Podcast #3: Inside/Outside and the Problem of Anxiety


If you prefer to read rather than listen, here is a transcript of the podcast.
(Also available in PDF format.)
Note: portions of the text may be slightly edited for clarity in written form.

Recording: . . . expressed on our talk shows are not necessarily those of the staff, management or ownership of WGCH Radio.

Dr. Jerry: Good morning. This is Dr. Jerry saying hello to Fairfield County and Westchester County. This morning, I’m calling this show “Staying Positive, Self Knowledge with a Happy Outcome,” or “What Do We Do with Depression and Anxiety in Our Lives?” Actually, after so many years of practice, I can almost boil down the formula to the following, “We human beings should be able to love. We should be able to work and we should be able to play. And whatever interferes with that, is what we should try to understand and get rid of.” This morning I want to talk a little bit about anxiety, but before I do so, those of you who’ve listened to me before know that I like to context things in terms of where we came from, not just where we are.

We human beings live in a number of communities. We live in a community outside our heads, and what’s sometimes hard to understand is we live in a community inside our heads, that is the community of our childhood, our schools, our siblings, our parents. If we’re going to get a handle on our lives so we can be happy and truly loved and be able to work and be able to play, we have to get acquainted with both communities, inside and out.

Last week we spoke about “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” if you remember how the bad queen wanted to kill Snow White because Snow White was “more beautiful than she was.” Also, if you step back and think about it for a second and what I’m going to highlight, particularly in talking about anxiety, a little, in a few minutes, is that actually all of us have a little bit of the queen inside of us and all of us have a bit of Snow White inside of us.

Now what does that mean? It means, we can all recognize this. We all want the world to be our mirror. We all want the world to say that we’re good. We want the world to say we are beautiful and that we’re good guys. We’re wonderful. Otherwise, very frequently, if the world doesn’t say that to us, we can get depressed, or we can go the other way and think that the goal of life is simply to have power. Notice I said to love, to work and to play. Not necessarily to have power. Not against power, but in itself, that doesn’t bring human fulfillment.

None of us particularly want to hear criticism. Growing up, if we were subject to competition with our brothers or our sisters, sometimes with our mothers or our fathers, when we were little, that kind of competition, that, sometimes, excess criticism doesn’t make us feel safe, it makes us feel threatened. We start building up a whole internal image of our self. The queen, as you remember, built up an image that she was beautiful and that’s it. She couldn’t tolerate any difference. What we have to come to terms within our self is that, if we’re going to handle the normal depression and anxiety that life brings us, we have to recognize that we don’t have to always be praised, that actually we can be wrong sometimes, that that’s not an offense to our self worth. With that, we can live with much more comfortableness in the world, our internal world and our external world.

Let me go now a little to depression and what I’ve experienced in my practice when people get overly anxious. Anxiety, as you know, and I make a distinction here between anxiety, and let’s call it, fear. We’re living in very difficult economic times now, we all know that. Many people are losing their jobs or losing their savings and an understandable general insecurity is in the land. That should ideally evoke a certain concern, a certain fear, but not anxiety. Fear is a response to an objective situation. Anxiety is a response to an internal turmoil. That’s a very important distinction. Fear should activate our energies so that we try to do something in the given situation. If we’ve lost our job, yes, we can get depressed. We can get angry at our boss, but we don’t stay there. We start, soon as able, to focus, send out resumes, try to get another job, make phone calls, etc.

Fear should activate a response in the world because it’s a response to an objective situation. I remember years ago I was driving down Cadillac Mountain and about three quarters of the way down, my brakes went and I had no more brakes. I got very fearful. I had my family in the car and so I started to stop the car with the clutch, putting it [reverse], jolting, obviously, for those of you who remember how to drive clutch cars. Luckily we made it to the bottom of the hill, rolling and then finally stopped. That was fear. That wasn’t anxiety.

What is anxiety? Anxiety, on the other hand, is a general apprehension. Sometimes it manifests itself with a loss of appetite. We start ruminating.. We wake up at 4:00 in the morning, or we have a high level of irritability. Sometimes that irritability, we can respond to with too much drinking, with too much eating, or even too much talking, believe it or not. We can have a kind of undefined anger at others or our self.

What do I mean by ruminating? I’m speaking about a month ago to a local bank manager, particularly a month ago when things were even a little more shaky than they are today. He remarked how people would call him up three or four times a week, the same people, asking to make sure that the bank was FDIC insured. That’s ruminating. They of course knew that the bank was FDIC insured, but they were so terrified that they would lose all their savings, quite understandable in itself, that they had to keep assuring themselves.
Well, we do that in other ways. In little ways when we get anxious and that saps up more energy so that we don’t have energy, as I just spoke about in terms of fear.

