All About Fear, Anxiety and Panic

 

 

I am very excited to bring back a past guest, pioneer in the field of studying empath, empathy and emotional intelligence Karla McLaren. In the last episode with Karla, we discussed hyper empathy and she offered us some great tips on setting emotional boundaries.

Today we will talk to Karla about her new book Embracing Anxiety, which feels like what we all need to learn in this trying time. We will cover the differences between fear, anxiety and panic, and why understanding them helps us deal with them. We also talked about how depression can be our mentor. Most importantly, you will hear some useful, practical strategies we can start using, such as burning our unconscious contracts and something she calls ‘conscious complaining’!

The New Book Embracing Anxiety: https://amzn.to/2zi8TAP

 

ABOUT THE GUEST

 

Empathy pioneer and researcher Karla McLaren. M.Ed. is the author of The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill (2013), The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You (2010), The Dynamic Emotional Integration Workbook® (2018), and the upcoming Embracing Anxiety: How to Access the Genius Inside This Vital Emotion (June, 2020).

 

A SHORT TRAILER

 

 

 

THE TRANSCRIPT

 

 

Imi:

Hi Karla. Thank you so much for coming back on to Eggshell Transformations. It’s really good to speak to you again.

Karla:

It’s so good to be here again. Thank you.

WHY ANXIETY?

 

Imi:

The world has become a very different place since we last spoke. COVID-19 has happened and a lot of things is happening in the public space. You have a very timely book that’s coming out called Embracing Anxiety. I’m not sure how many people are ready to embrace anxiety, but anxiety is definitely there. Can you tell us more about the book and I what has propelled you to write it?

Karla:

I think it’s a genius move on my publisher’s part to choose … They wanted to choose one emotion and have me write about one emotion at a time. And they chose anxiety first. And I thought it was wonderful because I didn’t understand it when I wrote The Language of Emotions in 2010. I didn’t understand anxiety very well at all. And I always felt bad about leaving it out of the book. So now anxiety has its own book and it’s the star of the show, which I think is great. It’s very well deserved.

Imi:

It’s the child that was left behind and mom’s giving it some attention.

Karla:

Yes.

Imi:

If it wasn’t for the publisher, what emotion might you have chosen? I’m just curious as to why do you think they have chosen anxiety out of all emotions?

Karla:

I think because so many people don’t see it as an emotion. They see it more as sort of a condition or even a disease. Or a sign that you’re not managing your emotional life very well if you feel anxiety. So it’s almost like a character flaw. And to bring it out of the shadow and to bring it out of that place of being unloved and unheralded, and also that people suffer so much with anxiety. I think that was one of the main reasons they were trying to sort of reduce suffering.

 

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN FEAR, ANXIETY, PANIC

 

Imi:

Yeah. What is the difference between anxiety and panic?

Karla:

They’re two connected emotions in the fear family. I separate emotions into four families. The angers, the fears, the sadness family, and the happiness family. And panic and anxiety and fear are all in the fear family. As for the difference between anxiety and panic — We might want to start with fear. Fear is your instincts and intuition about the present moment and your ability to orient to your surroundings and to be aware of any change, novelty, or possible hazard. So your fear would always be looking at the moment that you are in.

Anxiety looks to the future and it tries to get you ready for the future and the future is uncertain. So anxiety has a lot of energy. It has a lot of momentum to it. And if you don’t know that it’s supposed to bring that kind of energy to you, it can be disabling or disorienting, or it can throw you around.

The third emotion is panic. Panic comes forward when you’re actually in danger. It gives you the option to fight, flee, or freeze. And it’s got a lot of energy because it needs to save your life.

Anxiety and panic are often confused for each other, although they do arise at the same time in many instances. But a lot of times when people are talking about anxiety, they’re actually talking about panic. They’re actually talking about a sense of dread or a lack of safety or something’s coming. And anxiety may be there but it’s not anxiety, it’s panic.

Imi:

Does it matter whether or not we know what is causing the anxiety? For myself for example, sometimes I find that I have this low grade subtle current of angst in the background. And it would latch onto whatever object or subject. If it wasn’t A it would be B. When one problem is solved it would latch onto the next. It just has this heightened sense of tightness and tension. Would you call that anxiety and is that different from fear?

