In my work in a health center and in my private practice as a clinical social worker, I’ve worked with many people with anxiety symptoms. In the health center people often mistaken their anxiety symptoms for medical problems with either their heart, chest, head or nerves. Once cleared medically from the doctor I’m called in to assess for anxiety and offer treatment recommendations.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States, affecting 40 million adults each year, and it is twice as likely to occur in women. Anxiety can originate either genetically, in brain chemistry, in aspects of one's personality, life events, or a combination of ways.
In my private practice I mostly see people who have dealt with trauma in their lives that often manifests itself as difficulty sleeping, drugs like alcohol and marijuana, troubling relationship, difficulties at work and problems with socializing and communicating effectively.
Most of the people I see have some insight into the possible origin of their anxiety. What they don’t understand is why an event that occurred many years ago still affects them today. They have been able to intellectualize their trauma and sometimes even convince themselves that they have forgiven those who may have contributed towards the trauma. What I often tell my clients is that the adult mind may be able to intellectualize the trauma but the child mind and body remembers it. The mind and body are stuck in a fight or flight mode of that time and easily triggered by a stimulus that relates to the trauma.
So, how does one deal with these unresolved issues triggering anxiety? And how do we handle this emotional child who is acting out inside of us? This is not an easy task because it requires one to access that child and go back to the time when the trauma occurred. This can be a very uncomfortable, vulnerable and painful place. It is important to allow the child to feel the emotions that he/she needed to feel. It is also crucial for him or her to express what was needed to say at that time.
It’s hard at first to get out of the intellectual mind and connect to those emotions. The more one tells their story, the more the feelings and emotions will come up and be released from the body.
Some people need to expose themselves to certain situations or places in order retrain the body to get out of the hyperarousal state. The more one avoids certain things or places, the more the anxiety will increase and possibly manifest into something else such as fear of intimacy or being in crowded spaces.
It is important to learn ways to get through the anxiety or panic attacks as they occur. Proven methods include focusing on the breath, yoga and mindfulness meditations. There is much information or videos on Youtube to utilize. It’s just a matter of finding the right technique for you. Still, some people need medications to deal with intense bouts of anxiety or panic. But this will only provide temporary relief and often have side-effects.
Anxiety attacks, panic attacks and unresolved trauma can be very disruptive to one’s life and if it is untreated can get worse. We naturally tend to avoid things that are unpleasant and painful but it is necessary to face the pain in order to get a better handle on it. We may not ever be able to cure anxiety symptoms for good but at least we will be better able to manage the symptoms and gain a better perspective when those symptoms come.
One of my favorite books about men’s psychology is "King, Warrior, Magician, Lover" by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette. Moore and Gillette brilliantly discuss these Jungian psychological archetypes in an easy and digestible way. They go through each archetype by discussing their mature and immature forms, the shadow or darker aspects and how each archetype relates to one another. We all have aspects of these archetypes within us and it is important to recognize and notice which one is the strongest and which is lacking. We can also explore our shadow or immature side in counseling and adjust accordingly. I would like to briefly describe each of these archetypes and how we can channel them in our everyday lives.
Men often identify themselves with the warrior energy due to its tough and masculine nature. Even though men do channel the warrior spirit there is more to the mature warrior than flying swords and brute force. The warrior has a responsibility to those outside of himself to provide security and safety while not attaching to his ego or beaten down by what others think. The warrior is focused and not in his head much because that would lead to doubt, hesitation, inaction and finally in losing the battle. He focuses more on his skills, power, accuracy all while being in full control of his mind and body. He is willing to suffer to get the results he needs.
The Sadist and the Masochist
The two polar shadows of the warrior are the "Sadist" and the “Masochist.” The “Sadist” has passion for destruction, cruelty and has a hatred towards the weak. The "Masochist" is one who is a pushover and is weak until he explodes into sadistic tendencies.
