Certainly, the #allesdichtmachen campaign has affected everyone. And that includes me. The strongest reaction on my part was not triggered by the action, but by the reactions to it. They horrified me and made me afraid.
My personal background …
As you may know, I come from the eastern part of Germany. In general, I had a good life there, and the 80s, when I grew up, were the first time I experienced a softening of the formerly so rigid line of the GDR’s party and state leadership. Nevertheless, some things have remained in my memory that made me sad and angry even back then:
- I was not allowed to read books that did not conform to the ruling party line. Not even if they were the sources for books I had to read for my work. Opinions in these banned books were demonised as unscientific.
- Overall, literature and literary products such as newspapers and magazines were subject to strict censorship. This was to prevent the widespread publication of even minimally divergent theories from the ruling ideology.
- If dissenting opinions nevertheless reached the public through various channels, the party and state leadership organised campaigns to reject these opinions, which were claimed to be supported by the mass of the population. All public media channels were involved in these campaigns.
- If, as an employee or even as a SED member, one expressed an opinion that did not correspond 100% to the ruling ideology, one had to explain oneself, practice self-criticism and publicly express regret.
- Irrepressible people were threatened with existential threats – professional bans, publication bans, punitive transfers and even imprisonment. This included round-the-clock surveillance by the state security.
- Only particularly good citizens were allowed the right of free movement in the form of travel. (Apart from those pensioners who were no longer important for the system.) There were also restrictions on other basic rights that are taken for granted today. For example, occupational difficulties in the case of professed religious affiliation or dissenting political opinion. Or refusal to bear arms in the army.
- The right to physical integrity was undermined by the general obligation to vaccinate.
…also influences my perception.
It may be that, as an Ossi, I react hypersensitively to the situation in view of these experiences, in which I personally recognise approximations to the points described above at one point or another….
Why this reaction in particular was so shocking.
In my perception, it was not only the long-lamented lack of discourse culture that broke through here. Besides the lack of understanding of irony and satire, a strange climate became apparent. A climate that, to my annoyance, I now observe in almost all areas of daily life. A climate in which it is no longer a question of dealing objectively and analytically with concrete facts. Instead of discussing facts, people are defamed as persons. Always true to the motto: “Anyone who disagrees with me is an enemy and must be combated.” (And this goes from verbal insults to death threats, if you can believe one or the other celebrity.) Even if it is not a matter of physical destruction, often enough the existence is at risk once the person in question has been sufficiently defamed and thus robbed of support.
In order to achieve this, groups often enough form on the net which, in my view, cannot be described in any other way than with the negative term “mob”. And that is what I find really scary, because this self-reinforcing aggression in such groups of people can – as history shows – get out of hand very quickly.
And to be quite clear: this always affects both sides in the confrontations.
Based on my insight into the psyche of people, this may be the reason.
In my work, I try to explore the fears that lie behind my clients’ problems. Only on the basis of confronting these fears can changes be achieved. And so it made sense to find out where these aggressions come from. I found what I was looking for in primal fears, which usually accompany us unconsciously through our lives. Fears that lie behind our fear of not being beautiful enough, not being good enough, not being valuable enough. Besides the deepest and greatest fear that has dominated us since we have been able to consciously deal with abstract questions, the fear of death, these are fears of the freedom to create our lives, of isolation, existential loneliness and of the meaninglessness of our existence facing a death that is certain to occur at some point.
In addition to my clients, I owe essential insights into these deep fears to the book by Irvin D. Yalom: “Existential Psychotherapy”. More about this in a forthcoming review of this book.
Let’s take a closer look at these fears:
The fear of freedom
In this context, I do not want to understand freedom philosophically or politically, but as the freedom of man to create his own life. The scary thing about this freedom is the inherent obligation to take responsibility for one’s life. Knowing that you are responsible for everything in your life – without exception – is a dimension that many people are afraid of. It is much easier and more comfortable to hand over responsibility to other people or to find the cause in social conditions and regulations. Although this prevents the development of one’s own personality and the potential that lies within it, it provides a lot of peace and security. It is therefore not surprising that neurological studies show that people who are politically inclined to strong polarisation have a significantly lower tolerance for insecurity. (Source) The conscious assumption of complete responsibility for one’s own world also leads to the realisation that one is alone in one’s own world. Therefore:
The fear of isolation
In various blogs I have already emphasised that the change in our society with the loss of faith and extended family and thus of structures that give meaning, makes us more and more afraid of finding ourselves in an existential separation from others. In order to avoid this, we are even willing to deny parts of our own personality merely to conform to the predefined ideas of the group into which we need to remain integrated.