Karla:

I would say the way that I could tell the difference between the three is: “is the thing in the future and do you need to plan for it?” Then I would say yes, that is anxiety. “Is the thing frightening or dangerous?” That would be panic. And if it’s in the present moment and you’re just needing to orient to what’s going on, I would say that’s fear. All three emotions, as you know, have a lot of energy. So if you don’t have a practice for them that specifically helps you manage that energy, they can get themselves into a feedback loop.

Anxiety will be like, “Well, what’s next? What’s next? What’s next?” You’re like: “I need to rest. Okay, just hold on. I need to rest. ”

For a lot of people there’s not that sense that they can work with the emotion and talk to it and say, “Okay. Thank you.”

Imi:

Are the skills that we need to deal with these three forms different then? We’ve pinpointed fear, anxiety, and panic. And they’re slightly different. So the way we need to work with these little gremlins, are they different? Or friends as you would call them.

Karla:

Our little pals.

Imi:

Our little pals.

Karla:

Yes. Because with fear you would just say is there anything in the present moment that I need to deal with. With fear it’s about taking an action to orient to the present moment. With anxiety, the question is: “is there anything in the future, anything coming up, any tasks, any deadlines, anything that I’ve forgotten that I need to attend to?” 

With fear, what you say is, “Is there anything I need to deal with right now?” The answer is no and your fear will go, “Okay. I’ll down regulate a bit.” When you ask your anxiety is there anything in the future that I am needing to deal with, and the answer is no, you’ve handled everything, your anxiety can say, “All right. It’s cool.”

Imi:

Do they though?

Karla:

Yeah.

Imi:

Because my friends are not as well behaved as yours it seems. I ask them a question and they say no, they’re still there.

Karla:

If the answer’s no, then there’s the practice of taking an action for fear or planning ahead for anxiety. And writing things down-

Imi:

Can you give us an example maybe? What action can we take for fear?

Karla:

List making. Fear it would be checking: “is there anything I need to do?” Yes, this is unsafe or that’s unsafe. Something like that. Or this needs to be attended to. You would just take the action that your fear is asking you to take.

Imi:

Actually, just to bring it home a little more, can you give us an actual example of fear and anxiety?

Karla:

I’ll give you an example of all three that happened yesterday. I was out in the pool. I don’t have my glasses on when I’m working out. Something about this big came into the pool area and it was moving and I had to orient to it, and keep orienting to it. But my vision wasn’t as good as it could be. So I was watching to see if it is moving, if it is alive, and what it is. Is it a murder hornet? Or is it a bird? Is it a bug? What is it? It turned out it was a leaf. But as I was orienting to it, that was my fear and I kept looking and waiting and seeing and identifying it. That was my fear. My anxiety was there too because what if it was a bird who was injured? Then what would I need to do? What would my plans be? And then if it was a murder hornet, then my panic would be there to say ‘you need to get out.’

 

It turned out it was a leaf, but I was really fascinated to see that my fear was on constant alert at that point because I did not know what it was. I couldn’t orient properly, so anxiety came to see what could the possibilities be. And then panic came in and said ‘if there’s danger, then we need to do this as well.’

That for me was really a helpful understanding of all three together. And it turned out that there was … I don’t want to say nothing to fear because that would mean that the fear was incorrect in coming forward and it was correct. I didn’t know what it was. So I say, thanks fear, panic, anxiety. It’s a leaf. And then we went back to my workout.

Imi:

Am I right to assume that anxiety’s usually more lingering, whilst fear is more come and go and immediate?

Karla:

It can be, but anxiety can be very momentary. It can be: “Did you shut off the stove?” “No, I didn’t.”

Imi:

Oh, I see. So fear is more like an immediate reaction to the environment, whilst anxiety is like what I said— your brain finding things to worry about or prepare for.

Karla:

Yeah. Or “did you pack for the trip?” Or “Did you bring your mask?” Although, nobody’s taking a trip right now.

Imi:

They should really be anxious if they are.

Karla:

Yeah. And that’s a good point that they should be anxious. That anxiety has a purpose. The first couple of times I went shopping after we were sheltering in place, I did not have my skills down. At the point we were wearing gloves. We were bringing wipes. We were doing all sorts of things. And I didn’t have my skills down so I went to the car and I took my gloves off and I realized “oh my gosh, I didn’t take my mask off!” I was just sort of a mess. So my anxiety said: “Go home and make a list of what you need to do in what order.” And that was really helpful.