From my experience working with patients and living life all these many years, what anxiety suggests to me is that really we are yelling at ourselves inside. We are subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, threatening ourselves with loss of any kind of self worth. You know from the queen’s story that I gave you last week, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Who is the most beautiful of them all?” She put all of her self worth in her appearance and the minute that self worth was threatened, she didn’t put it in her competence, she didn’t put it in being a good mother or a stepmother, she didn’t even put it, and notice, her subjects are not even mentioned; all the queen cared about was her looks. Her self worth was so narrowly defined that when it was “overshadowed a bit,” she went into a murderous rage. When we get anxious, we are really threatening ourselves with a loss of self worth, with the loss of approval and ultimately, with a loss of love.

Remember I said we have to be able to love, to work and to play. What is loss of love mean? “I’m no good if the world doesn’t say I’m wonderful.” We’ve turned into the queen. We lose self-love. Let me reiterate what I’ve spoken about before. It’s very obvious, and yet we have to tell ourselves, I think, many times over, we don’t have to be special or terrific. We really don’t have to be absolutely wonderful. I understand we all want to be, myself included, but we really don’t have to be. We don’t have to always be right, what we have to be, and what I’ve talked about before is we have to be real. When I spoke about real, if you recall in previous shows, what I mean by that is we have to feel alive in the world and that’s what I’m summarizing with my terms, work, love and play. We have to really feel alive. We don’t have to feel that everything we do is correct because that’s almost impossible.

What we’re about in life is being real. When bad or difficult things happen, the question is, “How do we stay alive?” And I’m not being funny here using that term, but when bad or difficult things happen to us, how do we stay alive? How do we make the world still interesting? How do we make it worthwhile being there? Self worth has to do with our competence. Has to do with, do we try to be good parents? Do we try to be good kids? Are we responsible workers? Not are we the best worker that person ever had, but are we responsible and give everything that we’re supposed to for the job?

Self worth is something that we build up slowly as we live our life. It’s not something we get all at once. We may get a college degree or a graduate degree all at once and that may give us a certain amount of knowledge…a degree tells us we have a certain amount of knowledge, let’s hope. But it doesn’t do anything with self worth. Self worth is a part of the task of being alive. We build up self worth slowly. One of the opposites of self worth is just self-assertion. If we have and if we build up self worth enough, we don’t have to keep telling ourselves and others that we are right about everything. Self worth let’s us be wrong.

Narcissism doesn’t let us be wrong and when we’re narcissistic, we’re really very, very fragile. That’s why I use that image of the queen last week. If we can be wrong, we don’t have to collapse when we suddenly do something thoughtlessly, self destructively or just stupidly. That’s what we human beings do and that’s part of who we are. If you find that you can’t really be wrong about anything, that it sends you into a tizzy, that if you lost a job, you’re the only person that has lost a job, in your own mind. Then it’s really time for some more chimney sweeping.

Remember we spoke about chimney sweeping? And chimney sweeping is really talking about issues. If we don’t talk about anxiety, if we don’t talk about what’s waking us up at 4:00 in the morning, if we don’t talk about why we’re constantly ruminating in our minds over and over again, if we don’t talk about anxiety, if we don’t talk it out, anxiety’s going to have us. We’re not going to have anxiety; anxiety’s going to have us.

I’m well aware today, as you know this is Dr. Jerry at the Psychotherapist’s Corner, I’m well aware today that we have lots of medications out and one way of handling anxiety, and if it’s absolutely debilitating and you have to take medication, then you should take medication. No question about that. But if we’re going to try to get a handle on that internal noise, we have to understand that pills do not change our history. Even if we could take a pill and change our memories, let’s do make believe for a minute. Let’s say we could take a pill and change our memories, we have another question. “Would we be the same person?” Sometimes we feel we want to get rid of some unfortunate painful memories.

Remember, I mentioned Barbra Streisand’s song, “What is too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.” We all do that. I do that. You do that, but the other side of the coin is our memories are part of who we are, even sometimes if they’re very painful. It’s much better for most people, I believe, to get to know what is kicking off such extreme reactions and to find some personal strength inside oneself to master it. Actually, as difficult as that sounds, that’s really what makes life interesting. Not just going through life collecting things, and I’m not particularly against connecting things but that’s not the function of being alive, I don’t think that really guarantees a sense of fulfillment.

I’ll speak more about depression, but anxiety and depression are actually two sides of the same coin, that’s what I have found. Two sides of the same, they’re not separate issues. They’re two sides of the same coin, but if we get overly anxious, if we’re ruminating, if we’re waking up, if we’re being irritable, if we’re drinking too much or talking too much, such reactions are not going to help us, for instance, in trying to find a new job. That is not going to help us, for instance, if we’re having marital troubles and we don’t know what to do and we have young kids and we don’t have the money for divorce, or we don’t have the will for divorce, or if we still love our spouse, but we don’t know what to do with them because of continuous fights. Pills are not going to help in that situation. Anxiety’s not going to help in that situation. The only thing that’s going to help in that situation is really talking about it so we can get a handle on it.

