Worry leads to suffering (part 2). So why do we continue to worry?
A big part involves viewing worry as helpful; even necessary. Like the guard in the picture above, protecting the castle. A sentinel or defensive system to watch out for trouble and sound the alarm. Maybe start firing that big gun.
This is quite different from phobia; a form of anxiety which is quite specific. With a phobia of spiders, I can ask what causes a person anxiety and receive an immediate response. “Spiders! I can’t stand them!”
On the other hand, I often ask a person I’m working with what they feel anxious about, and receive a very different response. There might be a long pause as the person thinks hard, followed by something like, “I’m just not sure,” or “All kinds of things.” These answers are like two sides of the same coin.
Digging into it, a vague sense of unease might be identified. Dread, lurking around down in the guts. A sense that something might happen; and it’s not something pleasant. Back to the photo above; I’ve never been trained as a royal guard, but I’m sure they are not just watching for people wearing balaclavas and openly carrying firearms. No doubt they are watching for all manner of suspicious signs.
That’s a lot of work, even though the guy is standing still. Just so, chronic worry is exhausting.
So once again, why continue to worry? Here are a couple of answers (there are probably more, but these give a decent start).
1. Worry Beliefs: It is quite common to have strong positive beliefs about worry, which are usually somewhat hidden. Beliefs such as:
- Worrying helps me to solve problems.
- Worrying motivates me.
- Worrying shows that I care.
There are more. Here is an article with a longer list, and some exercises which help to change these beliefs. Because these beliefs are wrong. However, they are also very convincing and difficult to stop believing.
2. Some people experience emotions like this.
Their emotions are intense and vivid. Almost physically painful. In fact, many people have told me they would choose physical pain over the piercing emotions they experience.
For these people, worry is a bit like trying to defend against an experience like the picture just below.
When emotions can feel like having your face slammed into the floor, then defending against them suddenly seems like a pretty good idea. Worry is like being in a wrestling match, ceaselessly watching for any little twitch that might signal an opponent’s move, in order to counter it and prevent painful things happening.
In both cases, the problem with constant vigilance is that none of us are constantly in danger. We are not always guarding a castle from nefarious villains or defending against painful wrestling moves. At the very least, there are lots of times we can relax and stop worrying, because there really is no danger. However, worry will always whisper, “You don’t know that! Danger could strike at any time!”
Next week, I will get into this further; how to ignore the dire warnings of worry, and begin to “tolerate calm.”