We all have a worrier inside of us. The objects of our worry seem endless: health, loved ones, career path, investments, social status etc. And to top it off, when we realize we’re worrying we berate ourselves for worrying too much. It seems like an endless cycle, in which we are infinitely ensnared.
We like to deny our worrier’s existence because it’s an ugly part of us, often revealing our core insecurities. Our worrier is one of the most hated parts of ourselves, so we try to beat it down out of sight. Worrying is bad for our health and even worse for our psyche. Worrying breeds stress, anxiety, depression and can even manifest as physical pain.
So that means we should beat up our inner-worrier, right?! I mean, we’re getting rid of worry, how great! The more we suppress our worrier, the more relaxed we’ll feel! I’ve recently learned how exhausting and futile waging this mental warfare on ourselves can be.
Before I got diagnosed with leukemia, I never considered myself a worrier. But now, I definitely do. An unexpected cancer diagnosis caused some serious repercussions to my psyche. The mental anguish that comes with cancer is tough to describe. It almost feels like PTSD sometimes. Every time my body doesn’t feel right, I freak. And I’m on medication where the list of side effects is 3 full pieces of paper with normal font. So things pretty much never feel right. This has required me to develop an internal support system, which I call my rallying squad.
My rallying squad is tasked with handling doubt, fear, and worry. Its primary function is to pull me up when I’m down, to be a guide in the darkness. At first, my rallying squad and my worrier were constantly clashing in my psychic battlefield. As mortal enemies, one could not bear to see the other gain any ground. After endless battle, my rallying squad began to tire. It needed a boost, another tool in the arsenal. Luckily, I was gaining new intel on how to handle “the enemy”, my worrier. That intel was Kristin Neff’s book, Self-Compassion.
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” – Self-Compassion
My rallying squad realized that it needed to change its approach. It realized that my worrier needed to be compassionately accepted. Our worriers are desperate for love. This is, unfortunately, the very opposite of how we’re wired. It’s no easy task loving that ugly, insecure worrier. But, that’s precisely the part of you that needs it most!
The only problem is, wrapping the worrier in love and compassion doesn’t get rid of it. So how do we do that? Well the short answer is, we don’t. We just learn to live with it. By not chasing away our worrier we can actually listen to what it has to say. The compassion we provide gives it space and permission.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve had this nagging feeling on the left side of my abdomen. It seems to be coming from the area near my spleen (just underneath the left rib cage). When I was diagnosed, my spleen was massively enlarged. This is a tell-tale sign of chronic myeloid leukemia. So naturally I’m concerned something is going on there again. Yesterday, my worrier reached it’s maximum capacity. I asked my doctor to send me for a CT scan to settle this once and for all, hopefully.
Naturally my worrier starts to do the freak. What if something’s wrong? What if something’s not wrong? What if the spleen’s enlarged again? What does that mean? What could cause that? My rallying squad knows just what to do. I literally start repeating the thought “I love the part of me that worries, I love the part of me that worries”. And that calmed me down a bit, but what happened next is where the real magic is.
I don’t know about you, but thinking or being told “don’t worry about it” always seems to do just the opposite. I need a thought or some piece of evidence to check my worry against. I need something that I truly believe. If I can get that, my worry evaporates.
So back to yesterday afternoon. As I was driving to go for a jog, I continued compassionately accepting, instead of berating and suppressing my worrier. This allowed me to come to a pretty amazing realization that immediately neutralized my worry. The compassion created space for me to actually unpack my worry. So I thought the situation through and then did some mental visualization of how I think I would feel.
- Best case scenario is the CT scan comes back clean and I carry on with life as usual. If it comes back clean I would think “see all that worrying was for nothing. I wish I didn’t think about it so much”.
- Worst case scenario is I have to be admitted back to the hospital. And if I have to go back into the hospital I would think “man, I wish I didn’t spend my last jog outside worrying the whole time, I wish I enjoyed it more.”
I came to the conclusion that in both situations I would have wished I was calmer and enjoyed my jog outside as much as possible. And that was all I needed.
I know it doesn’t seem like much, but I think this mental process is transcendent. It’s universally applicable to every situation we come across in life. We just have to give it the space to come to fruition. We do this through compassion and kindness to ourselves. Especially, with the parts of ourselves that we hate the most. All feelings are information. Our emotions are literally messages to ourselves, we just have to listen.
My worrier and my rallying squad are good friends now. They know to treat each other kindly and that they can both mutually exist. And man, is the peace nice!
Whether you worry about your health, your investments, or something else, just know that it’s okay and 100% natural. Our worriers developed a long time ago as a way to protect us. So if you think about it, our worrier’s motivations are usually well-intentioned. It’s not easy to listen to that fearfully insecure part of you. But, if you give it a chance I think you’ll find that it often just wants what’s best for you.