Maybe you are wondering why I left out the fears I am constantly confronted with in my last blog? Because I think it is so important to make clear how much society causes all our fears. And what, from my point of view, can and should be done about it.
My clients come to me partly with diagnosed anxiety and panic disorders, partly with formulated fears. Often they come with issues that superficially have nothing to do with anxiety, but are factually caused by it.
My impression is this:
The majority of my clients suffer from fears of loss and failure, many also from feelings of guilt and shame. A few come with existential fears – of death or material collapse, some with fears of status loss. As you can see below, these fears can actually be matched to the different levels according to Spiral Dynamics. And this is not just my personal hobby. But important because with this classification it is also clear in which phase of life these fears arose.
The spiral structure of the levels also shows that deficits in the lowest levels must naturally lead to problems in the next levels. The basis is not properly formed – in the case of a snail, the house would probably be full of holes. And that is exactly how it often feels for people: Living in a house with holes – threatened and full of fear.
Fears of being left alone, death or the loss of material existence (spiral level beige)
Fears of being left alone
The most common fear I face in my practice is the fear of being abandoned, of being alone. And it’s often associated with fear of being worth nothing. This results from the primal fear of a baby who receives no, little or no loving treatment. Or who is left to its own for a long time despite crying.
The so-called “attachment theory” deals precisely with the development and consequences of an insecure attachment. However, that is not to be my topic here, but what I experience in practice. When clients struggle with massive fears in their partnership, we often find parents who were overburdened with the child, who had to struggle with framework conditions that put the child in second place or who lived in a very difficult, often violent, partnership. The resulting fear of not being worth anything forms the basis for these numerous fears.
It is interesting to note that a baby shows less fear when it can count on several caregivers.
The social factors for these fears
And this brings us to the socially determined environmental factors that influence this situation. Even if there are genetic factors that favour such a predisposition. Our life today is characterised by a one-generation family, in most cases in an urban or metropolitan environment. The parents are busy at work, the child in day care with many other children and without a personal caregiver.
Of course, I don’t want to advocate marriage to the bitter end here – children didn’t have it any better there either. Because the omnipresent quarrels between the parents didn’t lead to affection and love as well.
In large families or close neighbourly relationships, on the other hand, there is more than one caregiver for children. And even though there are numerous concepts to support young mothers in the first year in such a way that they can focus primarily on their child, this is not possible for many families and, of course, no guarantee that a close bond between mother and child will be formed.
Of course, the topic also has an influence on our discussion about women’s equality. I have already written extensively about this in 2019.
Fears of death and loss of material existence.
I encounter – though very rarely – clients who, due to distress, practically fall back to the lowest level of development. They are therefore left with few options for rethinking the situation. Usually, people are not really threatened by death or hunger. Rather, the fear of death often comes from the loss of people – who do not always have to have been close. Sometimes it is enough that a colleague dies of a heart attack at 48. Some sessions by telephone during the Corona period have shown me that the general mood of panic has also led to hardly manageable fears of death in sensitive people. For these people it is important to first give them access to their own resources again.
Excursus on the social conditions for this kind of fear:
How many people are affected in Germany….
Looking at it from a social point of view, however, it gives me something to think about how many people also fall into this deep existential fear due to material hardship. Did you know that we had 90,000 private insolvencies in Germany in 2018? So very roughly calculated, every 1000th German filed for private insolvency. Because of the publicity involved, not everyone dares to take this step. So that the number of people whose existence is materially threatened will be significantly higher. Four million people in Germany receive Hartz IV benefits, 700,000 are homeless.
…what this consequently does to the psyche of those affected…
4 out of 10 people affected by private insolvency say they suffer from psychological problems (depression, anxiety, addiction). The same number of psychological problems can be found in the next group, the Hartz IV recipients. Here, too, 40% suffer from mental illness. That is another 1.6 million people out of almost four million. It’s not a secret that the homeless are particularly affected by mental illness. And, by the way, not only because of living on the streets. In a study, 42% of homeless people stated that they had already been conspicuous in childhood – but only 13% had received psychiatric treatment (source).
…and what help looks like.
The example of the homeless makes me doubt whether it is really the material hardship that causes the illness. (As is often claimed (see here)). Possibly the illness was also the reason for the distress.
It is clear that very few of these people receive professional help. Even though there are some promising projects for Hartz IV recipients as well as for the homeless. However, these are rather a drop in the ocean.
Actually a discouraging statistic for a country as rich as Germany.
Fears of loneliness (spiral level purple).
This is another fear that often only comes to the surface behind certain behaviours. For example, my clients cannot cope with various situations – especially in partnerships. They often try to please everyone and put their own wishes aside. Or they try – as a kind of compensation for the underlying fear – to overwhelm partners and friends with affection. And thus drive them away even more.
Where this comes from…
In my perception, this usually results from the family situation. Additionally to the issues mentioned above, I often see a lack of a sense of belonging due to divorce or patchwork families. In a divorce, children not only have to struggle with the loss of a parent, but also with the dissolution of the framework they thought was secure. In patchwork families – especially those in which both of a child’s biological parents enter into a new relationship that produces children – the situation is complicated by the fact that a child is moving between two secure environments. Two environments which, in the best case, only give the biological children present there a sense of security and belonging. The “in-between child” is not really at home anywhere and thus tries to fit in everywhere in order to secure a ” little bit of love”.
As I said, I don’t want to argue for lifelong marriage here, nor do I want to argue against patchwork families. The point for children, in my view, is that they need an absolute security where they belong. And where someone protects them and loves them unconditionally. It doesn’t matter whether that is a single person, a small group or a large group. They just want this group to remain unchanged and not to split up or disperse. And they want to be noticed with their fears, needs and joys. Because that gives a small child a feeling of security and leads to an adult who can be in a relationship without fear of loss.
