Turn Your Anxiety into an Asset

A great deal of confusion surrounds the emotion we call anxiety. The feeling is unpleasant and makes us want to avoid whatever has aroused it, but we all know there are times (like going to the dentist) when we have to press on regardless. Few of us would ever think to describe anxiety as an asset. Yet life coach and holistic psychotherapist Robert Gerzon, author of Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety, actually believes anxiety can be extremely useful. In fact, he claims that “follow your anxiety” is as good a dictum as Joseph Campbell’s “follow your bliss”! He sincerely holds the view that anxiety will take us to the same destination as our bliss, a position predicated upon the idea that the pursuit of bliss will inevitably lead us into anxiety-inducing situations that we must face and overcome in order to achieve the bliss we seek.

Man Getting Anxious over His Finances

Contrary to what you might expect, anxiety can be a very useful feeling. (Photo: Public Domain Photos)

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How to Recognize Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is usually defined as “the feeling of discomfort when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values, or emotional reactions.” (Wikipedia) Or, “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes.” (COED) The less familiar aspect of the distressing mental state – that we can also get into trouble when our beliefs and our actions do not coincide – gets less attention. This situation may go beyond the simple case of conscience and morality, of doing something we know is wrong and then feeling guilty (moral cognitive dissonance). It is quite possible to stumble into serious and painful cognitive dissonance without realizing what has happened.

Cup of Cognition - The Childrens Cup, 1894

When we look upon our actions and see they do not coincide with our beliefs, we become distressed. This is one form of cognitive dissonance, a kind of jarring discord within the psyche. (Image: Wikipaintings)

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Outrunning the Hound of Heaven

There are philosophers and psychologists who claim that we can never be truly happy without some sort of spiritual (meaning religious) life. Writers eagerly turn out books about the human mind having an innate religious impulse, or explain how we all carry the “God gene.” In their view, irrationality is entirely justified. They summarily dismiss reason and enlightenment. My own experience does not support these assertions. I spent years wrestling with a spiritual crisis and found that, far from being a comfort, the pursuit of the religious generates paranoia, the feeling of being perpetually watched and harassed. A crippling excess of conscience settles in and makes one’s life a misery. It becomes necessary to eliminate the awful feelings, and to do that, one needs the opposite of religion. One must extirpate all religious feeling.

Hound of Heaven Illustration

Some religious converts claim they felt hunted or fished for by God. Others liken the God sense to being pursued by a dangerous hound. (Image: public domain)

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