Monday, March 25, 2013

Be Kind, For Everyone You Meet Is Fighting A Hard Battle

'Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.' This is a quote that is often attributed to Plato but some suggest is Ian Maclaren. What is the battle?

Kasey Edwards wrote an editorial in which she explains how she was sexually abused as a child. She writes that after years of therapy how she understood intellectually she was not to blame but how emotionally she still blames herself for not fighting back. In this case the battle is between intellect and emotion.

This battle is a civil war. It is between the newly evolved intellect (neocortex) and the primitive emotion (amygdala). Like all civil wars, it is complicated by the interconnectedness between the combatants. Emotion is elicited by the unconscious appraisal of a physical or psychological stimulus. Appraisal is a cognitive function. Because of the interconnectedness of the emotion process, emotion can influence appraisal and the way we see the world.

There is an article written about an elite AFL premiership footballer who suffers from anxiety that informs on this battle.

Morton said he has never played an AFL game in which he has not thrown up in the rooms beforehand, but on grand final day he vomited 10 times before running out on to the MCG. And again at quarter-time, half-time and three-quarter-time.

But Morton is still only 26 and admits that, for him, even that ultimate success was accompanied with the heightened mental anxiety which he accepts will haunt him for the rest of his life.

"Everyone has their challenges in life and this is my challenge.''

Morton does not describe his condition as depression although he has sought varying forms of treatment and medication to achieve some form of equilibrium. ''What I have couldn't be further from depression,'' he said. ''My anxiety means I don't sleep and I jump out of bed every morning and want so desperately to be as good as Chris Judd or Dane Swan or Adam Goodes.

''But I can't find a way to get there. At Richmond, it got to the point where I wanted it so much and it wasn't happening and I'd drive to training and I'd almost be regurgitating my food before every session. I'll always be a worrier because that's how I am, but it was out of control.''

Morton is engaged in a constant battle with the combatants being his intellect and emotion. The article talks of the help he's sought and his allies that are a mentor, his coach, his team, and the football club. Read the article to see how some elite sports are now treating emotional conditions seriously, employing psychologists to look after their athletes mental welfare and not just sports psychologists to improve performance.

Unfortunately I can relate to Morton's story all too well. I am in the process of better understanding my battle and my enemy, emotion. As my profile will show, I am highly qualified in both business studies and in the martial arts. I have never suffered from a lack of confidence. This confidence was not unfounded given my experience in the business and martial arts world.

I now battle with a constant feeling of doubt in my abilities and constantly feel overwhelmed. I know intellectually there is no foundation to these feelings, but the intellect cannot seem to change those feelings. You continue despite these feelings, sometimes you don't. However, understanding this battle and the enemy bolsters your resources and abilities to take on this battle (as Sun Tzu suggested the The Art of War). You may never win, as Morton explains when he accepts this condition may haunt him for the rest of his life, but you can find a way of functioning nonetheless.

I suppose this means that while you may never win, you find a way where you do not lose. Having written that, I recall that Jan de Jong used to say that fighting is not about winning, it's about not losing.

Just as with Morton on his way to training, I was battling with the urge to vomit as I travelled to the first board meeting of a charity organisation I am a director of. My anxiety levels were raging and I felt I did not have the capabilities to attend to the task as finance director and felt overwhelmed. I was gripping the steering wheel tightly, which was a metaphor for the battle I was undergoing to resist the urge to turn the car around and return home. I knew, intellectually, that I could do this job standing on my head, but my emotion refused to believe it. I couldn't change that, but just as with Morton, I fought the battle and attended the meeting despite the continued anxious feelings.

Self-talk and 'positive thinking' are weapons used by the intellect to fight emotion. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. A weakness in these intellectual weapons can be that in order for them to be effective they require belief, and belief comes from emotion not intellect.

Here, as I've learnt from both sides now, we need to be careful when urging others to 'think positively' and using motivational quotes to urge them to think differently. This can have the result of alienating a person or even be the cause of further distress and a feeling of shame and failure when they cannot change the way they feel. These messages are well intentioned, no doubt, but they are also uninformed.

In my chapter on the survival process, I detail six strategies that the military (and other fighting-related activities) use to deal with fear. One is will to override fear. This strategy assumes the emotion of fear is present but that intellectual will is used to counter the flight impulse and get the combatant to fight instead. Will got Morton onto the training track and the competitive arena, and will got me to and through my first directors meeting. What must be understood is that while will pushes you forward, it does not vanquish emotion. You still feel fear but you fight nonetheless; you still feel anxious but you train and play nonetheless; you still feel panicked but you attend the board meeting nonetheless.

This post is written for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is a mediation and possibly a way for me to explore this condition. Secondly, it is also designed to alert the reader to the hidden battles that many people fight. If we wish to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, we need to better understand these battles in order to be an ally rather than another foe. This is particularly true of martial arts and self defence instructors whose students often are struggling with these hidden battles.
Be kind, for everyone you meeting is fighting a hard, often unseen, battle.

1 comment:

  1. We have a word for people who are fighting this internal battle between their intellectual understanding and a negative emotional state and manage to continue in spite of it: courageous

    Oxford dictionaries: Courage - the ability to do something that frightens one; strength in the face of pain or grief.


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