Overcoming the Amygdala Part 51

We’ve been focusing on social interaction as a major factor behind anxiety, and have outlined the idea that proper and full appropriate social interaction — having on hand the right people who really understand the individual — is perhaps the most important part of dealing with anxiety as it actually manifests itself.

An understanding parent, a compassionate partner, a wise therapist and so on — these are all vital if we’re aiming for a full and happy handling of the alarm signals broadcast by our amygdala, at least as part of a foundation.

There are obvious problems with this, though: such people are not always available when you need them; and Life is a two-way flow — except perhaps for a paid therapist, these ‘others’ have their own concerns and preoccupations, and don’t exist just for the individual’s benefit. Life as a whole is going on for others, even as any particular individual faces critical moments of panic and anxiety in their life. Even the most understanding partner or parent or helper has demands upon their time other than a single person under stress. The perfect affinity that we are looking for, and which we examined last time in mechanical terms, is not always in the immediate vicinity, geographically or psychologically.

How can we deal with that? Are there any steps we can take to alleviate the absence of affinity?

Yes, there are.

Life as a Passive Experience

Most human beings live their lives as passive ‘particles’ in a flow of events. Much like a leaf drifting down a stream, they wake up each day and get caught in the current of what's happening. Viewed like this, Life becomes something which affects them, and over which they have very little control. Yes, they can determine some circumstances to some degree — they may have some power of choice over where they live or which job they accept, for example, but for a huge proportion of people even these things are limited. Each person is born with, and has to accept, a genetic package which may present opportunities or difficulties depending on the environments in which they find themselves; each person has had an individual nurturing which has developed strengths and weaknesses in their make-up which shift in value as the surroundings shift: an intellectual librarian of weak physiognomy may flourish in a university environment but struggle to survive in a rough dockside hotel; a French-speaking woman with money may thrive in Quebec but starve to death in an Indian jungle, and so on. Because we have little power of prediction over the flow of events in our lives, it’s hard to see our existence as anything other than passive.

To a large extent this influences the way we regard our inner worlds. If we ‘feel’ a certain way, we tend to accept it passively in the same way as we accept external events; if we are panicked or upset by something, that panic and upset claims the same kind of legitimacy as the outside weather in terms of its dominion over us: we can’t do much about it, it seems.

Attacked by anxiety in such circumstances, we take a ‘cry for help’ sort of approach. We simply turn to anyone nearby and demonstrate a need for assistance in some way. In those places with professional health services available, individuals may be lucky enough to contact a sympathetic counsellor of some description, but this is probably after the person has tried and failed to attract the right kind of attention from family or friends. It’s a matter of obvious truth (and concern) that many people who suffer anxiety do so in silence simply because it seems that there is no appropriate help in their immediate surroundings. Caught in the flow of events, they drift along hoping for the best while all the time fearing the worst.

For people in these circumstances — and they number in the millions — there is nothing for it, it seems,