The Anxiety of Being Alive
Being in the world is often accompanied by an underlying sense of anxiety. From our births, we are required to come to terms with a continuing journey of separation. As none of us can literally return to the womb, we seek to find a sense of this unconditional safety and connection in the world around us.
The anxiety of separation was, at one time supported by a rites of passage; which enabled the movement into adulthood and greater independence. The entire community took part in this, providing the clear message to the initiate that he or she were being collectively held on their path of separating out into the world. The fact that the entire community took part in this, made clear that this is no easy task to accomplish.
Today, without those cultural structures in place, we are left to make this break on our own, as best we can. This loss, can bring with it a sense of isolation. We are left with not only facing this separation alone, but with also having lost the fundamental message that facing this anxiety is also at the heart of being alive in the world.
The sense of anxiety we experience may vary depending on our respective personal histories. The more troubled our environment, family of origin and cultural setting, the greater difficulty in facing into ourselves and finding a sense of our own ground. In this way, the loss of a loving, nurturing mother can be seen as a wounding introduction to the world, and as adults we are left to inherit the child’s terror of being abandoned into an uncaring universe.
At these times, anxiety can become displaced into addictions, or obsessive/compulsive thinking and behaviours. In this sense, we might say that what obsesses us provides its own means of managing anxiety. For example, someone suffering from anorexia or bulimia focuses on body image as a means of exerting some means of control in a life that feels uncontrollable. What gets worried about then; becomes a defence against what is perceived as being potentially annihilating to our sense of self. However, as painful as our addictions or compulsive behaviour may be, it is always preferable to us, than what is considered as unbearable.
The work within psychotherapy therefore; is to be given the support to face what is unbearable in ourselves. Anxiety is a normal and natural part of life. It is part of the process of moving into the unknown. This place of unknowness is an integral part of coming to understand who we really are, rather than who we have come to believe ourselves to be.
Courage is also needed for this journey. Courage in this sense isn’t the absence of fear, but the acknowledgement that we, in all our glory, are at the end of the day more important than our fears.