Imi:

Yeah. I think that is a good point also, that sometimes we can’t control the external world, but going back inside to see what resources we have. The list may not be about things that we need to control in other people or the world, but just in listing out the resources that we do have to deal with any unforeseen situations.

Karla:

Yeah.

ARE SOME OF US “ANXIETY SHRINES?” 

 

Imi:

Do you think some people are more prone to anxiety than others?

Karla:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Imi:

I often joke though that it’s thanks to them that we have survived as a species.

Karla:

Yes.

Imi:

Yeah. I experience some people to more able to be numbed out even in situations where everyone else feel anxious. They are able to just not feel it. Whilst others seem more thin-skinned and they feel it more and they’re more anxious.

Karla:

We call them anxiety shrines, instead of them having a character flaw or something. They’re the shrine that anxiety loves to visit. They tend to be sensitive in many ways. They’re artistically sensitive, they’re hearing sensitive, their sense of touch, their vision. So they’re just more aware of the world.

Imi:

Exactly.

Karla:

And their anxiety just has more to look at. For some people, they’re just not as finely tuned.

 

IS THERE SUCH THING AS A POSITIVE/ NEGATIVE EMOTION?

 

Imi:

So they really need what you call the four keys to emotional genius then. Yes. This is what’s being written in your book. That there are four keys to developing emotional skills. Can you tell us what they are?

Karla:

The first one, and the most important one, is to know that there’s no such thing as a positive emotion and that there’s no such thing as a negative emotion. All emotions are aspects of basic consciousness and cognition and they help us make sense of our world. So all of them are necessary, and all of them are purposeful. They all have gifts and skills for us. Talking about them as positive or negative can spin people into the wrong relationship with their emotions; because if people think that emotions are negative they’re just going to avoid them. And they won’t develop skills.

If they think they’re positive, they would tend to spend more time with them than they should, so their emotional realm gets very unbalanced toward the so-called positive emotions. They treat them as rewards and signs of good character and signs that they’re managing everything well, when they’re just emotions. They’re not rewards.

Imi:

I can imagine someone saying, “Well, if i can feel good all the time, what’s wrong with that?”

Karla:

I think for me, I can feel good when I’m angry and when I’m anxious and when I’m afraid and when I’m grieving and when I’m depressed and when I’m jealous or envious.

Something I say about positive and negative emotions is that negative emotions are the ones that shake up the status quo. They challenge what’s going on, and they stand up for people, and they say things aren’t fair or things aren’t going the way they should.

Whereas positive emotions just go along. They support the status quo. So a lot of times for people to feel “good”, it’s more a sense of social control than an emotional sense of having agency over your own emotional life.

It’s fine to feel sad and it’s fine to feel every emotion. If you feel happiness or joy or contentment, awesome. And if you feel anger or hatred, or anxiety, great. Because each has its place in the maintenance of your basic organism.

Imi:

Do they not compete with each other? Because sometimes I find my anxiety or anger really distracts me from peace and joy or even just doing the task at hand. That’s when I get anxious about anxiety, angry about my anger. Sometimes I just wish I don’t feel this anxiety so I can feel joy or I can just be focusing more.

Karla:

I would ask, in a gentle way, if anxiety’s there and there are things for anxiety to do, perhaps it’s not a joy appropriate moment?

 

WHAT QUESTIONS CAN WE ASK ANXIETY?

 

Imi:

What if there are nothing we can do? Because there are also many situations in life where you’ve done all that you can or there’s just a limit to things you can do or prepare. Are there any other questions we can ask anxiety?

Karla:

There’s a practice that I have for anxiety called conscious questioning. It’s where you actually get into a conversation with your anxiety and ask it around the issue. I find that it helps people focus their anxiety on the task at hand. Some of the questions for anxiety are: “Am I prepared? Or do I need help? Or have I done something like this before successfully?” And if not, do I know someone who has?

The questions that we ask anxiety are to get people out of their isolation and also to remember the times when they have done this well. And then that can sometimes refocus anxiety and go, “Oh yeah, I remember that. Oh yeah.”

Imi:

I like that. I guess sometimes just by asking you realize there’s no real threat as well. Or that you can deal with it.

