A friend recently asked, “I wonder if freaking out about little things is related to downplaying experiences that are truly damaging and scary, like trauma?”
Bingo! A light in my brain switched on.
I’ve done a lot of self-work (and continue to do work) around codependency in my relationships. One of the features of codependency is focusing on, and often trying to “fix,” other people’s issues as a distraction from looking at your own. This is usually accompanied by resentment if the other person 1) doesn’t appreciate your efforts at meddling in their affairs and/or 2) doesn’t take your advice and change what you think needs to be changed. (And if that sounds familiar, get thee to a library or hip, indie bookseller and obtain this valuable tome.)
How is this connected to freaking out over trivial crap?
While my friend and I were talking, I got an image of my brain that looked something like this (and no, I don’t know why the ego was wearing a hat that looks like a loaf of bread; it just was, okay):
The ego has a never-ending list of things to potentially freak out about. How to choose, how to choose…?
I’m imagining the ego knocking on the door of the subconscious and asking, “Hey, how much material do you have on this particular issue?” If the subconscious comes back without so much as a post-it, the ego thinks, “Excellent, I can safely freak out about this without dredging up anything really serious.” If, however, the subconscious comes back with a stack of files larger than Trump’s megalomania, then the ego is like, “Woah-ho-ho. Shut ‘er down! I’m not going anywhere near that one!”
To use my friend’s example: Rather than freaking out about a recent incident that dredged up memories of his childhood trauma, his ego found it much safer to fixate on–and totally freak out about–the bowl of raspberries he’d eaten during his sugar detox.
“You did WHAT?! How could you! An entire bowl of raspberries!!!! I can’t even look at you right now…”
In other words, rather than deal with scary emotions that are actually connected to significant experiences, we can freak out over the little stuff that, deep down, we know isn’t that big of a deal, like the codependent person focusing on other people’s issues to steer clear of looking at her own.
To our ego this feels safer, and, indeed, there are times when it probably is. If we don’t have a good support system (internally or externally), if we’re a child, if we’re already feeling overwhelmed, or if we’re otherwise feeling unequipped to cope, it might be a good idea to postpone a potential dark night of the soul until we do have the support we need.
But as a way of life, routinely avoiding the stuff that goes deeper than the bowl of raspberries leads to major build up–emotional, mental, energetic, spiritual, and physical. Our life loses its sense of flow, and we’re losing our shit over raspberries.
The Energetic Anatomy of a Freak Out
This, then, got me thinking about another aspect of freaking out and why we do it. There are many reasons, no doubt, such as seeing our parents or caregivers freak out and learning it from them, getting habituated to the cascade of chemicals surging through us when we freak out, and so on, but what interests me here is looking at this from a spiritual-energetic point of view.
Let’s work from the assumption that we all have spiritual energy coursing through us at all times. Call it chi, prana, rauch–whatever you like. As long as we’re alive, this energy is flowing through us. We create energetic channels within ourselves based on our past experiences, and not all of those channels are equally awesome.
Some of these channels allow for a free flow of energy, some are partially backed up with energetic hairballs, and others are blocked up completely. And some of them flow quite freely, but they don’t channel our energy into pursuits that are meaningful or life enhancing (one example: addiction–lots of energy, destructive results).
On the flip-side, some of those channels are associated with using our energy in ways that empower us: they enable us to home in on experiences that are personally meaningful and to use our resources to cultivate those experiences consciously. In other words, they help us create a meaningful life.
When our energy is flowing through these empowering channels, it becomes clear that we have the ability to make an impact, not only on our own life but on the world, and as much as we consciously think this is what we want, making an impact can also feel scary, because when we’re truly working in our “zone of genius” (to use a term by Dr. Gay Hendricks), there’s more at stake. Now, we’re living from a place that really matters to us, thus making the possibility of failure much scarier.
If we fail at the office job we hate–sure, it might bruise our ego or our budget, but it probably won’t shake us to our very core. Our ego, however, is certain that failing at something that really matters is the end-all-be-all and must be avoided at all costs. And this brings us back to our original idea: Rather than allow energy to flow through deeply empowering channels that could potentially trigger fears of a greater magnitude, the ego plays it safe and keeps us busy freaking out over the bowl of raspberries.
What Can You Do?
So, if you find yourself regularly freaking out, worrying, or engaging in other common distractions of the ego, like chronic complaining, judging yourself and others, and endless planning in lieu of doing, here are three resources that can help. They’re all engaging, easy to read, and majorly transformative.
The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks
Playing Big by Tara Mohr
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown