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ANXIETY EXPLAINED

Rose quartz

Happiness holds a special place in the evolution of human feelings. It came about for a purpose. Since, in tribal life, the group was necessary for survival, a feeling was necessary to glue the group together. This feeling is happiness. It is the feeling of belonging. Anxiety is its opposite - the feeling of being excluded, pushed away, or pushed out. In our day happiness is still the feeling of belonging. The outsider's anxiety motivates him or her to seek happiness, which is achieved by membership, wherein lie protection and support and, consequently, survival. Nature strongly motivates us to stay within the mainstream.

Tribal protection and support were of critical importance. The tasks of providing food, clothing, and shelter were shared. Protection was provided against the dangers that lay beyond the village boundaries - wild animals, accidents, and unfriendly tribes. Tribal rituals placated unfriendly gods, medicine men treated illness, and friends provided comfort and reassurance.

When a tribe provides protection and support, it does so to all its members, who are members not because of what they offer but because of who they are. They don't have to do anything to maintain membership, since they already qualify for it. In other words, membership in a tribe is not contingent upon performance but rather upon birth, a marriage tie, residence, or some other such quality.

At birth in such a tribe, the family supports the person, and it continues to be central to the child's survival until adulthood comes into view. However, in adulthood the person detaches from primary allegiance to the family and transfers it to the tribe. This transfer can be observed in high schoolers whose joy knows no bounds when they are accepted into a clique, while their opinion of their parents declines. In adulthood it is tribal, not family, membership that assures survival.

In our day, the happiness that comes from tribal membership can be seen in many places - the workplace, clubs, fraternities and sororities, neighborhoods, towns and villages, religious groups, alumni and alumnae groups, groups of old friends, ethnic groups, support groups, and high society. Members of these modern-day tribes enjoy the same happiness that held together the tribes earlier in human history. Our makeup is the same. Think, for example, how you feel when you are far from home and you run into someone from home. Your enjoyment is the enjoyment of seeing a tribesperson.

When my father-in-law immigrated to New York from Armenia, the first thing he did was to look up clansmen, people who came from the same Armenian village he did. They helped him start up a business, not because of his personal qualities but because of who he was, a clansman. Throughout his life in this country clansmen were important to him. He and they enjoyed an especially close feeling of protection and support.

The happiness of being an insider and the anxiety of being an outsider are just as strong today as they were when almost everyone belonged to a primitive tribe, and so tribal membership is just as important today as it ever was.

People risk anxiety by leaving their group. Their risk is especially great if the group is strong. The strongest groups - tribes - are those in which acceptance is based on who the person is rather than on what he or she contributes. In the middle between strong and weak are groups based on belief, such as political groups (unless inherited) and newly found religious groups. Groups that are weaker are those based on performance rather than on who the person is, such as many American workplace groups and athletic teams.

The most effective and powerful organizations today for providing the protection and support of membership are religious organizations. Their regular services provide people with group experiences. Their social services are dedicated to comforting people in times of distress, and their charities give solace and support to the needy. The belief systems, too, draw people into an inner circle, where all are dedicated to similar beliefs.

The satisfactions of religious membership are strengthened by beliefs that alleviate the fears natural to all human beings - the fear of being unwanted, the fear of illness and catastrophes, and the fear of death. The belief in a loving God alleviates the fear of being unwanted. The belief in prayer alleviates the fear of illness and catastrophes. The belief in eternal life alleviates the fear of death. Wholehearted belief in religion has beneficial effects on one's personality - relieved of fear of being unwanted, fear of illness and catastrophes, and fear of death, the religious person enjoys a freedom that usually allows him or her to cope successfully with present concerns.

In most religious groups God is seen as the God of the group. He is the protector, defender, and comforter of the group. Religious groups that fight with one another are assuming that God is the God of their group. They are like a tribe with its own personal God. Unfortunately, belief in this kind of God is divisive - religions fight with one another, each maintaining that their God is the true God.

There seems to be no non-intellectual resolution to this divisiveness. However, there is an intellectual resolution. We know that the concept of God has evolved through human history. Primitive tribes believe in many gods, as did the Greeks and Romans. When the concept of one God was introduced, God was the God of the group. His people were specially chosen by Him. This concept of God is still current today. As time went on, the concept of God was broadened to include larger and larger groups. Instead of being the God of only one ethnic or regional group, God came to be seen as the God of many (for example, of both Jew and Gentile). New characteristics were attributed to him (such as "God is love"). Today the broadest concept of God is of Him as love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. When God is seen this way, the factionalism in tribal religions disappears, and God is seen as the one God of all - the God of Protestants and Catholics, Hindus, Moslems, Jews, and so on. Sectarian beliefs, which make God out to be the appropriation of only one religious group, give way to the non-sectarian values of love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy.

Happiness can be easily seen in young children. They are generally quite gleeful. They are physical beings who enjoy tumbling on the floor, teasing friends or siblings, smelling the fresh air, feeling the sun, and loving colors. Kindergarten is a place for playing in the sand, building cities out of blocks, smelling paste, making art out of colored paper, using paint, hearing stories, and feeling the presence of friends. In such a setting there is a kind of background radiation, a pleasure in being. This radiation is a person's energy that awakens to the promise of a new day, loves the light in the room, eagerly enjoys the colors, textures, and tastes of breakfast, likes putting on clothes, and gladly sets off from home to engage in new experiences.

Lucky people carry this background radiation with them throughout their lives. Generally, as children they were well protected by a caring family and a caring social group - they were happy. When terrible events occurred, they relied on their family and group for reassurance and comfort. People who feel capable and satisfactory are able to bounce back after setbacks by reassuring themselves that they are OK and that they can handle their problems. It has been said that the best way to be happy as an adult is to have had a happy childhood.

The feelings a person has about himself or herself are carried forward in time as if they were a permanent feature of the person. Instead of being related to specific incidents in one's life, these feelings come to be regular. They affect virtually everything the person does, operating as thoughts that a part of the mind conveys to consciousness. If the thoughts say, "I am wanted," the person will mix readily with others. If, on the other hand, they say, "I am not wanted," the person will withdraw. If the thoughts say, "Life is a game, and I am a game winner," the person will seek out new experiences. If, on the other hand, they say, "I am a loser in life's struggles," the person will avoid new experiences. In every person's mind there are many beliefs about the self, some of them rarely in consciousness and others often in consciousness.

Most people are predominantly self-confident, on the one hand, or self-doubting, on the other hand. Self-confident people continuously comfort and reassure themselves in the same way that they were comforted and reassured by a good parent. Their minds activate self-compassion, self-mercy, and self-forgiveness. They make a presumption that they have a right to be themselves, without threat of the disapproval of other people. Their troubles are outside of themselves, not inside themselves.

In unlucky people, as awful experiences accumulate, normal happiness can become muted by the presence in the mind of bad feelings. The mind becomes occupied with unresolved problems. When this happens, anxiety becomes familiar, and happiness becomes unfamiliar.

Just as it is happiness that is the characteristic of the tribal member, it is anxiety that is the characteristic of the outsider. Simply by virtue of being an outsider a person experiences fear and shame, two of the major ingredients of anxiety. The fear is fear of the unknown - wild animals, unfriendly tribes, accidents, and the elements. Without the protection and support of the tribe, the person faces these dangers alone, where his or her very survival is threatened. Shame is the experience of being unwanted. The circle of friends has closed and faces inward, leaving the person outside, where all backs are turned against him or her. With respect to the group of insiders, the outsider is weak, lacking the resources that group membership affords, and therefore inferior.

An outsider finds life to be a terrible burden, since no one is there to help him or her. The terrible fears of existence are not shared among a group of protectors and supporters. The belief of the normal insider that "I can cope with anything" is replaced by a dread of every task, occasioned by self-doubt - the person feels that he or she does not have the resources to cope with life's problems.

Sometimes, an experience is so painful that it echoes throughout a person's life. It won't stay put in the past. The pain is always lurking in the background and comes forth periodically, still felt. The person is sure of one thing - he or she doesn't want to experience such pain again. In order to prevent such a repetition, the mind continuously alerts the person to his or her danger - the person fears.

When a person is a non-conformist, the group sometimes uses its power of exclusion, making the person an outsider, where he or she is anxious. The mechanisms for such rejection of a person are scorn, ridicule, contempt, rudeness, putting out, and shunning. These mechanisms are so powerful that they inspire dread even in people who are not their object. That is, just by witnessing them, a person is intimidated and tends to avoid association with others to whom scorn, ridicule, contempt, rudeness, putting out, and shunning are shown. Everybody doesn't want to be like the person who is rejected. In the family, the child doesn't want to be like the parent who is rejected by the other parent and is fearful of any appearance in himself or herself of the despised characteristics, and the same tendencies occur in a tribe.