Karla:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). To the best of your ability.

DEPRESSION AS A MENTOR

Imi:

It’s a consistent thread in your work that it’s so clear you have a love for this whole big family of emotions. They’re like children of yours. Is that how you see them?

Karla:

I see them more as my mentors.

Imi:

Your mentors?

Karla:

But funny ones. And we argue. Yeah, my friends and mentors.

Imi:

Because some of them are really just so unpleasant to feel.

Karla:

I don’t know. I certainly agree with that. For instance, when I was younger I thought that everything in my life would be great if I did not have depression. For me, depression was very severe and would drop into suicidal urge a lot. I had major depression and dysthymia. I say that my brain gets an A-plus in depression.

Depression comes forward when something in your life absolutely is not working. It’s either something in your body, something in your relationships. Something is not working and the depression comes and takes your energy away, so you can’t go forward doing the wrong thing ,with the wrong idea, and the wrong intentions for the wrong reason. Your depression is very protective. 

I thought if I could get rid of my depression, then everything would be great. But my depression was there because that was a lie. Everything wasn’t great and my depression knew it. So it was helping stop me from going forward with the life that I was living at that time.

Imi:

Wow. Yeah. Depression is a funny one because there can be depression caused by chemical imbalances, but what I see in a lot of people is actually a form of existential depression where you’re just not living the authentic life and the depression is there to scream at you.

Karla:

Yeah. And with the biochemical issues or the physical issues, that’s also depression saying, “Something’s wrong. You can’t go forward. Whatever’s happening here, you need to stop and figure it out.” In the anxiety book I have, I talk about nine emotions that work with anxiety. They work together. And depression’s one of them.

It’s very confusing when you have depression and anxiety working together because they seem like the opposite emotion. Anxiety has all this energy, and depression has none. What is going on? But what I find is that they help each other. They can help each other because without depression to say no we don’t want to go forward, if you’ve got very powerful anxiety, your anxiety might push through.

We’ve all been in situations where we’re like, “I worked for a year on this? I wish I’d stopped a year ago. This was worthless.” And if we had been able to listen to our depression that was trying to slow us down, we could have avoided that year of really excellent work that led nowhere.

Imi:

Yeah. That was what I was about to ask you. That you said it’s normal for emotions to work in pairs, groups, or clusters. And I guess anxiety and depression is a common one.

Karla:

Yeah. And we were talking about fear, anxiety, and panic working together, especially during this pandemic period. I think it’s one of the reasons that people are having such a difficult time is that these are three hard working, energetic emotions, but most people don’t even know the difference between anxiety and panic. They’re just being bombarded rather than understanding that these emotions are trying to do something for them. They don’t have a real relationship. It’s very easy to understand why people call emotions negative or positive because you’ve got these three intense emotions coming at you all day long and you’re like, “I just want some joy.” And joy’s like, “What? There’s nothing to be joyful about … Why don’t you pay attention to your anxiety and your panic?”

Imi:

Yeah. Since you’ve brought up COVID-19 and the strange time that we’re in, I do think your book is timely. Being socially isolated and not having our usual distractions means we just come face to face with our inner demons and all the things that we normally distract ourself from just surface. And being able to build some intelligence with our inside world is essential now.

Karla:

Yeah.

COPING WITH COVID -19

 

Imi:

With COVID 19, there’s a health piece, but then there’s also the economic uncertainty that we all face. It may be too broad a question, but will there be any specific advice or exercise that you can recommend for people?

Karla:

This is a difficult one for us, and for our anxiety too because the future’s uncertain. So anxiety’s trying to create a future for us that is going to work. And how can it because things keep changing?

We haven’t opened here yet in the United States and people are wanting to open too early; now we’re having street protests and riots. There’s so much going on that it is very easy to move into panic and anxiety. We are either getting this disease or losing our livelihoods, these don’t feel like good choices. I see people just getting angry at our government: “Open you. I want to get my haircut and I don’t want to wear a mask.” I understand that movement, but my concern is that they’re doing something that their anxiety would tell them not to do, and their depression would tell them not to do, and their panic would tell them not to do… And they push through these emotions and go do something unsafe.

