11 Ways of Dealing with Anxiety:
9. Identifying fallacious reasoning

This is the ninth instalment of 11 Ways of Dealing with Anxiety, an ongoing experiment in meeting yourself with kindness.

Identifying fallacious reasoning

… it is the way of the evil spirit to bite, sadden and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, that one may not go on … (Mullan)

… it is characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul. (Puhl)

… it is typical of the bad spirit to harass, sadden and obstruct, and to disturb the soul with false reasoning, so as to impede progress … (Endean et al) Exercises, 315

Anxiety is future-focused.

The future is the great unknown. Human nature, abhorring a vacuum, fills in the void of the unknown (unknowable) future with fantasies.

How will the meeting with my boss / client / partner / spouse / … go?
How am I going to make enough money to live on?
What will happen when I get old?
How will I cope if I am on my own?
What will happen when I die?

These are important questions worth considering. Relationships, being safe and secure, living in full honesty with the realities of life: we cannot live well without facing into these matters.

As any existentialist will tell you, anxiety is a natural and inescapable component of a life well lived. To live with authenticity is to suffer anxiety.

… the commanding value in life is its intensity, as manifested in acts of free choice, individual self-asserting, personal love, or creative work [and this is] impossible without anguish, suffering and risk. Robert G Olson An Introduction to Existentialism p.19

One of the great paradoxes in life is that self-awareness breeds anxiety. Irvin Yalom Love’s Executioner p.11

In all this writing about anxiety, I hope you don’t hear me saying that anxiety it is bad. It is concomitant with being alive, being awake, facing into reality, being true to oneself. Anxiety can be a guide towards life. Thus, ‘coping with anxiety’ is more like befriending anxiety, welcoming anxiety, giving anxiety a guest bedroom, becoming her disciple, listening to her alarum.

Nevertheless, there is an influence (I don’t want to give it a name or a provenance) whose siren fills us with anxiety that saps us of energy so as to impede us.

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. Shakespeare Hamlet 3/1

This is one guest it is best to keep on the doorstep. Its influence has many voices:

  • “If I make a change in my life, something will go wrong;
    I won’t be able to cope.”
  • “If you leave me, I will be on my own;
    I shall be lonely and alone until I die.”
  • “If I quit my job to do work I want to do, I will not have enough money;
    I shall end up in the gutter.”
  • “If I speak up, he will be angry with me;
    I will be annihilated.”
  • “If I write / paint / compose / create something that matters to me, I will look a fool;
    people will ridicule me and my work will be discounted.”
  • “If I ask her out, she will turn me down;
    I will feel bad and life will look bleak.”
  • “If I do what I want, people with think I am selfish;
    they will reject me.

The first part of each these statements has elements of reality about it: if I act, events may not follow as I wish: things could go wrong. Equally things may go well. If they don’t, it is unlikely to be as bad as I imagine.

The second part is catastrophic thinking. I fear I will not be able to deal with what life throws up. This is the breeding-ground of anxiety: the fear that I won’t be able to handle events. It is one face of what Ignatius calls fallacious reasoning. The effect is inaction.

If we listen to our thinking, perhaps in one of the ways I have outlined in previous posts in the series, we can notice when we (or others) make up stories of dire consequences. We will notice life and energy and gumption seep away. This is discernment. Having noticed, we can begin to make choices about which voices to heed. This may not be easy for we have to battle with anxiety and inertia. But if you have read this far in the series, perhaps you have some tools for that?

Next in the series: 10. Suffer the child.

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