“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Soren Kierkegaard.
Thanks to Andres Jerkas for passing this quote on to me.
Why is anxiety the dizziness of freedom? Anxiety is a sign that unconscious feelings are rising to the surface. The hidden potential of the patient is about to be revealed. We always explore what makes the patient anxious because that is what most wants to be revealed in this moment.
Thus, anxiety is an invitation to face the unknown within ourselves. Anxiety points the way to a path of freedom, so we can surpass our self-imposed limitations known as defenses.
Anxiety is also a message: “This is what I have feared to become. Will you help this part of me emerge so that I can gain the freedom to unfold my potential?”
The defenses which protected the patient in the past are the chains that keep in in bondage today. If we can help him see and let go of his chains, he regains his freedom to feel, to be, to unfold his potential.
“I have been going slow with a patient who became seriously ill with an infection. Then I learned about multiple strokes in the past and bouts of irregular heart rhythm. The patient is getting a lot from the work and is quite committed but has suggested coming every other week to have more time to integrate for health reasons. We did some deep work on fears and resistance to dependency. The patient shared a traumatic memory of a woman giving birth during which her care was grossly inadequate. We decided to go slow and monitor the physical responses carefully. I’m quite concerned about possibly precipitating a stroke due to the intensity of the work. What do you think?”
Without seeing the patient or knowing the doctor reports, we cannot know realistically how severe the illness is. Is the level of anxiety too high for this patient? The person who wrote this is very skilled, so I can be sure that the patient’s anxiety is being monitored and it’s not too high. So how might we look at this?
As the patient explores deeper feelings, unconscious fears can rise to the surface. For instance, a memory of a pregnancy that nearly ended in death. The therapist, listening and feeling with the patient, starts to feel similarly. This is a concordant countertransference: the therapist feels what the patient feels. When we can sit with this feeling the patient has and experience the fear, we can develop a deeper, feeling understanding of the patient.
“You mention wanting to reduce the number of the sessions to integrate for health reasons. In mentioning this near death experience, I wonder if you are afraid if you will die if you allow yourself to be born here? Clearly, if you allow yourself to be born, your false self will die. And I suspect your false self is afraid, knowing when you are born, it will die.”
Does this mean I don’t think there are genuine health issues? That’s not something I can know. I would certainly encourage any patient to seek a medical evaluation when there is a health concern. However, insofar as he is in therapy, we also should offer whatever understanding we have of the possible psychological meanings of his plight. There is always reality to be explored and known, and the unconscious fantasy meanings attributed to reality, based on our inner world. Both are important in the work. It’s rarely either/or.