I live in a near constant state of anxiety, yet what am I actually anxious about? Often the answer is fear. Fear of what? Failure perhaps. Or of looking like a failure.
And yet, my experience of failure is actually very rare. In truth I have very little direct contact with the experience of real pain.
Yet the distress of 'failure' is so tightly woven into my brain that seemingly unrelated events remind me of its possibility:
Speak to a successful friend? You are failing in comparison.
Hear of a new restaurant opening? Why didn't you do that?.
Read about Naomi Campbell. You've never received a blood diamond!.
My ridiculous mind has given me the exciting opportunity to experience anxiety, fear and shame on a daily basis without experiencing it directly. The thought of failing is enough to feel distress.
Wilson et al. (2001) summed up the trap language sets for us:
“Thus comes the paradox that a species that has by far the fewest contacts with direct sources of pain… through language is able to suffer with a degree of intensity, constancy and pervasiveness that is literally unimaginable in the nonhuman world... Because of [language], we can judge ourselves and find ourselves to be wanton; we can imagine ideals and find the present to be unacceptable by comparison; we can reconstruct the past; we can worry about imagined futures; we can suffer with the knowledge that we will die.”
Ring any bells?