Is everyone this anxious or just me?
The Anxiety of Choice
In grad school I was asked to identify and claim a philosophy that would guide the work I would like to do with clients. It was a frustrating task, this whole trying to pair down how I view the complexities of the human experience to ONE worldview.
Humans have a funny paradoxical relationship with choice. We demand it and yet it can often paralyze us. We’re afraid of “making the wrong choice” and “missing out” on an even better or safer option. It’s why Kierkegaard called this existential anxiety of having the benefit but also responsibility of choosing one’s own path, “the dizziness of freedom.”
Take this classic metaphor from the iconic Sylvia Plath for example and tell me honestly, can you not relate?
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.
I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
So you see, whether it’s career choices, selecting a romantic partner, adopting a parenting philosophy or even clothing style, we’re all basically attempting to live life unedited, unfiltered, and unapologetic WITHOUT being rejected by everyone around us and ending up alone and penniless. Dramatic? Yes. But that’s the nature of the mind after all.
Riding the Wave of Existential Dread
Back to my student quandary … to aid our scholarly introspection, the professor assigned a textbook that came with a wonderful workbook breaking down some of the most common theories therapists tend to choose from (e.g., cognitive behavioral, psychoanalytic, solution focused etc.) with Likert scale quizzes similar to what you might find on BuzzFeed or in Cosmo. It asked students to rate statements someone from each philosophy might make. For example, “All people have the capacity for self-awareness” or “What’s unconscious in an individual is more important than what is conscious to them.” Tally up the scores for how strongly you relate to the statements and it shows how likely you are to resonate with a particular therapeutic modality.
While nearly every therapist, including myself, will tell you that they view themselves as eclectic, thus pulling from multiple theories in their work with clients, when I came across existentialism, it was a near perfect fit for me. I finally had language for everything I had always felt.
And perhaps ironically, from the existential analytical point of view, anxiety is considered to be a basic theme of existence. It’s unavoidable and yet can hold marvelous motivation for carving out meaning, purpose, and passion in the existence we choose to have.
CORE TENENTS OF EXISTENTIALISM
For existentialists, the notion that ANY of us, despite the perhaps stacked deck of limitations, whether from our family, or trauma, or culture or biology etc., against us at times would keep us from fulfilling whatever it is we choose to do in spite of these things, is a devastating thought.
My primary concern as an educator, therapist, and coach is helping others quench the anxiety of worrying they might somehow not fulfill everything their soul came here to experience.
LIFE’S GREATEST QUESTIONS
It is said we have 4 sacred questions to answer in life:
Who am I… really, beyond and beneath the projections – The hopes, fears, dreams, and “curses“ – of my family and others?
What am I doing here, and how was my life unfolding?
Where is life taking me: Am I still on the path of my purpose?
Who will come with me: Who can I count amongst my allies to help me meet this purpose, and who must I let go of?
If you and I were sitting having tea or coffee today and exploring your experience in life thus far, what might you say to those? Can you honestly say that you are living life on your own terms without feeling guilty about it or worrying that all your…
– relationships, or
– money in the bank
… will all somehow disappear when/ if you start doing YOU in a new way?
If not, let’s chat.
Too many people spend way too much time trying to live up to expectations in their heads that are placed there by others or even just their own perception of what others would want from them. The paradox is however that when we focus on doing what lights US up instead, we end up meeting others’ needs to.
And I can show you how.
Whether 1:1 or in a year long deep dive with a sacred circle of badass soul sisters starting in January 2021, you’ll finally have the career, relationships, and sex you REALLY want with total authentic and grounded confidence that actually brings you peace. I promise.
About the Author:
Tamara Powell, LMHC is a licensed therapist, university psychology instructor, and transformation coach who believes life should be lived as a journey that is “anything but ordinary.”
Her work is specialized to help individuals break free from toxic cycles of distress, dysfunction, and dissatisfaction with life that are created when trying to live according to someone else’s rules. Only by living what she calls radical autonomy, can one obtain soul nourishing relationships and a sense of true life purpose and inner peace.