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This blog is about---You! Each and every post is about you. Use it to challenge your usual patterns, as a tool for self-discovery, to stimulate your thinking, to learn about yourself and to answer your questions about others.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fear of Fear and Seredipitious Happenings

Finding Pema Chodron's post in my e-mail saying the very same thing I had said to a client a few hours earlier

A couple of days ago, I was talking  to a client about the opportunity inherent in bringing the dark side out into the light.  In this case, she had said she realized that a cluster of behaviors that she does habitually were serving the purpose of keeping her anxiety at bay.  In other words, if  she stopped doing these things, she would feel anxious. 

An example of this kind of complex is one person who won't let another be alone, ostensibly so he, the other, won't  be something---afraid, confused, lonely, whatever.  But, really it's to keep person A from worrying or facing his own issues.  Another example would be the person who always plans all the parties; it's a lot of work.  But, he doesn't have to wonder if he will be invited!  There are lots of ways that people do this.  Maybe you can recognize this type of a pattern in yourself.
What I was telling the client was that when you purposely cease the binding behavior, you get to see what your anxiety really is---how does it feel, is it intermittent or prolonged, what is it like-is it in your mind or your body or both.  When I was laying this out, she made a good joke saying, "Oh, what fun, I can hardly wait!"  It was cute.
The thing about what I proposed is that you can either avoid the scary thing or face it and stare it down or, even just go through it.  This last will show you that you can survive anxiety.  "What doesn't kill you will make you stronger.", someone once said.

According to Carl Jung's theory, we all have a shadow side, as he called it.  It means that we have parts of us that we hide away, even from ourselves.  We don't want to see it; we don't want to experience it; we don't want others to see it.
The more you have stuffed away in your shadow, the less you have in consciousness.  The more that is hidden from yourself and others, the less you have access to your full self.  Therapy is a way to bring yourself to more consciousness. 

As I write about this complex and, sometimes for some, hard to think about topic, I am reminded of the children's book, Where The Wild Things Are. 
>The shadow items can also pop up when a person is under great stress or pressure or emotional tension.  Even someone who has done a lot of work with themselves can experience this.  The thing to do is be on the lookout for it.<
An example from my own life is that a few months ago I and a person I had a very close and caring relationship with, had to say good-bye.  Instead of staying with the difficult feelings engendered by this situation, he suddenly shifted into a very cold and distant mode toward me, treating me like a number instead of a thou.  Had he been able to catch himself, we could still have had a meaningful, loving good-bye.  As it is, this has become one of those relationships that goes into memory as torn off.
Perhaps you can begin to see the advantage---in the long run---of increasing your awareness of yourself.  In the short run, it's difficult, yes.  But, as we all know, some things get worse before they get better.  And, if you have a solid therapist to hang in with you on the way, it is very reassuring.
Here is Pema Chodron's version of what I said to my patient:

October 3, 2012
When you refrain from habitual thoughts and behavior, the uncomfortable feelings will still be there. They don’t magically disappear. Over the years, I’ve come to call resting with the discomfort “the detox period,” because when you don’t act on your habitual patterns, it’s like giving up an addiction. You’re left with the feelings you were trying to escape. The practice is to make a wholehearted relationship with that. 

Does this post bring to light for you some of your own unconscious behaviors?  If that happens and it makes you feel a little uneasy, don't run.  Maybe try reading the book mentioned above (it is by Maurice Sendak) or, if you are in therapy, bring it up in your next session.


  1. One powerful aspect of therapy is that we can acknowledge the 'shadow' side without fear of judgement or labelling. We can be seen (and accepted) in all our complexity. Neither we nor our therapist is saying "this is who I am" but simply "this is an aspect of who I am right now; let's look at it, together, and see where it leads and what we can learn about ourselves.". This is both the safety and the challenge of the therapy room.

  2. This is a very encouraging statement, Steve, for those in therapy or those considering it. I especially like the 3rd sentence---it allows for lots of discussion without the fear of being instantly labeled.

  3. Hello there! I will be looking forward to visit your page again and for your other posts as well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about psychotherapy in your area. I am glad to stop by your site and know more about psychotherapy. Keep it up! This is a good read.
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  4. Hi Jackie. Glad to have you here, perusing the posts. Welcome! Question: Is there a Massachusetts in the UK or are you referring to the one here?