Accessing the Warrior
What is it that you take a stand for or are willing to fight for? Is it your family, a cause or your own life? You're accessing the warrior when you are clear on your intentions. You know how to move forward without hesitation or doubt, whatever the consequences may be.
Today’s magicians would include computer scientists and chemical engineers among others. They are the holder of knowledge and the masters of technology. The magician uses his ability and smarts to better humanity and the world. He is the interpreter of the unseen world much like a shaman.
The shadow sides of the magician are the “Manipulator” or “Shyster” and the "Denying innocent one.” The detached and cruel manipulator withholds known information needed for other’s wellbeing. He charges heavily for the information he give which is just enough to demonstrate his superiority. The "Innocent" one wants the power and status of the magician but doesn’t want to take on the responsibilities of sharing and teaching like a true magician does. He has a lack of life energy and is afraid to be found out that he is a fraud.
Accessing the Magician
We all possess skills and the power to teach those skills to others. When we do teach others or help others figure out problems we enhance their lives. There is great power in being able to create or have insight into something. It is even more powerful when we are able to give it away.
The lover is the holder of passion and spirituality. He is the one who reminds us of the joy of the journey and to take in and appreciate the present moment. He lets us know that there is both pleasure and pain in being alive. The lover demonstrates the importance of recognizing that we and the universe are all connected, to enjoy life and to embrace one another.
The shadow sides of the lover are the "Addicted" and the "Impotent". The addicted lover becomes the victim of his own sensitivity and is always searching for the ultimate and continuous "high." When the high wears off he leaves looking for renewal of his ecstasy. The Impotent Lover experiences life as unenthusiastic, boring and dead. The impotent lover soon develops learned helplessness which turns into anger and resentment towards all beauty and love.
Accessing the Lover
Much like the warrior it is important to have a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. When we have meaning we are able to get inspired and become alive. Others are often attracted to those who are positive and passionate about things in the universe. It is also important to stop and be mindful of the beauty all around us.
The reason the king is mentioned last is because he encompasses traits of all the other archetypes in a perfect balance. He has the courage and fortitude of the warrior, the ingenuity and wisdom of the magician and the enrollment in life of the lover. He is centered, calm and always in position to provide order in the midst of chaos. He acknowledges and appreciates those who contribute and in turn- they follow with his blessing.
The shadow sides of the king are the Tyrant and the Weakling. The tyrant is more like a bully, abusing his power and using his force to deal with his own lack of self-worth. He is easily offended and fragile and will defend against being vulnerable. The weakling is more passive and possesses inner turmoil. He is afraid, in constant fear of being betrayed.
Accessing the King
When one takes on a leadership role there are certain necessary traits to be successful. Most often, people follow those who show passion and demonstrate appreciation, strength, and knowledge. The leader is reflective, but not quick to become offended. The king does not claim ownership for success but shares it with others.
There is a whole lot more in the “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover” book to explore and much written on the topic. When tackling a job or wanting to better a relationship it could be helpful to access the archetype that best suits your context. It is also beneficial to notice the shadow sides we see in ourselves and others and be cautious.
My wife and I went on a date and saw the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” starring Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart at the IFC theater in Manhattan. It’s been a while since I last saw it and had forgotten how good the movie is with its multiple messages. The gist of the movie is that the main character, George, who is a good honest man, sacrifices his own dreams, desires and money to benefit his family and the community. When he feels he lost it all he contemplates suicide. He is then guided by an angel who helps him to reflect on his true worth and meaning of his life.
So what is the meaning and purpose of life? Several years ago I was fortunate enough to pick up the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. Dr. Frankl tells about his life in the holocaust and the struggles and unimaginable horrors that the prisoners endured. Dr. Frankl recognized that many who were able to survive, including himself, maintained a certain mindset that kept them alive. They had a will or driving force to stay alive whether it was to see loved ones again or to complete something in their life. A person’s will to live was the one thing that could not be taken away.
Most often it was not about the self at all but about others. Many of the prisoners shared their food rations, made others laugh or played games with each other to get through it all. It was not just surviving but surviving together that may have made the difference.
