Before diving into the topic of worry and why it can be so prominent – often too prominent – in our lives, it is important to realise that worry is a perfectly natural and normal human emotion. Everybody worries about things, whether they show you or not. If you’re like me though, you might find worry creeping into your life more often than you like. I need to worry about something or else I can’t relax.
Does that absurd statement make sense?
The thing is, this constant state of worry has become the norm. Worry is natural, but it shouldn’t be the norm. When worry about some distant thought of the future or a stupid thing you did in the past starts to creep into your moments of relaxation on the sofa, in your ‘too-good-to-be-true’ moments of happiness or in those moments of boredom in your day, it’s time to admit you have a problem. An addiction you might call it.
An addiction to worrying.
If on a normal day when you have normal things to do you find yourself incessantly worrying about what work you could/should be doing, what your friends really think about you or if you left the oven on, then you might have a worrying problem. You, like many of us, may need something to worry about. But that can change…
On Needing to Find Something to Worry About
One of the most famous articles on the internet on the topic of worrying is called ‘On Needing to Find Something to Worry About‘.
It highlights some of the ideas that I mentioned above, such as waking up in cold sweats worrying about something that you can’t even remember now. However, while worrying may seem like a simple addiction that just needs to be topped up regularly to be satisfied, the article argues differently. It claims that ceaseless worry is something that needs to be taken much more seriously.
It’s evidence of a particular kind of problem that deserves special compassion and patient understanding. The compulsive need to worry is evidence that – somewhere in a past we haven’t fully unpacked and understood – we underwent something properly worrying and sad. Before our adult faculties were adequately in place, we suffered a traumatic set of events that jammed our inner alarms into their ‘on’ modes and we haven’t been able to quieten them, or soothe ourselves, since.
The article argues that it is usually traumatic, unresolved events from the past that cause us to worry about small things on a daily basis. The problem is, the event generally occurred long ago and is no longer a part of our conscious memory. It is buried deep in the unconscious and we may never actually know what it is.
Sounds like a pretty dire situation then, doesn’t it? Thankfully not, as simply recognising that most present-day worry is simply the remnants of a past traumatic event, is usually enough to calm the nerves and see that the present situation isn’t actually a threat. There will always be things to worry about in the present, but we can become more resilient by facing our past with compassion and understanding, even if we don’t remember what happened way back when.
If you do manage to pinpoint what is causing the need to worry all of the time, all the better for you. If you can’t, you can just know that the event is in the past, and leave it there.
As the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott explained with this ‘forgetting’ scenario: “the catastrophe we think will happen has in fact already happened”.
It is time to recognise the past, move on, live presently. With this, hopefully you will start to find some peace of mind.