What is our purpose? It is an age-old question that troubles us all. We all feel we need it but often find it in the wrong place….work, relationships or addiction. We often make finding a purpose a complicated procedure and we are often overwhelmed with the process. Jack Canfield, Coach and speaker says;
Psychologists have determined through extensive research that the key factors to finding meaning in life are:
These cornerstones of finding meaning in life are all intrinsically part of living in alignment with your purpose as well. Living your life’s purpose requires you to live in full integrity with your values and principles.
Back in 2014, I wrote a post entitled ‘Choose To Be Happy’. While it got some good feedback, I was also criticized on a website with a reference to my post, saying that we truly have very little influence over the events in our lives and it is mostly down to determinism. That means that we are what our family says we are, our culture says we are and this is all determined for us. As Stephen Covey noted when talking about determinism, we are sometimes what we feel we should be. ‘He has a temper but it’s the Irish in him!’ You can imagine how often this excuse is used for bad behaviour.
Personally, I am of the strong opinion that we alone are the determining factor in our lives and the way we choose to think, see the world and choose our path determines where we end up, unless of course, something catastrophic happens that is out of our control. Depression and anxiety are just the mind and body’s natural reaction to life’s challenges that need to be overcome. We often feel better when we have more choice, face fears and can see a way out of issues that face us. If we are really honest with ourselves, it is very likely choices we have or haven’t made that have put us in the situation in the first place. In terms or relationships, we often stay where we truly shouldn’t for fear of consequences that are mostly in our head.
I know some readers here will disagree with the last paragraph and will perhaps consider such things as conditioning, genetics and generational trauma. Especially, the last point is very relevant. While the results for human tests take time, there has been extraordinary research results done on mice (the closest to our DNA), that clearly show that trauma can be carried forward to at least three generations through the father’s sperm. This means that trauma felt could have been started with grandparents. An unbelievable thought and if true, is of course a factor. However, if the recent study from the University of London on ‘no justifiable evidence for a reduction in Serotonin and hence no need for anti-depressants’ can be believed, a chemical imbalance can be ruled out of most of the reasons we give ourselves to avoid.
Again, if we are honest with ourselves, fear and the avoidance of perceived consequences stop us doing much in our lives. Fear is a powerful element in our thinking and can lead to all types of dysfunction in the scramble to dodge what’s coming. We engage in procrastination, instant gratification, constant excuse making and adaptation to avoid what’s coming. Paradoxically, we build up such stories in our heads that we forget that it is often easier to face what is coming than to avoid it but many don’t think that way.
Scott Peck in the ‘Road Less travelled’ commented that discipline, delaying gratification, taking responsibility and sticking to reality are essential ways to overcome fears and find our purpose and self worth. How many of us attach our self-worth to what we don’t do rather than focusing on what we can. However, it is true that our fears need to be faced.
Fear is with us all the time. Anyone who hates flying will tell what what it is like to board a plane. The same feeling surfaces if we stand on a tall building with a fear of heights, when we have to take a test or face a difficult situation. The fear can lead to anxiety, procrastination and catastrophic thinking. These very specific fears are very well known but many people suffer from deep seated fear, often hidden, that drives their behaviour. As a therapist, I often deal with people with a generalised anxiety disorder or such disorders as agoraphobia. Often it is difficult to identify what the fear driving everything is and the people affected appear to be unable to pinpoint anything specific. This often makes the situation worse and can bring on panic attacks. One can describe it as the fear of the fear.
Medical experts tell us that the anxious feeling we get when we’re afraid is a standardised biological reaction. It’s pretty much the same set of body signals, whether we’re afraid of getting bitten by a dog, getting turned down for a date, getting our taxes done or if we cannot identity the cause. Fear, like all other emotions, is basically information. It offers us knowledge and understanding—if we choose to accept it—of our psycho-biological status. And according to various studies done, there are only five basic fears that we can attribute our fear to, out of which almost all of our other so-called fears are manufactured. These are:
Extinction—the fear of annihilation, of ceasing to exist. This is a more fundamental way to express it than just calling it “fear of death.” The idea of no longer being arouses a primary existential anxiety in all normal humans. Consider that panicky feeling you get when you look over the edge of a high building.
Mutilation—the fear of losing any part of our precious bodily structure; the thought of having our body’s boundaries invaded, or of losing the integrity of any organ, body part, or natural function. Anxiety about animals, such as bugs, spiders, snakes, and other creepy things arises from fear of mutilation.
Loss of Autonomy—the fear of being immobilised, paralysed, restricted, enveloped, overwhelmed, entrapped, imprisoned, smothered, or otherwise controlled by circumstances beyond our control. In physical form, it’s commonly known as claustrophobia, but it also extends to our social interactions and relationships.
Separation—the fear of abandonment, rejection, and loss of connectedness; of becoming a non-person—not wanted, respected, or valued by anyone else. The “silent treatment,” when imposed by a group or significant other, can have a devastating psychological effect on its target.
Ego-death—the fear of humiliation, shame, or any other mechanism of profound self-disapproval that threatens the loss of integrity of the Self; the fear of the shattering or disintegration of one’s constructed sense of lovability, capability, and worthiness.
Some other emotions we know by various popular names are just aliases for these primary fears. If you track them down to their most basic levels, the basic fears show through. Jealousy, for example, is an expression of the fear of separation, or devaluation: “She’ll value him more than she values me.” At its extreme, it can express the fear of ego-death: “I’ll be a worthless person.” Envy works the same way. Shame and guilt express the fear of—or the actual condition of—separation and even ego-death. The same is true for embarrassment and humiliation. Fear of rejection? That’s fear of separation, and probably also fear of ego-death. The terror many people have at the idea of having to speak in public is basically fear of ego-death. Fear of intimacy, or “fear of commitment,” is basically fear of losing one’s autonomy. Agoraphobia can be attributed to most if not all of the basic five as can a general anxiety disorder.
If we truly see fear and anxiety as information, then we can use the signals given by our body to understand and aid recovery.