Your Worst Enemy

“The worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests.

Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”

Friedrich Nietzsche

We have such a unique and complex relationship with ourselves as human beings. We can simultaneously be our biggest advocate and our greatest enemy. The various sides of who we are are somehow able to exist within us at the same time. It is a power play between these contradictory parts of ourselves. Sometimes it may seem like that harsh, hateful bully is the only one left, demeaning us, discouraging us, telling us stories of failure and hardship. But even in our darkest hour, that advocate is still within us somewhere. All we’ve got to do is listen for her voice. We have to fight the narrative being sold to us by our inner enemy.

We have to realize that regardless of which voice is speaking to us, we are neither of these voices. We are the witness, the watcher, the observer of our thoughts. Imagine yourself as the viewer of a TV show, this drama called life. The character called us may only be able to see a limited version of the events taking place in the show. As the viewer, we have the advantage of a wider perspective. We can see that there is a bigger picture that can help us understand and accept whatever the character might be going through, even if it’s unpleasant. We can sometimes get caught up in what we wish would happen or what we hope for the character, but in the end we have to trust the writers and the producers of the show to make it all work out.

We have to step back from our hopes and desires and expectations for ourselves and our own lives in a similar way. We have as little control over what happens to us as we do to what happens to our favorite TV characters. All we can do is watch, and that’s enough. We have to surrender to the universe and trust that things are happening as they should be. It seems like a tough choice to make, but really it’s the only one available. Otherwise we will be grasping and clinging to a mere illusion of control and causing ourselves even more suffering trying to maintain that illusion.

I would perhaps go even farther than Nietzsche does, and say that we are our only real enemy. Think about it. Do you really think anyone else cares as much about our success or demise as we do? Does anyone else even have the ability to make us suffer or fail? Sure those we share this life with have an influence on us. They have an effect on our lives for sure. But at the end of the day, we get to make the final decision. Will these new challenges we find ourselves forever faced with be chisels that chip away at us until there is nothing left? Or will they be the building blocks, the brick and mortar we need to build ourselves up bigger and stronger than ever before? There really is no objective reality. There is only our subjective experience of it.

Nobody can hurt me without my permission.

Gandhi

I’m sure I would have always understood and accepted the first quote by Nietzsche. After all, I have plenty of experience being my own enemy. However, when I first heard this second quote by Gandhi, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. It stayed in my head for a long time though, rolling around, challenging my concept of the world and what it means to be a part of it. It’s really difficult for me to express what exactly helped me to change the scope of my perception on these types of subjects. I vividly remember how I used to take such expressions: Nobody can hurt me without my permission? That’s bullshit! You’re saying not only have I been the victim of something awful and unfair, but also that it’s my fault for the suffering it’s caused me? It didn’t take much for me to feel attacked and misunderstood. I refused to take any of the responsibility for the ways I found myself feeling.

My inner enemy had so thoroughly convinced me that I was nothing more than a victim in this life that no matter what the world offered me, that was going to be my role in the story. So of course when I heard Gandhi’s quote, I played the part of the victim once again. How can you blame me for the awful way I feel? I was looking for someone to blame and nothing more, instead of seeing these words of wisdom from the perspective I do now. Again, I’m not sure how I finally made the shift, but eventually I realized that this quote was extremely empowering. It’s not about blame, it’s about power. Who do you place your power with? Is it the people around you, the random events in your life? Or is that power yours to do with as you see fit?

The enemy within us tries to convince us that we have no power, we are helpless pieces of a fucked up puzzle. The advocate within us understands that we actually have all the power. It doesn’t sell us the delusion that we can control the world around us, but it does show us that we don’t need to. The only power we need is the power to choose for ourselves how we want to interact with and conceptualize the world. That is the greatest power of all, and we all have it. It’s not the toxic kind of power that can be bought and sold and used as a weapon against others. It is a power far more personal and pure, a silent power that no one else can see, but has limitless potential.