The pressures for conformity are empowered not only by rejection, with its consequent feelings of shame, but also by punishment, with its consequent feelings of fear. These forces are so effective that, in most cases, people choose to be group members above any other values. That is, they adhere to inherited values, particularly, religious ones, in the face of opposing values, such as scientific ones. For example, many people still believe in the Genesis account of creation, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Some groups would rather shed blood than question the integrity of what the group stands for.

A classic example of allegiance to a group is Robert E. Lee, who in his own words described slavery as "a moral and political evil." Until Virginia left the Union, he never favored secession. Yet, when Virginia seceded, he told a friend, "I must side either with or against my section. I cannot raise my hand against my birthplace, my home, my children." He did this at the same time that "scores of Southern officers, such as General Winfield Scott, remained loyal to nation rather than section. Some of them played key roles in the triumph of nation over section." (James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 281)

The use of shaming in families and society is so pervasive that we are constrained in thousands of ways to behave conventionally. Some of these conventions regulate the behavior of the sexes - the way as males and females we dress, move, wear our hair, choose occupations, greet people, relate to one another, and play. Others are scruples, where we are under certain social obligations, such as meeting people properly, dressing well, eating with good manners, and acknowledging gifts and favors. Others are pious ones, which command respect for parents and persons of rank. Still others are about making good and contributing to family and society.

Many of these constraints are sensible and many are not, making it difficult to distinguish the ones that make sense from the ones that don't. It is not too much to say that social controls are used - and felt - regardless of their sense. Like the judge in our minds that criticizes us, conventions seem to be righteous but are not necessarily actually so. For example, good table manners make eating together more pleasant, but hemlines and hair fashions vary from year to year and are not particularly sensible. Correspondingly, feeling ashamed - for wearing the wrong thing at a social function, for example - occurs regardless of its sense. A guilty feeling does not mean that I am guilty.

John Steinbeck makes a point of this in Travels with Charlie (John Steinbeck, Travels with Charlie (New York: Bantam Books, 1968), 86 ff.) when recounting his trip through customs:

"Are you an American citizen?"

"Yes, sir, here's my passport."

"Do you have anything to declare?"

"I haven't been away."

"Have you a rabies vaccination certificate for your dog?"

"He hasn't been away either."

"But you are coming from Canada."

"I have not been in Canada."

I saw the steel come into his eyes and the brows lower to a level of suspicion.

"Will you step into the office?"

This request had the effect on me a Gestapo knock on the door might have. It raises panic, anger, and guilty feelings whether or not I have done wrong. My voice took on the strident tone of virtuous outrage, which automatically arouses suspicion.

"Please step into the office."

"I tell you I have not been in Canada. If you were watching, you would have seen that I turned back."



As we grow up with conventions, our minds become filled with "I should's" and "I have to's," disobeying which produces often senseless shame. In some people the social regulating becomes so strong that the person feels everything he or she does is shameful. The person feels he or she is a shameful person. Consequently, the person walks an excessively straight line because of fear of the shame of any real or imagined nonconformity.

In a family the child who feels shameful is subject to manipulation by the parents. They make acceptance of the child contingent upon the child's conforming. The child, then, feels that, to be accepted, he or she must play the part the parent wants, regardless of his or her own interests.

Instead of looking inside, the child looks outwards to find what pleases others. Being subject to what pleases others leads to uncertainty, because what pleases others is much more variable and difficult to discern than what pleases oneself.

A shaming mechanism that is often used with children is sending the child to his or her room, where the child is excluded from the society of the family. In cases where this kind of rejection is severe, the child comes to see being alone in itself as being shameful and comes to give excessive importance to being with others. Solitary professions are sometimes intolerable for such people.

People generally have discovered that shaming mechanisms - scorning, belittling, showing contempt, and so on - are so effective that they use them freely to get their way. It is common for people to find ways of making other people feel inferior. The suffering that shaming arouses causes the victim to give in. Furthermore, it is reinforcing to the pride of many people to make other people feel inferior. Consequently, they make a habit of scorning, belittling, and showing contempt.

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