Before getting involved in personal development work, the question is always what am I going to get out of this, and how will it help me? The answer could fill a book, but boiling it down, what I see most people take away is a huge amount of confidence and personal power.
Think about it; when you really understand how something works, from changing a tire to an app on your phone, you feel more confident about it. Wouldn’t it follow that if you really understand how you work, you’d feel more confident about you? When you want to understand something complicated like a car’s fuel pump, you carefully take it apart, see how each component fits, then put it back together.
This kind of deconstruction, examination, and re-integration works with us too. If we examine things piecemeal; looking at an issue that’s bothering us here, another there, we’re putting out fires, rather than making ourselves fireproof. The former increases our stress level, as regardless of what we’re doing, there’s going to be another issue around the corner. An Integral understanding of how each component works together enables us to solve for root causes that solve multiple issues simultaneously.
Any time we can throw one switch to turn on all the lights, it saves a lot of time and energy. Sometimes that one switch seems huge and impossible, but the benefits so outweigh living in darkness, it’s worth the effort. One of these enormous switches is breaking through a developmental stage that stays with us all our lives; self-centered processing. I hesitate to use the n-word (narcissism) as most people have a negative and distorted view of what it actually means.
When we’re young, we have very little information to work with except for our own experience. We take our feelings and thoughts and figure that’s what others are feeling and thinking. What else do we have to go on? Hopefully, as we go out into the world we learn that others feel and think differently, and that’s not necessarily a deviation from what’s true. We still tend to keep that younger process, looking at what’s going on around us as “orbiting” us. Hopefully we grow to see ourselves as a part of everything around us; not the center.
Being able to throw this switch, shifting from the center of what’s happening to a part of what’s happening solves for an astounding number of issues and problems in our lives, relationships, and work. Let’s look at reducing one of the biggies: anxiety.
Internal Dialog and Definitions
Fear and anxiety are used interchangeably as synonyms, along with dread, terror, alarm, panic and more. These all impact our limbic system and biochemistry almost identically, so they can feel the same. There’s even some overlap to make things more confusing.
What if we could explore a way of looking at this sensation in a way that can alleviate some of the unnecessary aspects? For example, differentiating between anxiety and fear can make us feel much better, without losing a healthy sense of safety. We need a certain amount of reasonable fear to survive, and that’s a great place to start differentiating. Fear is really about physical danger and a threat that we’ll come to bodily harm. Without this, we would’ve walked up to pet a saber-tooth tiger, and wouldn’t have survived as a species. When it comes to fear, we really only have two options: fight or flight.
Now think about the last time you felt anxiety. Were you being chased by wolves or a guy with a chainsaw? Those would be perfect times to have fear shooting adrenaline through your bloodstream, and fight or flight are your only options. When you felt anxiety, there’s a good chance you were in a position where you were concerned about what others would think about you. This is a great place to differentiate because you have more options than just fight or flight.
I do want to acknowledge that overlap mentioned earlier. We can have anxiety over losing our jobs, which may not be an immediate life-threatening situation, but it dovetails with fear, when our security is threatened. We still have multiple options beyond fight or flight, and that’s why I’m still calling this anxiety.
So bringing all of these concepts to a singular root cause and solution, I’ll share my own switch-flipping aha! I used to have the dreaded and common “fear of public speaking. When I looked at it as a fear, my options were of course fight or flight, neither of which worked at all for public speaking, so I started digging deeper. I realized that there was little chance I’d come to physical harm, even if I was terrible. So what was I afraid of?
I was afraid others would think I was stupid, boring, didn’t know my material, or just plain wouldn’t like me. First, none of that meant physical harm, so I reframed my stomach twisting as anxiety. Now I could look for solutions beyond fight or flight. As I looked at all of the things I was worried about, they all had to do with how others felt about me, putting myself in the center of everything. What if I flipped that developmental switch, and took myself out of the center, and focused on them? Now my questions were “how can I best serve them? How can I give them the best?” I love to give people value, so this could be really fun! The more I thought about giving to them, the less anxiety I felt, and I started to thoroughly enjoy public speaking.
This was the Integral aha! My anxiety was directly tied to being the center of everything. I could look at my anxiety as a function of narcissism, and it immediately changed from a controlling factor to an undesirable vestige of my childhood. Rather than anxiety pushing me around whenever it surfaces, I can catch it and say, “hey, why am I putting myself in the center of the Universe here? Get a grip!” With this, anxiety melts into laughter, and I’m free. Once again, an Integral approach solved countless individual areas where anxiety once reigned.