I offer counselling for anxiety in Twickenham.
Feeling anxious is not the problem, reacting disproportionately is…
Responding to your instincts is not irrational, it’s sense-ible. If you don’t pay attention to your instincts and emotions, you will feel self-alienated. Over-thinking and complying with convention is a scripted-version of reality. One that you’ve conditioned yourself to believe in, but not yet tested out. The point of a survival map is that it offers you a reference point, when planning or reviewing your journey. Sooner or later, you need to put the map down and trust your instincts to negotiate the real environment.
The key to survival is to sense, respond and adapt, not go with the same old map. This is especially true when confronted by a new situation and the map needs to be updated.
When to be rational
People who tell you they are rational are deceiving themselves. Except when they’re doing maths, reading, analysing a problem, or writing. Rationality is a key skill for thinking, constructing models and solving problems, but logic has its limits when you’re confronted with real-world dilemmas. If you don’t trust your instincts, you cannot form intimate or trusting relationships.
When you are cut-off from your emotions, you may be afraid to feel connected. Perhaps you distrust your instincts and feel overwhelmed when it comes to closeness or intimacy. But you cannot avoid vulnerability, even when you claim to be ‘in-control’. You are just relying on an internal script, when what you really need to do is negotiate your expectations with others.
It’s much easier to control an image of the world as you want it to be, rather than the world as it really is. People who conform to rational expectations, are not using the full the range of emotions, feelings and thoughts available to them. They are rational, but not always sense-ible. Sometimes when you fear change and try to exert control, you narrow your options. If you put yourself under pressure to get the outcome you want, you may behave to rigidly and fear adapting to the circumstances you’re in. By refusing to give up your assumptions and work through the alternatives, you will lose out on other more appealing opportunities.
However, your body and mind are wired to adapt, not dominate and control. The world is much bigger than you are.
No such thing as control
The reality is, there is no such thing as control. No human being has unlimited choice or autonomy. Billions of other people live on the planet. They are infinitely variable and a lot more powerful than any individual. So your choices are limited and you have to adapt to your environment. There are too many variables stacked up against you, for you to be in control. If you were in-control, you’d be God.
When you believe you’re in control, you have learned to comply with scripts, beliefs and conventions, rather than exercise autonomy. This is called conditioning, but in a different environment those scripts become outmoded. You still follow the same emotional impulses to adhere to a script. Fear drives most people to conform with the expected norms, not rationality. We are all ‘irrational’ animals and need to trust our emotions while making decisions and adapting to change.
What are thoughts for?
I am not arguing against rational thought, or the value of an analytical mind. I am not anti-intellectual, or against societal norms and conventions. If I were, I wouldn’t have studied the latest scientific research on neuroscience. What I am saying is, thought processes are limited. They’re excellent as a reference point for planning projects, problem-solving, analysing data, or communicating ideas, as well as reviewing scientific methods. Ideas excite and inspire us.
Beliefs and values act as a guide for human cooperation and the cohesion of society. But they are limited in their capacity to change who we are.
It is emotions that drive human behaviour. Emotions that excite us and compel us to act. Instincts motivate behaviour. In any political movement feelings of frustration, anger and empathy drive human beings together to change society. We may think human dignity, freedom and equality are good ideas, but unless we stand-up for our values, someone else will exploit us. It’s the same with anxiety: unless we’re prepared to tune-in to our emotions and use them to our advantage, they will overwhelm us. We will be slaves to our impulses.
You cannot avoid your emotions
No human being gets to avoid their emotions. When people rationalise, rather than express emotion, they are afraid to show vulnerability. They believe vulnerability is a weakness, or a defect. And they will be judged, or shamed for being weak. Humans learn to hide their emotions and conform from an early age. Following group-norms is an emotional response to feeling safe.
Obeying norms and conventions is part of our conditioning. It is embedded in our psyche, not as a matter of choice, or free will, but a fear of not belonging. Conditioning begins from birth so that you live up to other people’s expectations. We are so vulnerable and dependent at an early age, we cannot help but learn to conform, even when it is against our interests. Even when conforming means we never learn to validate our own feelings.
You can see precisely how emotional, or irrational someone is, who claims to be in-control, when life doesn’t go as expected. They lose control: they get angry and frustrated; they feel let down or disappointed and it takes them a while to recover.
Finding a new solution under pressure, is a struggle for rational thinkers who ignore what they feel, because they’re still clinging to assumptions that don’t match-up to reality. When people are shut-off from their instincts and emotions they find it more difficult to adapt. They seek to dominate, or avoid change with black-and-white thinking – believing there’s a right way and a wrong way, with nothing in-between. Rational thinkers may be clear about explaining what their expectations are, but find it more difficult in relationships to imagine the more nuanced shades of emotional reality.
I offer support and counselling for Anxiety in Twickenham: helping you find real world solutions and mindful practice.