Now, before we take a break, let me speak a little bit more, I said in the beginning of the show that we really have two different communities. One community is inside our head, which is a collection of all our experiences. We actually forget nothing. I know that’s hard to believe, but we actually forget nothing. And we also live in the community outside our head. And because we are little people for a long time, and even when we’re big people in the world, we’re still little people, if you think about it. Our individual life compared to the world is really insignificant….maybe unless we’re president or something. Love, when we’re little kids, we’re really geared to love our mother and fathers. We now know that. It doesn’t just happen. We are programmed to love our mothers and fathers and if we were hurt as children, it’s better to know about that hurt rather than suppress it and hope it goes away.

Now I understand nobody likes emotional pain, it may sound as if I’m some Pollyanna saying, “Oh, you should embrace your pain.” No one wants to do that except for the fact that if we don’t become aware of some difficult times that we’ve had growing up, and what do I mean by difficult times? Sometimes kids in the play yard made fun of us. Sometimes teachers weren’t as kind as they should have been if we were a little slow in mastering a math problem, or understanding a particular poem that we were given. Sometimes even inadvertently parents are competitive with us, telling us we always have to do things right. “Why aren’t you doing things like I do things?” All these things make us hurt and we collect them all inside of ourselves and these are the things that can affect us in our adulthood when we have a setback, we can go back to those hurt feelings that we had when we were growing up, when we were kids. The trouble is that we are fighting a war on two fronts, one consciously, where we are today and another one unconsciously.

Let me take a break here for a minute and we will come back and discuss this a little further.

Dr. Jerry: Welcome back to Dr. Jerry, The Psychotherapist’s Corner at 1490 WGCH. I was just speaking about anxiety and how we have to make the effort to try to talk it out, to chimney sweep, as I’ve spoken about before. We can’t see what’s in the chimney and if we don’t take care of it, of course, as I’ve said before, and we light a fire, why we’re liable to have some trouble in the house. On the other hand, we should light a fire. We should light a fire in our life, obviously, to play with the words a little bit and when we have a better understanding of what’s happened to us growing up and how that may be impacting how we respond to the world.

Many times, and I have worked with parents who truly love their kids, there is no question about that. They’re not mean spirited people, but they were totally unaware that if they had a very difficult relationship, for instance, a guy who may have had a very difficult relationship with his mother, will bring a level of criticism, or a level of excessive passivity, let’s say, to his wife and their relationship, which then causes him a lot of trouble and they have all kinds of surface tension and they’re totally unaware that he may be living out part of his expectation of what a woman is. Truly unbeknownst to him.

This happens to women, obviously, to all of us, when we marry. Freud had a very interesting remark many times, he said that, for a woman as well as for a man, that a man only has a second mortgage on his wife’s heart. The first mortgage belongs to her father. That’s okay. Meaning that the first man in a woman’s life is one’s father. That’s perfectly fine, but it’s a prototype, language that we use. It’s a model and actually it’s there whether we like it or not. A lot of times I’ve heard people say, “Oh, well. I’ve repudiated my father. He was nothing but A, B, or C. He was overly ambitious, or he drove me crazy, or he was never around, or he drank too much.” A whole range of human activities.

They think by doing that, and I understand the hurt that may necessitate such a response, but that does not solve the problem. Solving the problem is going back and really trying to understand, “Wow. You mean he still might be alive inside of me? Why I still might be responding to my husband in a way I don’t even recognize? Might be responding to my male children in a way I don’t even recognize.” That’s worth thinking about. That’s what I mean by chimney sweeping.

We carry a lot of these hurts around and the good stuff that happened to us also. I don’t think, life’s not supposed to be just a collection of hurts and pain, obviously. To love, to work and to play. We carry around these particular hurts and sometimes they’re not so little and when we get setbacks, as I said before in our adult life, we suddenly, when we have a loss of love, if we have a loss of income, if someone close to us dies, or what we perceive as a loss in our community, these objective things that happen to us when we’re big people, always activate what happened to us when we we’re small people.

And as I ended the last section of it, we wind up fighting a battle on two fronts except we don’t know we’re fighting an unconscious battle. Therefore, a lot of times, the apprehension, it’s one thing to lose a job and that’s very frightening and very upsetting and it has to activate our energies, but if we’re ruminating and waking up at 4:00 in the morning, we’re not going to be able to activate our energies, we’re going to be debilitated. If we’re fighting with our wives or our spouses, or our kids, over and over and over again, we’re not going to be able to focus our energy, we’re going to just create too much noise inside of us.

