Safety uber alles

Another subject that came uop oin therapy was what happens when a person prioritizes safety over absolutely everything else due to a childhood trauma.

Someone like me, for instance.

Superficially, it sounds like a non-problem. What could possibly be wrong with staying safe? Safety first, right? And you can’t be too safe.

And that is literally true. The nature of safety is such that, by definition, there can be no positive excess of it. It’s like “healthy” and “sane” in that respect.

But what can be true is that an obsession with safety can lead a person to expend far too much energy, worry, stress, and other inner resources chasing after that last 0.1 percent of safety and deny themselves almost all of life’s pleasures because they just can’t take the risk.

I keep coming back to the metaphor of the fascist state. Your typical fascist dictatorship is obsessed with safety. That’s because absolute power leads to paranoia[1]. And these governments are often shored up by claims that only a facsist state can keep the citizens safe from an outside force of unlimited evil and deviousness.

And because the government controls all information and therefore keeps the citizens from being able to externally verify anything the government says, the people have little choice to believe that they are, indeed, being saved from rapacious and malign forces on a daily basis.

And the dictator, who orders the propaganda to be made, also believes it.

The result, of course, is a country with extremely little freedom. Every movement has to be approved of by numerous government bodies. The slightest of changes gets bogged down in endless committees that strangle the idea in its cradle. An atmosphere of oppressive tension pervades the culture and the people are, in general, unhappy.

Safe. But unhappy.

All the people have to keep them going is a very short list of government-approved activities. They do these activities with great fervour and devotion precisely because they are all they have, and they do their best not to think about anything outside these activities for fear of attracting the attention of the thought police.

This describes the inner life of a depressive like me with startling precision. I have a very short list of activities I do, and I rarely think of things outside them because I don’t want to wake up the pervasive fear that hounds me constantly.

And because I never go outside my little world,. I never get a chance to find out whether my fears are justified or not. Specifically, I never get a chance to receive the positive social input I need in order to counter the negative social input I got as a child.

And even when I am out in the world, like when I was going to Kwantlen and VFS, I am in such a constant state of freaking out that nothing gets in anyhow.

That is, I think, the point. The fear might be unpleasant but it.. wait for it… keeps me safe. It does so by blotting out all social inputs, replacing them instead with its own crazy messed up inputs that, being propaganda, only reinforces the fear.

Hence the voices telling me that everyone hates me, nobody wants me there, and I should just go home and hide.

This icy cold fear isolates me, which again, must be the point. And it is nearly impossible to negotiate any social environment with all that fear going on.

It renders me socially numb, essentially. That’s where the awkwardness comes from. Turns out that being numb all over makes you very clumsy.

Go fig. How counterintuitive.

The awkwardness leads to social failure and that, of course, only reinforces the anxiety that is causing the problem in the first place.

Sometimes I wonder if the only way out of my cage is to say “I don’t give a fuck if anyone likes me, I’m going to do whatever the fuck I want and fuck the consequences.

That’s certainly what our heavily individualist culture says I should do. There are few messages more strongly reinforced in modern democratic culture than “Be yourself!”. And who knows, that might actually work.

There’s certainly more than enough anecdotal evidence to support that claim. SO many stories of people who were miserable until they decided that they’d had enough and  didn’t care what anyone else thought, they were going to be themselves.

What I am saying is that it’s more than plausible.

And all that is holding me back from making such a declaration is my own fear. That  icy hand, colder than space, that grips my heart when I try to outside my box.

And that is, once more, the point.

All the fascist tactics employed by my inner government are designed to keep me safe. To brutally minimize risk no matter the cost. To keep me in my little world because said world is known and controllable and predictable and hence safe.

Anything else sets off all the alarms in my head and pulls me out of my nice warm socket and throws me into a red alert situation without my even knowing why.

It’s amaing to look back at my days of schooling and realize how freaked out I was more or less constantly. I didn’t notice it at the time because, and this is very sad, for me that kind of thing is normal to me.

Social emancipation, then, can only come from convincing my inner government that it is glasnost time and begin a program of slow, gradual reforms that will open me up to the world and make conditions more free and wondrous inside me.

That deep down animal fear is not rational, however, so it’s not easy to shift. That scared little animal inside me has been freaking out for a very long time and it will be very hard to talk it down from its tree.

I wonder if there is a drug that could temporarily knock the poor thing out so I could approach a social situation calm and confident, without the shrieking howling void making me a social cripple.

Maybe that’s what all that Xanax is about.

Maybe I will ask my therapist about it.

Maybe there is hope for me after all.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.





Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Because our social instincts tell us that with power comes challengers. The greater the power, the bigger the imagined challengers.

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