those who were fortunate enough to survive.

But I have to wonder, are these worries really an indication of something else? There have been many times that I worried that I would never be successful in life but then wondered why it mattered in the first place because the Earth could get hit by an asteroid and society would collapse and success would no longer be defined the same way under the new social order. I think this line of reasoning is more my shame ego undermining my motivation to succeed. There have been times when I felt this kind of anxiety and it turned out to be an indication that I did not feel safe in the normal functioning of my life. I know this because I expressed these anxieties to a therapist. He responded, “so you need safety?” When he said this I felt an uncontrollable wave of grief well up in me. Once I allowed myself to feel the grief in this safe un-judging environment my anxiety about societal collapse lifted. This pointed out to me that what I thought my fear was about was really a disguise.

Of course it does no good to worry about these things. They are completely outside of our control and that is why they are scary. They threaten to overturn all we cling to in life to make ourselves feel safe. But really this feeling of safety is an illusion as much as the fear is. There are no guarantees of safety in life. There are no guarantees of success. There are no guarantees of misfortune.

We cannot really avoid worrying from time to time. We can recognize this fear for what it is, however. We fear loosing these illusions that serve us by allowing us to function in the face of the intimidating, dangerous, enormity of reality. Thinking about this I really have to resign myself to the fact there is not much I can do to protect myself and must therefore try not to worry and live each day grateful for existence and the good things I experience therein. It is an adventure to live under such circumstances. That answer is not entirely satisfying but truth often is not satisfying. Why else would we cling to illusions?

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Two Feelings I Don’t Want To Feel: Missing Out and Humiliation

There are two feelings I don’t want to feel, the feeling of missing out and the feeling of humiliation.  I have come to understand that both of these feelings are two sides to the same coin which is shame.  The explanation is a bit circular.  Humiliation is a terrible mental and physical feeling.  It is the feeling of being judged negatively by others and agreeing with them.  It is the feeling of knowing I have no worth and do not deserve respect.  Further, it is the feeling that I deserve to be disrespected because I have no worth.  Because I fear feeling humiliation I am reluctant to try new things, take risks and otherwise “put myself out there.”  So I make safe choices and stay within my comfort zone.  But within this comfort zone I feel like I am missing out.  So I stay within my comfort zone until it becomes stifling and intolerable.  At that point I reach out for any sort of change.  Because the change is new and different and not very well thought out I often fail and when I do I feel humiliated.  When I am humiliated I seek safety which then repeats the cycle.  This cycle is shame.

Generally, shame is the painful feeling that I am not worthy of respect.  This is not merely a mental conclusion but also a physical, bodily sensation.  There are two typical ways I deal with shame: hiding my shame from others and distracting myself from my own shame.   I hide it from others by pretending or acting to be something other than myself.  Implicit in this action is the belief that I am contemptible and if others knew the truth about me they would reject and abandon me.  I distract myself from shame through addiction.  I drink alcohol, I have taken drugs, I bite my fingernails, I masturbate to pornography, I gossip, and I try to make other people feel shame.  All these distractions are a very short-term fix that produces an immediate form of pleasure.  This is the nature of addiction.  The desire for distraction comes from the primitive brain called the limbic system.  The aim of the limbic system is survival via the avoidance of pain and the seeking of pleasure.  This aim creates the addictive desire.  Unfortunately, the modern brain called the prefrontal cortex, kicks in once the limbic system is satiated and goes to sleep.  The prefrontal cortex then makes me feel shame for giving in to my addiction.  The prefrontal cortex, whose aim is to plan for the future and preserve the society that protects me, knows that a society of addicts is no society and will fall apart.  My prefrontal cortex tells me that by giving into addiction I am responsible for the impending downfall of civilization.  I believe this and then I feel ashamed and unworthy of respect.  This feeling is painful and will eventually wake up my limbic system who will then recreate the addictive desire to distract myself from them.

This describes the cycle.  I do not want to feel humiliated so I seek safety.  I then feel stifled and reach out of my comfort zone.  When I do this I feel humiliated.  This cycle of shame is painful.  I hide it from others and I distract myself from it through various addictions.  The solution is difficult but achievable.  It starts with becoming aware of the process and that is the aim of this blogpost.

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Stuck Between Stagnation and Fear

My recent move from Connecticut to North Carolina made clear to me that I live between two states, stagnation and fear.  When I feel stagnant I move to change my situation but when my situation changes I experience fear and seek safety.  The safety eventually becomes stagnant and the cycle repeats itself.  For me, both stagnation and fear are intertwined with humiliation.  When I am stagnant I feel humiliation because I feel like I should be moving forward.  The humiliation of stagnation is a safe place for me even though it feels dead.  When I move out of my comfort zone by striving for more than this I risk a more intensive humiliation because somewhere along the line I learned that failure is shameful.  This risk brings about fear.

