Category: Shifting Perspectives Written by Nimue Brown
When people talk about anxiety it’s often around the idea of being afraid of what’s going to happen. Don’t worry about the future, cheerful memes tell us. You can’t control the future; you have to live in the present. My growing suspicion is that anxiety isn’t about the future at all, but about the past, and perhaps to some degree, the present.
There are people who just worry about things randomly and for no good reason, but they seem to be rare. The people I know who struggle with anxiety do so for reasons. Experience has made them anxious. The fears are not irrational and it may also be the case that the source of anxiety is ongoing and pressing. Poverty is a simple example of this. Living in poverty creates a great deal of stress and causes problems that are not easily solved. Having no money will create the fear of becoming homeless, and the life expectancy of people who are without homes is shockingly low, so there’s a lot to be reasonably afraid of there.
When people experience trauma, it changes them. It’s fair to assume that a lot of people out there are dealing with trauma legacies, most usually from sexual assault and domestic abuse. No matter what the exact shape of the trauma is, it leaves you feeling fundamentally unsafe. A lot of PTSD recovery work depends on asserting that what happened was a one off and that you don’t therefore have to be afraid of everything. This might work for a person whose trauma centres on a specific event. However, when there have been multiple traumatic experiences over time, what’s happened is that the person has been persuaded that the world is not a safe place.
Anxiety is the grip of the past. It’s the ongoing impact of things that already happened. It isn’t about an imagined future or about wonky thinking, its about being unable, bodily, to let go. You can’t forget, you can’t unknow and so the fear lives inside you.
How rational is it to try and retrain a brain so that it thinks the world is, broadly speaking, a safe place? For a lot of people, this just isn’t true. If you have reason to think you might be beaten up for your sexual identity or shot because of your skin colour, you know you aren’t safe. If you have to get up tomorrow and go to a job where the stress makes you bodily ill, you aren’t safe. If you can’t afford to buy sufficient food, you aren’t safe.
All too often what we do is centre the problem in the person who is suffering. What we need to do is make improvements so that people are actually safer, rather than having interventions that depend on persuading people that they are ok, when really, they are not and do not actually have much control over things. The person who can genuinely overcome anxieties by undertaking to worry less did not have massive problems to begin with.
About Nimue Brownp; Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings.
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