The thing about worry

Not wanting to stink up the space with what’s mostly on my mind, I didn’t blog much last week. But because this is an exercise in honesty, I’ve decided to put it out there. I’m afraid – you could say worried – about admitting that I am worried.

I’ve been so deeply submerged in our self-help culture that voicing worries seems something worse than dirty. It is weak. That positive thinking mantra is louder than we think. We’re supposed to believe in the innate power of our minds to transform our situations, quell our fears, even heal our cancers. Above all, we must never see ourselves as victims or sufferers.

When the media showed renewed interest in realistic pessimism last year. I welcomed it with open arms.

It made me think about how I respond when people air their worries and I’ve been thinking about it again this past week because I’ve been, well, worried. Generic reactions include: “I’m sure it will get better”, “Things will work themselves out” and anything else that clings to the belief that ‘good’ will just make it’s way here.

I don’t at all think we’re being callous when we respond like this. Often, when I say things like this I am genuinely hoping to extend comfort to the other person. Being on the receiving end, however, I know I feel like the other person either hasn’t seen the reality of my experience or doesn’t have the time or feel we have the intimacy to actually engage with it. Fair enough. But let’s see it as it is instead of fooling ourselves that we’re being optimistic on behalf of others as if positive thinking in itself constitutes empathy.

The problem of worry is even more complicated for me when it comes to my faith. The Bible tells me not to worry, to trust God. I’ve even heard people explain these kinds of passages by condemning worry itself as sin and telling the worrier that they are failing to trust Him. But surely, to never fear, worry or be intensely concerned would be pathological. We’d have little impetus for self-preservation, taking steps to sort out the troubling thing, even to pray.

On that last note, I can’t believe that God would want me to come to Him with my enforced positive outlook. To say to Him: “Please help me with this thing but of course it’s fine, because I trust You” feels anemic at best and dishonest at worst. In fact, it feels like I’m telling God He’s too stupid to see how scared I am and to engage with me in my fear.

Instead it makes sense that the exhortation not to worry actually means not to allow worry to ‘have the last laugh’, so to speak, to control and consume me. And I can’t help but feel that admitting that it’s there is an important part of tackling, not necessarily worry itself, but the things that worry me.

Now when I routinely break down on a Sunday night, looking at the week ahead, terrified and overwhelmed by everything from money to the creature to my ability to organize, I’m learning not to beat myself up about it. It doesn’t make me a weakling or a bad person. The thing about worry is that it only reflects again that we’re in touch with our humanity. And, for me, it helps me to start my weekly climb again.

Image: Laurence Jarrett-Kerr

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  • A part of some of the philosophies related to positive thinking is that when you are going through your down periods you should accept that that’s what you’re going through because at some point you will rise above it. The more you fight against the feeling, the more energy you invest in it.

  • That’s realistic positive thinking which, like realistic pessimism, I’m happy with. I think what’s problematic for me is that we’re trained to find negativity in itself a bad thing rather than tackling the things that cause us to feel negative. For example, I could worry about my lack of time management. Positive thinking in itself isn’t going to cause to me to fix that. In that case, the negative feeling (acknowledged and harnessed) could actually be what helps to bring about positive change.

  • I share your views there and came to the same conclusion myself. It came to me when I was making travel plans once, my worry/concern about not being caught out at any point meant I did my research so I had a smooth trip.

  • Well put, Adele! I like to think of things as God’s binary opposites – you can’t know freedom from fear without ever acknowledging fear; you can’t fully experience assurance and confidence without being a wreck of self-doubt at times. When weak = strong; when poor = rich and so forth…

    The problem comes not in acknowledging fear, worry, insecurity or anything – in fact such acknowledgement is healthy, even necessary. The problem comes when we amke the choice to stay in the negative, NOT to climb the mountain, as you say…

    I enjoy reading your writings!!

Further reading

Showing up as myself

[image description: Adele and her youngest child sit in the greenhouse, looking at the camera] You may have noticed that I’ve changed this website’s name and URL to my own: Adele Jarrett-Kerr. When I started this blog nine years ago, it...