“Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.”
– Jodi Picoult, author
“…look at me…I can’t relax…I can’t sit still!”
“Victoria (Vic) had just turned eighteen years old and her hair was falling out. They found no medical cause, and so she was referred to me for anxiety. Vic was a tall woman, strikingly attractive with blondish hair and deep blue eyes. She was a university student majoring in psychology and sociology. She was in her third year of a bachelor’s program and doing well. She lived with her mom, younger sister, Monica and step-dad, Ivan. She was close to her family with the exception of her Father, who retained a distant relationship with his only daughter.
Vic had a friendly, chatty style of communicating. And, she seemed to find it hard to be calm and to relax herself. In our first consultation, she fidgeted frequently and played with her hair a lot. This is not uncommon at a first meeting, but usually it is temporary. Generally, the person will soon unwind and relax as time passes and they get to share their perspectives. But, not with Vic!
Vic gave me an overview of her past and present, highlighting her supportive family and close friends. When I asked her what was her greatest challenge, she said,
“I bet you already know…look at me…I can’t relax…I can’t sit still!”
“Why do you think that is?” I asked her.
“Did you ever notice anxiety is simply emotional pain?”
“I’ve got so many things on my plate, my head is always racing from one thing to another…I get so anxious sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself!” she replied getting anxious just talking about it.
“Did you ever notice anxiety is simply emotional pain?” I asked.
She hesitated for just a second, as if this idea had never occurred to her before. Then she responded, “No, not really. Are you saying I’m in emotional pain?”
“Are you, Vic?”
Before she could respond I added, “From your studies, I’m sure you learned pain motivates us to survive. You know for example, if you hit your finger while hammering a nail, you are motivated to hammer more carefully, so you get to keep all your fingers, right?”
Vic was a quick study, so she came back with this,
“Are you suggesting the purpose of pain is to motivate us to survive?”
“How else do we learn to play with fire…carefully?” I replied.
“So, my anxiety…my emotional pain, is supposed to motivate me to learn something I need for my survival…is that what you’re telling me, Ken?” she asked as she continued to think through her own statement.
“What do you think, Vic?”
“That means my anxiety is supposed to be useful, for one thing!” she said.
“Let me ask you this. If you could fix one thing in your life, what would it be?”
“Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” – Arthur Somers Roche, writer
“How could my hair falling out be connected to my anxiety?”
“Two things come to mind. My anxiety and my relationship with my father.” she replied thoughtfully, her beautiful, blue eyes watering briefly.
“I can show you how to do that if you are agreeable to two things.” I said.
“What are they, Ken?”
“First, a willingness to consider old ideas from new perspectives and second, a willingness to focus on how you think instead of how you feel.”
“That sounds like university to me…so I’m OK with both of those! But, Ken I have a question first.” she replied.
“How could my hair falling out be connected to my anxiety? I don’t get it!” she said with a mystified look on her face.
“Let me offer you a thought… a new perspective perhaps. The human body is a functional system with each part serving a specific purpose. There are no extra parts. And each part is wired for our survival. From my experience, my best guess is you have high value on your hair and take care of it. Would that be true, Vic?”
She stared at me with a look of curiosity written all over her face. She then said with a half smile,
“I’ve always thought I was too tall. But, I have my Mom’s thick hair which I’m really proud of, and I really like, because it is easy to style in many different ways.”
“So what is the fastest way for your body to motivate you to deal with the anxiety which is threatening your future?”
“We ignore them at our own peril.”
“Are you suggesting my body has a kind of mind of its own and does stuff to ensure I survive, without my awareness?” she asked with a look of disbelief emerging on her face.
“Hasn’t your body always told you when you are too hot, too cold, too dry or too hungry? Hasn’t it been sending you signals of its distress your entire life, Vic? Can you see how this is just another example of your body telling you you are in danger from too much stress?” I asked her.
“I never thought of it that way before. It’s like an automatic blinking light warning you when your cell phone’s battery is running low.” she said getting the idea.
“That’s a great parallel, Vic. It is like a part of you, your natural autopilot system, is monitoring your well being and reminding you with pain, what needs your immediately attention. It can be physical pain or emotional pain. They both motivate us forward, preparing us to learn what we need for surviving into our future.” I added.
“So, my hair falling out was my body’s stress response to the emotional pain I have been carrying…that kind of makes sense!” she said slowly, thoughtful again.
“Vic, our body and mind are continually sending us messages, pain, to help us stay healthy. We ignore them at our own peril. If we listen carefully and act decisively, it will serve us and our future.”
“So, if we overuse a muscle, we receive physical pain to remind us to learn to respect that muscle, eh? But what about mentally?” she asked.
“Well, mentally, you might say, if we pick up an illusion which endangers us, we receive mental pain to remind us to dissolve it and respect nature’s laws.” I said.
“Are you saying my emotional pain, my stress is because I’m carrying an illusion around in my head that I need to dissolve!”
“Bingo! But Vic, are you ready to let it go and get on with your life?” I replied.
“I don’t even know what it is, how can I dissolve it?” she replied with a hint of frustration in her voice.
“Anxiety is one little tree in your forest. Climb an important tree and notice your whole forest. – King Ayles, author
“ I think I’m starting to get the idea.”
“Well, we all have illusions. They are usually created by a perception of someone, or some event, when more pain than pleasure was experienced. Since this is not possible in nature, this limiting belief handicaps us.” I said.
“Would you give me an example, Ken?”
