Fear of the future or uncertainty, anxiety, obsessions, ruminative loops that prevent us from moving forward in life... Understanding these mental states and finding a way out is not easy, but it is possible. This is what explains Dr. Anabel Gonzalez, psychotherapist and president of the EMDR Association (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Spain. González, a psychiatrist at the A Coruña University Hospital Complex, is the author of the books The good thing about having a bad day (2020) or It's not me (2017), translated into several languages, and Where does it come out? (Planet), which she just posted.
Fear is necessary, but it can become pathological. When should it be treated?
Fear is activated when there is danger, and allows us to survive, we need a reasonable dose of it, at times. When it is very strong or has been present for too long, it stays in our bodies, and we are at too high a baseline alert level, whether there is danger or not; we are not comfortable, we cannot enjoy ourselves, we are not at ease... This would be a first problem. Other times fear can stick to beneficial things.
What compensates for fear is security, and we begin to feel it in social relationships with others, in connection with others. There are people who have a way of connecting with others, they get scared when relationships become too close.
Fear of change is very common. Fear of changing partners, for example... Why?
If we have had emotional deficiencies in childhood, we can look for the partner to fill everything we lacked, we can look for a partner to fill a hole that we have inside; although in reality it is a bottomless pit, we will never fill the void, we must do an inner work. There is also the inability to function autonomously, there are very insecure people and their solution is to cling to someone, if they lose that relationship, they are left without a livelihood, anguish is generated. This is an emotional dependency.
The fear of leaving a partner is related to attachment patterns. Which are? What types of attachments do people have?
Attachment is the way of relating to others and internally. There are people who have a more concerned attachment, always with the fear of loss. The other extreme would be the 'distant', people who neither connect with their emotions nor with the other; they can have a partner, but in relationships they never go deep, they are closed people who do not communicate, they do not reach an intimate connection with others.
In a couple, do both people usually have the same type of attachment?
A very typical couple is someone who is very hooked and someone who is more avoidant. The one who needs a lot ends up asking the avoidant to open up more, the avoidant escapes more the more they ask him, and there is a typical couple loop. Opposites attract each other, but then each wants to lead the other towards their territory, and friction occurs. Sometimes there is balance, other times it decompensates over time and it is necessary to become aware to learn to manage the relationship in a different way.
Is it true then that opposites attract?
There would be many nuances to this, but the most functional and secure attachments have to do with the flexibility to function on your own and have your relationships and your life. It is common for secure attachments to attract each other, and for insecure attachments to attract each other (whether they are polar opposites or not). They recognize themselves within the world of insecurity, they resonate on a similar wave.
Apart from the 'distanced' and the preoccupied, is there another type of insecure attachment?
The disorganized, in which we lurch from one side to the other. They are people who relate sometimes in one way, and sometimes in another.
In the fear of changing jobs, in addition to the economic situation and the basic needs of each one, is there also a psychological component?
The salary is a basic subsistence need, it is not nonsense. If you have plenty of resources you can see it easier. Security also matters. Many people feel insecure and their way of compensating for it is control, which is always a trap because it leaves us in the hands of uncertainty and change. If you need control, the changes go wrong for you, and even more so if they are unforeseen, you are afraid of the new, of surprise. In a lousy job, but in which you know what to expect, you have control, you can do well.
How to face the fear of the future?
You have to make plans and have goals, but think little about the future. Many people worry about the future because they imagine the worst possible scenario and act as if it were going to happen for sure. They have a burden that is not productive. What you can do in this case is raise other scenarios, or plan solutions in case certain situations that worry you happen, so as not to get caught up in the burden.
Any practical exercise for that fear of the future?
Sitting down with a piece of paper to write down the hours of life lost due to things that never happened: catching a disease, having an accident. Maybe you spent an hour a day burdened with it, and lost years of life in fear of what never happened. That paper is the one to review with the next episode of anguish.
It also talks about obsessions, when should we treat them?
We must distinguish between the issues that we think about a lot, which we colloquially call obsessions, and when it becomes a pathology that limits our lives and prevents us from doing things, when we cannot function. It is a matter of degree. Types of obsessions? Humans obsess over anything.
What are the most frequent?
Order, cleanliness, rituals such as checking if the gas is turned off or the lights are off... If this happens to us every day and we have to check it many times, this is serious. There are people who have to wash their hands so much that they hurt themselves and suffer serious skin problems, due to an obsession with germs or diseases.
When is an alert sign, the obsession with order or cleanliness?
The first thing is for the person to become aware that this is not going well for them, because some defend their system tooth and nail and consider it necessary. There are many differences between what we consider tidy and clean and what we consider to be clean. Sometimes the person himself realizes it, sees that it limits him because he has to dedicate many hours and he misses out on parts of life. Other times the consequences fall more on those who live with the obsessive, and it is these who push him to ask for help.
Ruminative loops hurt us. How do we get out of them?
Reflective thinking gets us somewhere, to realistic solutions. On the other hand, ruminatives think a lot, but in circles, they don't go anywhere. It's like going around and digging down. This is very paralyzing and is associated with obsessive people, with depression. To get out you have to observe your thoughts. If what you think is not good for you at that moment, it is not good for you, you have to change your thinking, you have to teach the brain and retrain it with time. It's like switching from automatic to manual.
Is it about not living on autopilot? Is it advisable to be more reflective?
Yes, although sometimes the automatic works well. We have to stop when we get stuck, or feel bad. Spending all day putting awareness in our thoughts is exhausting. But if there is something that does not do us good in life, we must reflect. All change starts with realizing where you are, and if there is a problem, identifying it.
He also explains in the book how to reflect on relationships... What is the key?
The first thing is to listen. Sometimes we talk too much, and we do monologues for two: one tells one thing, the other continues with his. Other times when we interact, instead of talking, we are competing to see who wins, and from there there is no connection, it's all a fight. Functioning in another register is not accusing - "what happens to you is" -, but rather explaining how we feel - "I feel that way with this". We are in tension, and we take out all the dirty laundry; and thus the conversations will go towards the explosion. Common sense is unplugged, and there are more disagreements than conversations. If we get the point, which is an art that can be learned, we will feel more secure in relationships. That does not mean that all relationships can be fixed, sometimes you have to distance yourself.
Knowing how to leave on time is sometimes necessary. Are there people who can be toxic to us?
There are harmful relationships. The toxic person label can bring you relief when you put it on the other if they are doing things that make you feel bad: "it's not me, it's the other who is toxic." But everything that involves labeling, does not score much to reflect on. You have to do is understand what has happened in the relationship, without looking for blame, understanding.