“So modern man was set up in an undeclared war upon himself. ‘Conquering ourselves’ of the Victorian nineteenth century became ‘manipulating ourselves’ in the twentieth. The human dilemma of subject relating to object…became perverted into the subject, ‘I’, exploiting the rest of myself, the impersonal object ‘It’. This sets up a vicious circle — one of the outcomes of which is the overflowing of our psychological clinics. The vicious circle can find relief, so long as it remains within this deteriorated form of the dilemma, only in the diminishing of the subject, that is, the reduction of consciousness. But alas! we cannot in the long run expect healing to come from applying more of the same disease we seek to cure.” ~ Rollo May, Psychology and the Human Dilemma (1996, p. 79)
Read Huxley, Postman, Buber, Frankl, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Fromm, or a hundred other authors who focus on the existence of individuals in relation to themselves, and a theme will emerge. Primarily, I believe, this theme is ultimately one of fear. The distraction to the point of losing one’s self that May’s quote speaks about (above) is, on the surface, a form of denial. But the question that begs to be asked is this: What is it that I’m trying so hard to deny, i.e., what am I protecting myself from? The word “protect” implies threat, and the perception of a threat is met with fear.
Denial is fear of reality. Pride is fear of powerlessness. Envy is fear of inadequacy. Gluttony is fear of poverty. Sloth is fear of failure. There may be room to disagree with me on the particulars, but the fact is this: Fear is ever present, it is only our awareness of the fear that wanes. One point I would like to be clear on is that I do not believe each of us is under a constant threat of loss or pain in some form or another. While the existence of potential for suffering is universal, the potential for joy is just as likely.
Here’s the challenge: Find your fear, face it. If my struggle is pride, what would it mean to be powerless? If my struggle is enviousness, what would it mean to not have “it”? Am I gluttonous? What would it mean to give something away? Am I slothful? What would it mean to try and fail? If we begin asking these questions, with trusted friends and/or professionals we may discovery a bravery that we had forgotten long ago. Begin asking the question without being so concerned with the answer, and you may be pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the challenge of fear can become.