“Sure. Let’s use a common one many people carry around in their head. Many of us believe you will have more pleasure than pain taking a vacation. Where I come from in Eastern Canada, the destination of choice is often Orlando, Florida, the warm, sunny south.”
“Are you suggesting my last vacation was half pain?”
“You decide for yourself, Vic. Go back to the memories you carry of your last vacation. If you look carefully and honestly, you will notice you exaggerate the pleasure of it and minimize the pain of it. But in fact, there were both and they counterbalanced each other.”
“Our family actually went to Orlando just two years ago. We had a nice time. It was warm and sunny and we went touring around and sat by the pool a lot. But thinking back, we got delayed going down due to weather; our hotel gave us the wrong rooms at first; and everything was so expensive because the Canadian dollar was really low in value. I think I’m starting to get the idea.”
“Usually, we carry around distorted perceptions of significant people from our past, as either heroes (cookie angels) or villains (manure monsters). These perceptions handicap us and create significant stress. My best guess is you are carrying around a manure monster. Who is your manure monster, Vic?”
“That would be my Dad!” she replied without hesitation.
“Is it safe to say you have been noticing only the pain of your relationship with your father, Vic?” I asked.
“What else is there?” she asked with an edge to her voice.
“Well, from what you’ve told me, your current relationship with your father certainly has lots of pain in it. But, have you ever listed the pleasures in it? And, if not, would you want the responsibility of that information?”
“What do you mean by the pleasures in it? I don’t see any at all!”
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.”
– Hermann Hesse, author
“It sounds like you didn’t think you were allowed to love him…”
“Let me offer you a few guesses. Then you can tell me if any apply. OK?”
“OK!” she agreed.
“Your father’s distant relationship with you has freed you to be part of your Mom’s new family without interference; his absence has minimized any family conflicts between him and you; his absence has enabled you to focus on your academic success; his absence has enable your step-dad, Ivan, to take on a paternal role in your life; his absence has enabled you to have the time and focus to develop the close friendships you have built…”
Vic nodded slowly as if watching the ideas sink carefully into her mind.
Then I added, “In short, many of your successes have been as a result of the distant relationship you two have had so far. It is not to disrespect the pain you have experienced, it is to also acknowledge, how it has served you. Can you see that, Vic?”
When she raised her head, there were tears in her eyes as she looked at me. She was quiet for a while, then she said,
“Ken, a part of me has always suspected just what you are saying. But, I didn’t want to acknowledge the truth of it. Because I do know I’m part of a close family and Ivan has been a great surrogate dad to me. I guess at times…I just didn’t know how to view him. I know he had a tough upbringing himself. I know he has self esteem and self confidence issues.”
“It sounds like you didn’t think you were allowed to love him…you either had to infatuate or resent him…and, neither one fit for you. Vic, love is both, support and challenge…both infatuation and resentment…both pain and pleasure. The illusion you may have been carrying was that it was pain “or” pleasure, instead of, pain “and” pleasure.” I offered.
“Ken, I think that was a big part of my stress, my edginess…I have a close friend, Marcy, who rants and raves about her dad continually. I think hanging around her has kept this prominent in my mind driving me to figure it out.”
“Do you want to do that work, the learning involved in figuring it out!?”
“As a doctor, let me tell you what self-love does: It improves your hearing, your eyesight, lowers your blood pressure, increases pulmonary function, cardiac output, and helps wiring the musculature. So, this isn’t just some little frou-frou new age notion. This is hardcore science.” – Dr. Christiane Northrop, physician
“Can I use that in my work, Vic?”
“Yes, I think it’s time!”
That’s where Vic started. She first resolved her distorted perceptions, illusions, of her father and then those of herself. She had a quick mind, open and eager to learn whatever it took to get her life back under her control. As our weekly sessions progressed I noticed her becoming more thoughtful and less fidgety. She reported her hair had stopped falling out and she had even made an overture toward her father to meet for coffee.
As if to mark her own evolution in her awareness, one day she came in and said,
“Ken, I realized something really neat. The pleasure and pain of my family vacation to Orlando we discussed kept surfacing in my head. And, then yesterday, it hit me. Did you ever notice the word Orlando has both an “OR” and an “AND” within it. But the “AND” is the only truth…pain AND pleasure, eh?” she said, smiling.
“Can I use that in my work, Vic?” I asked.
“Sure thing!” she replied, smiling again.
“I don’t put my family on a pedestal or in a pit, I put them in my heart!”
– John Demartini, human behaviour expert
Until Next time…
Now you know your body and mind send you pain messages to help you learn important things for your future. Who are your cookie angels and manure monsters? Is it time for you to start listening carefully so you can dissolve your handicapping illusions and start designing your own destiny?
Remember, the ‘Five New Features’ of our ‘upgraded’ website:
- Notice how Recent Posts are more easily accessible.
- Now you can check out the Comments of other readers.
- Now with new Categories it’s even easier to find your topic.
- Now you can rate every post with our fast, simple Star Rating System.
- Now you can Share 10 different ways with family, friends and colleagues.
Encourage others to subscribe to our FREE Newsletter and ebook, “Finding Balance in Your Life” at And, please like us on Facebook, or Twitter.
Our next seminar is entitled, “How to Bring balance to Life and Purpose to Work!” It will be on Saturday, June 3rd, 2016 in Woodstock, New Brunswick, Canada at the Best Western Plus. Details are available at ww.kenpiercepsychologist.com
Send us your feedback and topic suggestions…we love to hear from you! If you have a specific question or wish to schedule a consultation, feel free to contact me.
Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
Further information: www.kenpiercepsychologist.com