Most people – excluding psychopath’s, serious narcissists and bullies – usually want to do good in the world.
They want to be kinder, less selfish, and generally speaking more giving.
You would naturally say that this is a very good thing, but wanting to be a better person in this way, though a good thing for others, can be devastating to you!
Decades ago when I was training to be a clinical psychologist I started to have anxiety attacks.
It was one of the worst periods of my life.
They utterly ravaged me.
For 18 months I would experience this raging anxiety, that came out of nowhere, for no reason, multiple times a day. When I was not actually having the attacks, I would be desperately anxious about when the next one was to come.
I would be sitting with some poor student, as a trainee therapist, trying to help them and thinking that at any moment I’m just going to go crazy, start hearing voices and seeing things that weren’t there.
Schizophrenia was waiting for me around every corner.
Apart from the fact that trying to be a therapist for someone else was a nightmare, the personal agony was beyond the describing of it.
I didn’t take any drugs to help me with the anxiety. Anti-anxiety drugs were around, but not so prevalent then and it didn’t cross my mind to try them.
One day, sitting in a psychotherapy group, working with the anxiety, my therapist, in a moment of genius said to me, “Who can you punish with your anxiety Mark?” and I had this incredibly deep and healing insight: “If I go crazy, it will punish my mother, who had such excessive expectations of me.”
It was a repressed, unconscious wish to make my mother suffer.
The anxiety dissolved, never to return in that form again, meaning that I continued to experience anxiety, often, but not from nowhere and not with the fear of going crazy.
The repression of my anger at her, meaning my desire to be too nice created the anxiety.
I needed to disown my rage at her.
I was being too good, too kind.
The Gorilla In The Basement
Symbolically, it looks like this.
Imagine that your personality is like a house and that your angry, needy and selfish nature is like a huge gorilla, locked deep in the basement, hidden from view.
You have thrown away the key to the basement door and most importantly, you have forgotten that you have done this and that the gorilla even exists.
The gorilla is desperate to escape and is shaking the steel barred door and the entire house is rumbling and shaking as a result.
This creates immense anxiety – this shaking, rumbling house.
This is how many of us feel when we repress our selfish needs.
For our own sanity the gorilla needs freedom, but we fear being nasty and unkind and cruel.
I cannot tell you how many sensitive and gentle and beautiful clients I’ve seen over the years who have this overdetermined kindness and gentleness.
They give too much, they are too good and it’s killing them. So others walk all over them and control them and run their lives.
In Self-Esteem terms, they are disempowered and to live without power, is to die.
It kills their spirit and no one can live without their spirit.
This ‘giving’ goodness, if not balanced by a toughness and the ability to ‘take’, is like a dessert made entirely out of sugar, with no egg and cream and wheat and lemon to balance the sweetness.
This beautiful giving quality is destroyed because it has no balance.
These sensitive, overgivers live in fear of being seen as cruel, selfish and unkind.
You cannot survive – happily – in this world if you are never cruel, selfish and unkind, that’s simply the way it works.
Many disempowered people are terrified of their power because they think they only have two options to be either kind or aggressive.
In the middle position is power with respect.
I used to believe that I absolutely had to be respectful when I was powerful and then I realized that I’m not perfect and it’s okay if sometimes I express my power angrily.
We need to forgive and indeed love our imperfections and if others can’t, it’s their problem.
This is embracing our humanity.
A Dance Of Polarities
The world is a dance of polarities.
There are those who are scared to be tough and hard and there are those who are too tough and too hard.
Perhaps it is unfortunate – but not surprising – that the world is ruled by the latter.
Only a few find the middle position.
If you would like to work face to face or via Skype on any of these issues, please drop me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.