In 2009 I was laid off from a large law firm in Philadelphia.  I worked their for eight years and hated it.  I had wanted to quit because I was not growing professionally but was afraid to quit because I was afraid of having less money.  This was the humiliation of stagnation.  It felt safe to stay in a job that I hated because I feared taking a risk by leaving.  At the same time my marriage was horrible – probably because I hated my job.  I had financial problems despite my income.  The stress was overwhelming. I became depressed and suicidal (not that I acted on that feeling).  I craved the feeling of safety.  Although being laid off was a relief at first it began to feel unsafe because I had more expenses than income.

So my wife and I rented our house in Philadelphia and moved in with my parents in Connecticut.  In the beginning, although I felt a certain level of humiliation living with my parents my stress level definitely declined.  It was safe.  Comparatively speaking it was emotionally a much better place for me.  Since that time we worked on our marriage, we both obtained new jobs and after a bunch of life changing therapy we were in a position to move out.

As the time for moving approached I felt the fear returning.  Before the move, my mind would race at night about all the things I had to do and all the money I would have to spend.  After the move I stressed about getting furniture for our new place and all the money I spent.  I also felt a level of humiliation for not having our place set up for a week.  I see now that moving beyond my comfort zone makes me fearful and so I seek safety.  I see that safety is a relief and feels good at first.  Eventually safety feels stagnant and confining and I yearn to move forward.  But as the day approaches to actually move the fear kicks in and attempts to stop me.

But on the other side of fear is feeling alive.  And so in order to feel alive I have to be willing to feel fear and not retreat back to safety.  Historically, I have not been willing to do this.  This time around I choose to go through the fear and see what happens.  Hopefully aliveness is on the other side.

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Connecticut

I have a love hate relationship with Connecticut.  I love it because it is familiar and safe for me.  I hate it because it seems like there are few opportunities and it makes me feel stagnant, like I am missing out on all the excitement going out outside its borders.

I was born and grew up in Connecticut.  At one point in high school my family considered moving.  That thought scared me.  Connecticut was safe (although I was bullied constantly during my childhood).  I went to college in Boston.  When I graduated in 1993 it was really difficult to get a job with a BA in psychology.  So I moved back to Connecticut and live with my parents for a while.  I drove a delivery truck and felt anxious and ashamed that I could not find a better job.  At that time Connecticut felt stifling to me.  There did not seem to be much opportunity and there was not much to do.  Then I moved to Washington, DC.  City life was more interesting but it was also more stressful. I went to law school in New Orleans.  Again, more interesting but stressful.  I got married and moved to Scranton which felt safe but then stifling.  So we move to Philadelphia where I worked for a law firm bored out of my mind, stressed and ashamed because my position did not allow for advancement.  My marriage got worse.  I became very anxious and depressed.  After I got laid off in 2009 I moved back to Connecticut and with my parents.   We had been talking about relocating to Connecticut.  The idea seemed appealing to me.  I had friends and family in the area and the schools are good.  I now see that I just wanted some safety in my life.  At first the feeling of safety was inviting but finally it became stifling again.  My marriage is better now and soon we will be moving to North Carolina.

Connecticut is unique in that there is nothing really unique about it.  I had a girlfriend in college who took pride in the fact that she came from Tennessee.  During an argument she jabbed at me that I came from a state known for absolutely nothing.  I found it strange that she took pride in her state.  I can’t imagine anyone being gung-ho Connecticut.  One time I was talking with a friend’s wife from Massachusetts.  I tried to find a point of commonality and pointed out that we were fellow New Englanders.  She looked at me strangely and said, “Connecticut isn’t part of New England.”  I found this kind of insulting.  She said, “I always thought of Connecticut as that state you drive through…”  Sometimes I think about this conversation and get angry.

I grew up in suburban Connecticut outside of Hartford.  I always felt like there was no real community with roots.  Most of the population was transplanted.  There were very few families that could claim to be multi-generational citizens of Connecticut.  When kids went to college they rarely came back.  I sort of felt like I had missed out on something because of that.

Connecticut is also full of crappy cities.  Without exception, all the cities in Connecticut are run down, poor and without any real attractions.  When I was a kid I used to go to Hartford Whalers games.  They moved out of the state some time ago.  There is always the sense that Connecticut was better back in the 1960s.  I was born in 1971.

I recently got a job where I work from home.  So now I can move and take my job with me.  My wife and I decided to move to North Carolina where the schools are good, there’s a lower cost of living and there is an energy to it.  Connecticut is very safe and has served its purpose.  I will miss the Fall in Connecticut.  I’m sure after a while I will begin to miss the safety as well.  For me, however, the safety is a box that has confined me.  The outside world is more stressful but I want to grow and I have to move on.

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