When we are anxious, there is often a frustrated desire behind the anxiety. Anxiety is a symptom of inner conflict, and inner conflict is often cause by having one inner pull towards something, and one inner pull away from it. The inner pull towards something, we can call desire; the inner pull away from it, we can call repulsion, or fear.
‘The big wish’ is a nickname we might give to an inner pull that dominates our world. We all have different ones. The big wish might be disguised behind other behaviours, but it is still there, making itself felt. And fighting against the big wish, is a great fear – that the big wish will not be fulfilled, that it is too difficult, that it is impossible.
Here are a few examples.
Jim regularly crumbles in a heap of despair and loss of self-esteem. When in that state, he starts to talk about how much of a failure he is; how his life amounts to nothing. His big wish is to achieve respect and importance in other people’s eyes. His big fear is that he will never achieve this, and is unworthy of such respect. Jim’s father was aggressive and judgemental, and deprived Jim of any sense of empowerment. Jim is fighting a battle, every day, to win back respect from those who deny it to him.
Jim’s behaviour appears belligerent and challenging. His whole demeanour says ‘keep away from me; don’t cramp my style’. He tries to keep obsessively clean. The big wish (to control his environment, especially the amount of respect, space and dignity others give him) affects his every move.
Elaine also regularly crumbles into tears and inability to do anything. At those times, she complains about how she is being abused by others around her. She agonises about how to defend herself against them. Her big wish is to lead a self-determined and protected life. Elaine was taken into care at a young age. She felt abandoned, helpless to control her own destiny. She fights a battle, every day, to win back reassurance, and a sense of control, from those who deny it to her.
Elaine’s behaviour appears, to others, frightening and difficult. Her manner and language say ‘please don’t take my self-determination away; don’t leave me; stay with me’. The big wish (to control others, to stop them abandoning her interests) influences her every move.
THE WISH-FEAR CONFLICT
Both Jim and Elaine are plagued with anxiety every day. For each of them, the big wish involves gaining an unrealistic amount of control over other people and their environment. This causes them to behave in controlling ways, which in turn causes others to shy away from them. When others reject them, they glimpse a reality where their big wish may be impossible. Seeing life slip away from them, their fear of loss of control becomes even more intense. Their anxiety spirals, and they end up in another collapse.
This is the wish-fear conflict which lies behind many of our anxieties.
MANAGING THE ANXIETY – EXPOSING THE ‘BIG WISH’
How, then, can we start to reduce the anxiety? It seems so difficult, especially if our ‘big wish’ has been caused by a bad experience of deprivation in childhood. How can we reverse the programming of decades, and begin to breathe again?
Significant progress can often be made when we expose the ‘big wish’ to our conscious gaze. For Jim, it might be when he begins to see a story that runs: ‘My dad bullied me, and that made me extra sensitive to invasions by others. Every day, I find it hard to avoid fighting imaginary battles for my own dignity, even now that my father is long gone.’
Equally, Elaine might begin to progress when she sees a story that runs: ‘My parents abandoned me, and that made me hugely sensitive to rejection and abandonment by others. Every day, I find it hard to avoid fighting imaginary battles for loyalty and reassurance, even though the original situation is gone.’
One can also understand self-development in terms of past and present time zones. Jim and Elaine are severely influenced by the past, and in some sense are both living there every day. Each morning, when they wake up, something in them is geared up to try to re-fight and correct the past. So they repeat the same patterns and stories, always finding others unresponsive in the ways that matter, and always being disappointed.
By seeing the stories for what they are – myths based on long-gone experiences – Jim and Elaine can begin to live more in the present. They can stop re-running old battles, and start exploring new territory. Yes, the old habits may die hard. But yes, it is possible to drop them, and to start living without the ‘big wish’, and therefore without the ‘big fear’ that it will never be fulfilled.
A person who find presence is not dominated by attachment to a preconceived wish. They are able to experience life more directly, because their senses are not constantly being interpreted in terms of the old myth.
What makes me anxious?
Can I trace the anxiety back to a ‘big wish’, a desire to control the world rooted in a reaction to some past frustration or deprivation?
Can I see the story I am repeating, the habit or pattern that I am trapped in?
Am I able to empty my perception of all the bias generated from the past?
Can I accept that the old battles are the legacy of a life I need not hang on to any more?
Can I simply be here, now, free and ready to experience whatever life has to offer?