Don’t allow that enemy inside your head to convince you to play the victim in your own story. You can be the hero. You can play any part you want to play. This is your story and no one else’s. Even being our own greatest enemy can be positive or negative. How do you want to view it? Woe is me mentality says: I’ll never be able to have success or happiness because I’ll never escape myself, and I’m the one holding me back. That’s the enemy talking. Our advocate, forever full of loving kindness, says: If I’m the only thing standing in my way, then I am completely capable of overcoming that. I am the master of my own destiny.

Martha Beck: Ways You're Sabotaging Yourself

Self Sabotage (Anxiety Edition)

Photo by Basil MK on Pexels.com

Have you ever only started to notice something after it’s pointed out to you? At my last social work job, one of the therapists advised a client with an anxiety disorder to stop smoking. This client was a mess and also coincidentally a chain smoker. The therapist told her that smoking cigarettes increases anxiety despite her insistence that they calmed her down. At this point in my life I was not smoking, but I had in the past. I tried to think back to the way I felt after having a cigarette. I couldn’t particularly remember them making me feel anxious. But it made sense, and I wondered why this client would continue smoking if it did indeed make her feel worse.

Fast forward a few years to the present day, and here I am, smoking again, more anxious than ever. Except this time, I do notice the connection. Even before I’m done with the cigarette, I can feel my anxiety going through the roof. I spend the minutes before I light up looking forward to smoking, then spend the time during and after asking myself why on earth I am doing/just did that to myself. It is perplexing to say the least.

Addiction is a fascinating beast. The way it can make you want something even when it makes you feel bad immediately. Somehow your body still craves it. It’s not just cigarettes of course. I also have this problem with coffee. Although I don’t worry about that one as much. As far as I know coffee won’t give me and those around me cancer. However, the caffeine does make me feel like I’m jumping out of my skin. It doesn’t really give me energy the way it used to. Maybe the first cup or two does a little, but I generally drink at least a pot a day when I’m at work.

The craziest part about these destructive habits is that I am using them as coping mechanisms, as a crutch. I don’t really know how that can be. I’ll feel anxious, so I smoke a cigarette. That only makes me 10x as anxious! I feel anxious because I’ve been drinking coffee all day long. So what do I want to do to treat myself and relax? Have some coffee of course! It never ceases to amaze me what a mystery my own mind is.

Now rather than looking at my client in confusion, I find myself looking at my own reflection instead. Even though I have big plans to stop smoking again next month and probably switch to decaf or tea too, I know it’s easier to make plans than to follow through with them when the time comes. Nothing is preventing me from stopping today, but yet here I sit, looking forward to another cigarette, another delicious cup of coffee.

I don’t know why I sabotage myself in these ways. But I’m sure they aren’t the only ways I do so. Perhaps at the very least I can learn something from this realization. Maybe I can start to recognize other manners of self-sabotage. Maybe a therapist can help me discover the reason I am making things so hard for myself while simultaneously pretending I’m giving myself a treat. For now, I’ll just keep reminding myself where to place my focus. I am not changing these behaviors because they are “bad” or because I am “bad” or “stupid.” I am changing these behaviors because I love myself. I want happiness and tranquility for myself. This is not a punishment or a reprimand. It is a tender act of love. And that feeling of warmth and compassion, that is what I need to truly change for the better.

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Anxiety is Bizarre

It seems as I get older, my anxiety only becomes more intense. Perhaps I am just noticing it more than I did as a child, because back then I didn’t really have a name for it. Either way I am concerned. If it were only to stay at this level, I could probably handle it. But I fear it will continue to escalate.

I am constantly getting frustrated with myself. I want my life to change. I genuinely think I know what to do in order to be as happy as possible. Yet even the thought of waking up tomorrow and making any of those changes is absolutely petrifying. I am too afraid of losing control if I change my routine. It’s just absurd though because I don’t like the way things are going. I’m clearly already not in control. I know I could make my life better, yet I’m afraid to.

I wonder if this is something that everyone struggles with. Is it really all my anxiety that is holding me back? Maybe I am just using it as a convenient excuse. Telling myself I am unable because of mental illness, that if only I were normal I could have the life I dream of. I know I desperately need to start therapy, but I’m too afraid to do that too!