(THE BOOK) Chapter 24: The anxious

The anxious are all different and all the same.

Big and little, old and young, rich and poor.  Worried seniors, controlling spouses, insecure employees.  Obsessive parents, stressed teenagers, scared kids.

Their symptoms are both painful and remarkably common.  They can’t stop worrying.  Their thoughts race.  They either can’t fall asleep or can’t stay there.  Their appetite comes and goes.  They’re self-doubting, perfectionistic, agonize over mistakes.  They get irritable, cranky or tearful.  They’re self-conscious around other people.  Even when alone, with no jobs to do, they can’t relax or enjoy themselves.

Some develop physical symptoms: restlessness, muscular tension, teeth grinding, indigestion, nausea, headaches.

Some suffer social anxiety.  Others have panic attacks.  Still others report obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors.

But behind all these differences they have three things in common:

(1) They try to control the future.   

They do this mainly by thinking about it.  Anticipating it.  Planning it.  Worrying about it.   Obsessing about it.   Forming expectations.  In other words, by surrendering their thoughts to the not-so-tender mercies of monkeymind.

This highly efficient system keeps anxieties growing like weeds.

Because the more the anxious worry about the future, the more anxious they get.  And the more anxious they get, the more they worry about the future.  And so on.

(2) They try to control other people. 

They do this by insisting — secretly, in the privacy of their monkeyminds– that other people always like them, accept them, approve of them, agree with them, admire their clothes, hair, physique, income, intelligence or sense of humor.

They convince themselves that they really need other people to do this, and that life will be intolerable when they don’t.

Thus they scare the crap out of themselves, and set off on a desperate course of seeking a degree of interpersonal control nobody can ever have.

(3) They overcontrol themselves.

This habit is an inevitable outgrow of the last.  Anxious people try to control other people mainly by editing themselves — hiding the parts they think others won’t like.

Most importantly, they bury feelings instead of expressing them.

That last sentence defines the heart of anxiety.

That’s because feelings are – excuse this analogy – like shit.  Feelings are supposed to be expelled and expressed, not buried and hidden.  When they’re buried, they don’t go away.  They collect.  The person becomes emotionally constipated, lives in a constant state of self-interruption, internal pressure and emotional pain.

And anxiety is the name we give to this pain.

7 responses to “(THE BOOK) Chapter 24: The anxious

  • Ann Posiak

    Perfect ..thank you, Steve.

    Sent from my iPad


  • Al

    I guess all that energy from my monkey mind gets stuffed down as the thoughts of control go round like a hamsters wheel…and if the energy is not dissipated it will feel very uncomfortable, like being constipated, makes me restless on top of it all.
    And worse, this anxiety blocks real feelings..how do we dissipate it?

    • Steve Hauptman

      “How do we dissipate it?”
      The short answer: Same as with the other kind of constipation.
      We find ways to become regular.
      The longer answer (explained at length in the book’s Part 4: Alternatives) involves learning and practicing the three alternatives to dyscontrol: surrender, responsibility and intimacy.
      Of those three, the one I call responsibility means
      (a) switching our focus from externals (people/places/things) to internals (our own thoughts/feelings/behavior),
      (b) getting good at identifying and expressing feelings,
      (c) gradually reorganizing our emotional life by basing more and more decisions and life choices on what we hear when we listen to feelings.

  • Barb

    Sometimes the things you have to say are so painful I hate reading them. But it helps.

  • Trap 3: Anxiety |

    […] From Chapter 24, “The Anxious,” in Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can […]

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