In today’s society, we have learned to not inconvenience others with our emotional or experiential needs, and this may be creating unforeseen consequences for our emotional and social health. In public, we keep to ourselves, we avoid eye contact, we all dread sitting next to that chatty person the plane and find it presumptuous to annoy a stranger with conversation. We haven’t done away with the practice of asking “How are you?”, but we have adopted the unwritten policy of almost never answering this question honestly. Almost invariably the answer is “fine” or “good” but in reality (I hope) most of us experience a variety of feeling states both good and bad throughout the day. We’ve started considering it an imposition to inform strangers, or even loved ones, about our real experiences or wants, choosing convenience over connection. Although these practices seem benign, in the long run they can build into substantial disruptions in a psychological system that relies upon interdependence. Then we wonder why many of us have a behavioral or emotional or relational disturbance of some kind. It is more natural to hide from one another than it is to connect with strangers. To see amusing evidence of this, the next time you ride in an elevator, try turning around to face the riders behind you. How awkward is this? The very fact that we avoid eye contact and “unnecessary” conversation with each other (and most polite conversation can hardly be distinguished as personal) demonstrates the discomfort of connection. Mostly we don’t dare to show genuine feelings, and just in case we continuously block access to our own minds with all the devices of divergence (technology, drugs, alcohol, TV, endless tasking).
I so often, in therapy, hear my clients tell me they are fearful of what will be revealed in the analytical process. They delay making an appointment, put it off until the problem becomes intolerable, cancel the intake and reschedule, finally land on the couch ready to crawl out of their skin with anxiety. I’ve learned not to take this personally, because I know I am about as intimidating and frightening as a Care Bear with a clip board. I am, nonetheless, intrigued by the extent to which many of us prefer to avoid self-examination and hide ourselves from discovery, both from without and from within. We occupy, distract, divert and repress the content of the psyche, keeping it concealed not only from others but also from ourselves. We invent new ways to achieve this obfuscation, and are now to the point that we almost consider it rude to divulge too much or solicit divulgences of self from one another. What is it about the company and content of our own minds that we find so aversive, so embarrassing, so noxious to drive us away from ourselves and each other so completely? And yet, as we avoid self-understanding and being understood by others, we are interrupting the natural process of mind and thereby weakening its very constitution. The more it is weakened, and darker it becomes, the more we fear it, avoid it and obscure it, leading us to trust others less with our pain, which inspires us to further avoid self-disclosure. When we consider the positive feedback loops, just how many of them are there?