…and what the social basis is.
We often offer children the small family as the only group, the break-up of which then triggers these fears. From my point of view, in addition to the factors already mentioned above, the fact that we are guided by the millennia-old idea of a single heterosexual monogamous relationship, which today, due to economic changes, usually leads to the small family, plays a role here. Partnerships are often dissolved precisely because we as a species somehow can’t manage monogamy on a sexual level. (I explained why we are biologically a moderately polygamous species last year in my blog on lust). According to surveys, flings are common. Among Germans, however, it is much less frequent than among our European neighbours. (About 23% of German men admit to having a fling compared to 55% in Europe. For women it is 13% in Germany and 34% in Europe).
What is exciting and supports my hypothesis above is that the number of divorced people who admit to having had an affair in the previous relationship is about twice as high, i.e. over 50% for men and around 30% for women.
So for me the problem is not the change of partner, but the previous fixation on such a small group (father, mother, child). Especially if the birth parents don’t stay in such close contact that they go on holiday together with new partners and children (I actually have a friend with whom it works like that), a larger framework of close people who create a close bond with the child is absolutely important.
Fears of everything that could lead to defeat – physically or mentally (spiral level red).
The classic fear of failure is quite high on the list of fears in our success-oriented society. (At least that is my impression.) Particularly young people often come to my practice for this reason. This fear is usually accompanied by perfectionism and the striving to please everyone as much as possible. Such a combination – as you might imagine – can have quite devastating effects.
This fear often has to do with the fact that children today have to fulfil a wide range of expectations at an early age. They are supposed to be smart, educated, well-behaved. And they should, as far as possible, correspond to their parents’, grandparents’ and educators’ ideas of a “good” child.
The reason for all this in society – pressure to be successful.
That is the reason why parents take all these measures for the personal development of their offspring. In other words, the parents actually only want the best – without questioning their reasons. The neurobiologist Gerald Hüther, who has been studying the development of the child (and adult) brain for a long time, repeatedly describes that they would do better to let children play. And apart from the positive effects on the development of their brains, this would have the advantage of allowing them to be themselves and make their own experiences.
For the Y-and-Z generation, there is also the pressure of social media – to be successful, beautiful and happy. However, a person cannot be as beautiful, successful and happy as suggested there. Defeat, including the subsequent fear of failure, is pre-programmed. And unfortunately, all the statistics that prove that the use of social media not only fulfils the criteria of an addiction in almost all users under 30 and has also been proven to lead to depression and anxiety disorders when used for more than three hours a day are of no use – the pressure to be there is so great that even withdrawal would be perceived as defeat.
Feelings of guilt because one moves away from a way of life firmly anchored in society or family (spiral level blue).
This mainly brings younger people into my practice who have problems with a sexuality that differs from heterosexual monogamy. A situation that is apparently still not generally accepted. And here we are again with what I see as the outdated ideal of a lifelong monogamous heterosexual relationship. Because this causes guilt and shame even in tolerant parental homes. At the same time, the acceptance of other sexual orientations is supposed to be much higher compared to the acceptance of socially weaker people (see above under Excursus!!) (study). Current examples such as the joint outing of queer actors speak a different language, as do the stories of my clients.
In my opinion, the social causes here are to be found not only in the issue of heterosexual monogamy but also in the way opinions are dealt with. For even if acceptance is preached and quasi decreed by society, this obviously does not express the personal views of many people. Their opinions, however, are not only not heard (in order to then use them as a basis for objective methods of conviction), but are usually publicly condemned. Thus subcultures or opinions are formed, which then lead to the problems of people who have a different sexual orientation.
Loss of status, individual freedom of movement (spiral level orange)
Sometimes life goes well for people. They have a family, a job, are successful and healthy. But an unforeseeable event brings the whole structure crashing down. (And I’m sure many people can tell you a sad story about this at the moment.) Suddenly there is a threat of loss of success and the possibility to develop freely. My clients are then indeed often worried about the loss of their status in the eyes of the other people. This often bothers them – sometimes only unconsciously – more than material limitations. Both the loss of status and the material restrictions also mean a loss of freedom. Which is often very frustrating for my clients.
Socially, this fear is coupled with a mindset that has no tolerance for failure. In Germany, entrepreneurs who fail in particular are given little confidence in a second attempt. This also applies to older workers, especially in management positions, even if the dismissal was not the fault of the person.
But there is at least hope here, because the younger generation sees things much more calmly (see here). Perhaps also positively influenced here by the social media, which are mainly American.
With all these influences of society, we should keep in mind that all these fears are hardly or not found among indigenous tribes. In harmony with nature, food and shelter are secured through clan cohesion and death is considered a natural part of life. Fears on the subject of property, position and loss are only found with sedentarisation and the unequal property relations that go with it. Of course, the more society proclaims success and status as the attributes of a successful adult life, the more intense they become.
If you are now wondering why these social conditions are so important to me, it has to do with the fact that I realise time and again that dealing with our fears is also about changing the way we look at the social conditions that cause them. Even if we as individuals cannot change them, it is very possible for us to question and discard the belief systems imposed on us by them.
A free and easy life is therefore only possible if I do this and consciously decide which of these belief systems I want to follow from now on. And this concerns me above all with regard to the fact that our global society should reach spiral level turquoise as soon as possible so that we can still leave our descendants a beautiful planet with an impressive nature. In this respect, I want to contribute to this development by revealing all the limitations of society by which we allow ourselves to be so influenced – away from fears and towards a responsible and empathetic view of our own potentials for a beautiful future.
In the hope of having once again written an enlightening text, I am as always