As I said, if we don’t handle depression, it handles us. The talking cures I spoke about before, the talking cure is an attempt to get a handle on that. One of the things, when we’re ruminating, is what we call in our field, and it has a funny term, it’s called “Magical Thinking.” When people go over and over and over again, “If I did this. If I had only said that etc etc. Why didn’t I say this. If I did this…. If I had only done that.” That’s magical thinking, and magical thinking has to do with undoing reality because we’re so terrified that if we accept reality we’re going to be debilitated or our self worth is going to be shot.

I’ve worked with many people over the years who do magical thinking. It’s a very common human trait and yet it can take control of our psyches if we don’t get a handle on it. If we don’t say, “Wait a minute. What am I doing to myself here? This doesn’t make any sense. Whatever happened, happened. What do I do now?” If I had a ferocious fight with one of my kids, or one of my employees, or my boss, or my spouse, the issue is not to ruminate about it, the issue is to try to decide, “What do I do with this? How do I address it?”

In that regard I’ve been speaking a lot about our parents and coming to terms with them, or our siblings. Sometimes we grew up, we had two older brothers or two older sisters and we may have felt, in very subtle ways, either that our parents gave preference to them or they may have used their being older as a kind of assertive way of handling their own anxieties. I’ve worked with many, many people where there’s, in adulthood, a lot of strained relationships between siblings. And even, obviously, sometimes strained relationships between parents.

In that regard, besides understanding it, it sometimes helps a great deal if we can go to the person and say, “You know, growing up you really did A, B and C to me and I really, I guess, I’m still holding onto that and it makes it difficult for me to have a relationship with you now.” Sometimes that’s liable to work, meaning that you can really start having another relationship, a new relationship built on recognition. It may not always work, but I assure you, if that’s the situation, you will always feel better. We feel better when we talk about things. We feel better when we experience a sense of competence, and competence doesn’t mean we have to guarantee results. Competence means we guarantee our energies, our understanding of the situation. That’s all we have to do.

Nobody can guarantee results, but what we can guarantee is that we’re trying to address whatever situation we face. If we’ve offended our children, if we’ve offended our boss, if we’ve offended our spouse, it’s better to say, “I’m sorry.” If we can’t say, “I’m sorry,” then I want you to really think about the queen who couldn’t tolerate that there was anything defective inside of her. If we’re carrying around a little bit of that queen, too much of that queen, we all carry around a little bit of the queen, but if we’re carrying around too much of the queen inside of us, our life is going to be ultimately very isolated and lonely because human beings connect through love.

Now what does love mean? Love means we’re vulnerable to each other and if you can’t be vulnerable, meaning you can’t say you’ve made a mistake, you really can’t connect with other human beings. It’s very important that you keep that in mind. If we’re going to be real, if we’re going to love, if we’re going to be competent, we have to be vulnerable. If we’re going to be able to play, we have to be vulnerable. We can’t always hit the ball correctly i.e., kick the ball, get into the basket correctly. If we always do it correctly, we’re a pain to play with. Nobody wants to play with someone who’s always perfect. We want to play with someone who’s real.

Those are the issues I’d like you to think about this morning. That if you have a lot of anxiety, don’t despair, but, particularly, in our given situation, it can be addressed. If you have anxiety, vis a vis, the economic world, if you have anxiety vis a vis your interpersonal world, try not to get caught into ruminating. Try not to get caught into hyperactivity, try not to get caught into just assuming that everybody wakes up in the middle of the night around 4:00. They don’t.

Try to understand that these are very human issues and they can be worked out, that we human beings are a community outside and when we talk, when we build bridges from that inside world, to the outside world, we feel more real. We feel more real. And isn’t that what love means? Building a bridge, having a bridge to someone else? Seems to me that that’s really what love is. Doing good, but love isn’t just having some ecstatic feeling. Love is building a bridge and feeling connected with somebody.

Next week, what I would like to discuss in a little more detail, is the other side of anxiety, which is basically depression. They are very much connected. They’re not separate issues at all. The reason I want to talk about it is that they get in our way. They get in our way of feeling the joy of life. Remember the quote I gave you last week from the Indian poet Tagore, “We live in the world, when we love it.” That to me is just, sounds very simple, but to me, it’s remarkably profound. “We live in the world, when we love it.” And if we don’t love the world, we have to find out what’s keeping us from loving the world.

I invite you, if you wish, if I have anything here that has stimulated any questions for you, please feel free to give me a ring, 203-406-7070. Meanwhile, we’ll talk to you next week. This is Dr. Jerry at WGCH, 1490 on your dial. Have a wonderful week and feel free to call me or to email me. If there’s anything you’d like me to talk about or you have any questions, please don’t hesitate. I’m here to try to be of help to you in whatever way I can, so I encourage you to send me an email if you want, if you prefer that rather to calling me. Thank you very much.

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