This month I am going to turn sixty-six years old. You have no idea how strange that sounds to my ears. It’s like someone looked at me and said “Hey Dave, you just turned into a wheelbarrow.” What!
But something even stranger occurred to me this last week as I drove up to our staff retreat in the mountains. I was struck with the realization that I have been living my life in survival mode. Another way of saying that might be “living with a hyper-vigilant perspective”. Maybe you can relate as well.
This is common for people who experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but how about the rest of us who have not gone through war or extreme circumstances? I have been around people who have experienced these things, but I haven’t personally. Or have I? Nan has always maintained that anxious or critical parents produce anxious children and particularly self-critical children. Does this atmosphere produce trauma-like symptoms as well?
I am not especially concerned about personal safety issues on a daily basis – I am a pretty trusting person. I also don’t tend to get angry unless pushed pretty hard. So where does it affect me?
- I am always looking ahead to any commitment that I must fulfill, not with joy, but with anxiety and concern. And mind you, I love my family, friends, church and co-workers. This makes life harder for Nan since she has to live my anxiety with me.
- Every purchase feels more like a loss than a gain. Therefore there is no real fun in shopping. I operate with an attitude of scarcity rather than abundance and that is just soul-killing. It makes generosity all the more difficult.
- Being “in the moment” is difficult because I have the feeling that I must be alert to changes in the environment. Satisfaction comes after something is finished, not while it is happening.
- Decisions become difficult because every one seems pregnant with “what if” scenarios that could end up badly or with loss. Risks seem unreasonable or even unimaginable and opportunities have been lost that could have turned out really positive.
I think what is really difficult for me is that many people can’t understand and empathize with this perspective very well, but are more likely to criticize and challenge these fears in a negative manner. I am afraid I might even have done that with clients and that makes me sad.
But I also had another epiphany that day. “God is in control”. I know that sounds like a really “Christianese” kind of an answer, and it is. But it doesn’t make it any less true. That doesn’t mean that everything is going to turn out the way I wish it would. What it does do for me is to remind me to surrender the things I can’t control, but know that doesn’t mean they are unnoticed. I am His beloved. I am forgiven. I am precious. That means that I can rest in the moment.
Are you like me? Or at least similar in some other way? Or are you one of those leaders that has no clue what I am talking about and has never experienced the kind of fear I am describing? Be gentle with those who suffer differently than you do. Your turn will come, but probably in another way.
All of you therapists who are reading my post are probably having a ball diagnosing me. Have at it – that’s what we do sometimes!