Viktor Frankl goes on to develop a new school of psychological thought called “Logotherapy” which is a meaning centered psychotherapy. The basic principle of “Logotherapy” is that we are purpose-driven creatures, with innate skills, talents, and interests, as well as experiences. When we lose that sense of meaning we go into an “existential vacuum” or become emotionally numb and that’s when we are overcome with guilt, pain and depression.
I was in a leadership training a while ago and they introduced something called “The World Sucks” chart that looked like a funnel shape (Image shown at the bottom of this blog). At the narrow end on the bottom was the word “you” and the most wider side on the top was “the world.” It resembled Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with basic needs on the bottom and more existential needs as you go up. The idea was that the closer one is to the “you” the more one was in the “suck-hole” or place of neediness or disparity. The key was obviously to get further away from the “suck-hole” in order to get more fulfillment out of life. I know, for myself, that when I help other people I get a sense of goodness and pride in myself. I notice my energy level rise and I want to keep up the momentum. When I just do for myself the feeling is often more short lived.
So how does one find meaning? Meaning can be discovered in multiple ways including what one does creatively, through their attitudes as well as in their experiences. I know that in my own exploration of what it means to be a man, a passion grew to work with others to find themselves. So sometimes there is meaning in suffering. In the most problematic situation there is purpose waiting to be born.
Showing up can be defined two ways. One way is physically showing up and the other is more of a way of being like confidently or begrudgingly. Both of these ways of showing up has been very important to me because I know how disappointed I get when someone says they are going to meet up or do something and then they don’t. I also know how great it feels to be around those I care about and the importance of maintaining friendships. There are life circumstance when one has to cancel, but it is important to keep in mind the other person may have cleared their schedule and may have been looking forward to it. Maybe I’m too empathetic, but I feel it is important to make sure the calendar is checked and if things happen, which they often do, I do my absolute best to figure out ways to adjust. By doing so it deepens the relationship with the other person and increases trust.
I was at a holiday party with my work colleagues and at the end of the party my former co-worker was debating whether to visit a friend who invited her to a party that same night in the neighborhood. The co-worker was tired and not fully feeling like going even though she had not seen this friend in many years. We all encouraged her to just drop by and we ended up supporting her by going to the party with her for about 5-10 minutes. The host was extremely appreciative and I was able to get another glass of wine and slice of pizza that night. She was also able to maintain the strength of that connection and it only took 5 to 10 minutes.
There are other important ways of showing up, including in ways that face your own fears and mind chatter. I recently read a good blog called “The Power or Showing Up’ by speaker, coach and author Rob Jolles, a contributor to the Huffington Post. In his blog, he speak about showing up as a way to challenge yourself and face up to your own anxiety. Jolles gives an example of having to go to a swimming competition after just getting over an extensive injury. Knowing that he wouldn't be able to be 100%, his mind was challenging him to not go. He eventually showed up and was satisfied with himself that he did. Even though he didn’t do so well in the competition, he was able to show up and conquer his mind as well as to support the other competitors.
In “The Single Biggest Thing You Can Do For Your Career: Show Up” by Hanna Brooks-Olsen, she discusses the Woody Allen quote “Showing up is 80 percent of life.” Often we do the work but are hesitant to put ourselves out there. When you show up prepared to do the work you are obviously more likely to make an impact on what you are doing and on others. Brooks-Olson notes, “in the creative sense, showing up doesn’t just mean arriving at a place — it means being prepared to put in the work, regardless of outside factors or obstacles, including your own naysaying mind.” When you place yourself to the side and sit in doubt and fear- that’s where you will stay.
So the next time a friend contacts you to make plans or there is an event that you’re involved with be prepared to show up. This is often not an easy task because life and your own mind get in the way. It is important to challenge yourself and make all efforts to make it happen. It’s not just about your time but it is also about your character, your willingness to challenge yourself, to grow and to strengthen your connection with the people you care about.