Not only have I already discussed how great the temptation of a group is in my blog on one’s own opinion, but you can also understand this very well in all forms of sects. These are the extreme forms in which people seek the protection of a group in order to avoid the realisation of an isolated existence as a human being. This security also protects them from the fear of death. A very interesting study has investigated the connection between fear of death and belief in authority. Not surprisingly, among the students surveyed, those who were very believers in authority had a significantly reduced fear of death, while students who were dismissive of authority suffered from greatly increased fear of death. Common goals of a group also protect against the realisation of the meaninglessness of individual existence. Therefore:
The fear of meaninglessness
Perhaps the most conscious fear today arises from the inability to find meaning in a life that ends with death. In my opinion, this has mainly to do with the fact that human beings are no longer integrated into a natural cycle in their activities. Whereas in earlier times people lived with nature and were thus able to recognise an existential meaning above all in the production and procurement of food, this is hardly possible today in many professions and activities of our highly technological, extremely insecure and globally connected world. Studies have also shown that up to 80% of students in the USA (Yalom, p. 417) felt an existential emptiness within themselves. An emptiness that often enough expresses itself in aggression.
How can we control these unconscious fears?
As explained above, most of us are usually not conscious of these fears. And what do we do with unconscious fears? They are repressed, shifted or changed. I already explained some of these shifts extensively last year in my blogs on the seven deadly sins (possesions, power, sex, food...).
A popular defence strategy is, among other things, to hyperactively focus on one’s various, often professional, issues. If one then appears to be a workaholic, one has not only warded off one’s fear, but is also socially rewarded with recognition. The extreme variant of this hyperactive defence is to be a “crusader”, a tireless fighter for the most diverse issues. A variant that is often linked to aggression towards those who think and/or act differently.
Or we repress these fears by submitting to the compulsion to conform in the masses – to the point of accepting total control by the group.
And how does rage arise from fears?
The less these fears are understood, expressed or dealt with, the more chronic they become and the more likely they are to become visible as suppressed, unexpressed and unprocessed anger. You are probably also familiar with this effect: problems or feelings accumulate until they break out – usually at the most inappropriate moment.
The advantage of rage is that it will not create a feeling of being helpless and at the mercy of others, as we have with fear. This is because anger or aggression finds a point of attack against which it can be directed; an object or subject that can be destroyed. Moreover, it is an active action and not a passive suffering. And finally, in our world, which is still very male-dominated in some places, aggression is valued more positively than fear – and this is not true for men themselves, but equally for women.
Risk factors for fears
As with all psychological problems, there are certain risk factors for the development of fears and for dealing with them.
Orientation towards the outside, towards deficits and problems
If we leave aside the genetic preconditions, people who have numerous problems in life because they do not deal with their fears are often people who do not orient themselves to their own inner value, but are guided by the outside. Research has shown that “inner-directed” people search for information on their own, and use it better to control their world (Yalom, p. 188).
However, according to my practical experience – which is of course coloured – the “externally guided” are in the majority in Germany today. These are usually more fearful, confused and hostile and less willing to take responsibility for their own lives (Yalom, p. 189). I also measure this by the fact that when it comes to change, most people prefer to move away from a problem rather than towards a solution. And the pressure they want to escape from is usually produced outside of them, whereas a goal they want to move towards arises from an inner desire to develop their own potential.
You can find out whether you too belong to the group of people who are more oriented away from a problem with the following exercise:
Tell yourself or a friend why you left your last job and/or your last relationship. Explain why the reasons were important to you.[i] The resolution is below and you should only read it after you have talked about your reasons.
Lack of ability to analyse
The situation is aggravated when a person has difficulties in overlooking extensive and complex issues, in recognising an order in them and in finding the right starting point for change. This not only makes it difficult to distinguish reality from fiction and the comprehensible from the nonsensical in our day and age. It also gets in the way of finding the underlying fears and the possibilities to move and change.
If you want to rank your ability to analyse, I can recommend the tool from Munich University of Applied Sciences that tests your logical, spatial and linguistic ability to understand complex issues. (here:)
Lack of empathy
The ability to empathise with others is very important in combating anxiety. This ability enables us to understand the intentions of the other person and not just interpret them from our own cosmos. The latter is a permanent source of misunderstandings, misinterpretations and resulting conflicts, which in turn promote the fear of isolation. Again, there are various test options on the internet, but I found the following the most convincing because it also asks corrective questions. (here:).
Incidentally, the last two are also largely responsible for someone being unable to recognise irony or satire. Here, however, the context of the satirical representation must be known and the knowledge of the language used must be so good that even subtle differences in meaning can be recognised.
And if you think: “Great, I fulfil all the risk factors. Should I go shoot myself now?”, I can assure you from the experience of my work as a therapist and coach that they are not unalterable obstacles to working on your fears. However, you should be aware that you may be particularly vulnerable to conformity pressures, authority beliefs and polarisation. For you, then, a heightened level of awareness applies, and the rule to take a breath and think calmly before subscribing to an opinion.
Overall, this analysis means that we as a society cannot eliminate this climate that has currently arisen until we face our fears. If we reduce them in a way that we find the happy medium, because as Aristotle said: “The man who avoids every thing or fears every thing (…) is a coward; the man who fears nothing at all and meets every danger becomes foolhardy.” From my point of view, this means above all that we recognise the risks of our uncertain and globally interdependent world and understand and develop our own very personal role in it – beyond polarisations and conformity pressures.
In the hope that you found what I have brought to light interesting and that you are happy to share it, I am as always
[i] If you have used words in your report that describe wanting to have, to get, to achieve, you are more goal-oriented. If you have used more words that refer to an avoidance, a loss, a replacement, you are probably more oriented away from a problem.