I think what’s going to happen is these emotions are going to increase because they’re not being listened to and the person’s actually in danger. I’m watching people be their own worst enemies. One thing that I’ve started doing with my anxiety is basically bringing it in. Saying: “We can’t really know about the future, anxiety. So what can we do in the next two days? What can we do in the next three hours?” So that anxiety is still being able to be present but I’m reigning it in to what it can do. If I let it out into a month, two months, six months from now, I think I’m going to get into an existential dread. And that’s not going to be helpful for me.

Imi:

Yeah. So we say, fear and anxiety, we want to listen to you, but let’s not expand the scope unlimitedly and just focus on the small few things in the limited time span and what we can do?

Karla:

Yeah. That’s my thought for now. I may have a different idea next week, but my anxiety’s like, “No, you’re fine. Just think about this week.” I just realize we can’t go into the future. Not really.

Imi:

What might be an example of a useful question to ask anxiety with regard to our economic uncertainty or COVID?

Karla:

Maybe… “Is there anything I can do to stabilize my life? For people who are renting here, they’re not working, but rent is still due and people are talking about rent forgiveness but there’s not much happening about it. There is no nationalized medicine. There’s no safety net for people. So there’s a lot more anxiety and dread based anxiety and panic here than there are in countries with better social networks.

Imi:

Yeah. So the answer seems to keep coming back to the good old serenity prayer, which is to separate what we can and we can’t do and focus really precisely on what we can do.

Karla:

Yeah. And there’s a very important, crucial, life changing election coming up this year in the United States.

Imi:

Indeed.

Karla:

And for me, I’m trying to do as much as I can to get out the vote and to support organizations and political parties and people who are running for office. That’s helping my anxiety. I am saying: “yeah we can do this.” That’s helping me a lot. I’m also hand writing postcards to African American voters in voter suppression states. We have a lot of voter suppression here in the United States. And just saying, “Did you know that you might have been de-registered? Please go check. Because your voice is important.”

With all the huge issues we’re dealing with, it’s a way that I can put my hand on a pen, write something, and send it off and know that I’ve engaged with another human being in another state.

Imi:

That’s a really beautiful example of you channeling the energy that comes with anxiety into action, into something that is pushing the right direction.

Karla:

Yeah. So that I don’t just spin out.

BURNING YOUR CONTRACT WITH SHAME

 

Imi:

Yes. Personally, what I really resonated with in the book is the idea … I find it interesting, the shamexiety? How do you pronounce it?

Karla:

I call it shmanxiety.

Imi:

Shmanxiety.

Karla:

I’m like, shmanxiety.

Imi:

Yeah. So basically the crossover between shame and anxiety. And like with all the other emotions, you suggest us to have a conversation or ask a question of it. You said, “When your shame arises, it does so to right a wrong. The empathic approach to shame is to listen and accept that you’ve done wrong and don’t make excuses, don’t blame others, and don’t run away.” In your experience, is embracing or accepting shame the way to go? Would facing or embracing shame bring on more shame?

It’s a fine line to tread.

Karla:

Yeah. I make a very clear distinction between shame that is authentic, that is an aspect of what we believe and feel in our values (and toxic shame). If my value is “I’m going to be kind to people even when it’s hard”, and I get tired and I get riled up and I just take off after someone, and I’m just being a jerk, I want my shame to come up and say, “Karla, this is not even a thing that you’re doing.” I want to have some aspect of me say, “Stop it. You’re being a jerk.” And then that’s painful and I don’t want to hear it because I just want to be a jerk. But that is an authentic shaming message that I agree to with my own impetus, with my agency. I decided that and I just went against it so I need to feel that shame. But as we all know, there are aspects of shame and there are shaming messages that we did not choose.

There’s a lot of lady shame in this world about how you’re a female, what your body looks like, how your behavior’s supposed to be, how you’re supposed to work with emotions. You can’t have anger. So there’s all kinds of shame put on people. Men have the same thing. How they’re supposed to look. They’re not supposed to work with sadness or grief. They’re supposed to be tough.

Imi:

And I think so much of that is unconscious.

Karla:

Yeah. And so we pick up these dreadful shaming messages that if we could think about them we would not agree with them. If we knew we had a choice of saying no, I get to be who and what I want to be. But we have these toxic messages put on us. And the things about shame is if it’s picked up a message, it is going to hold you to it. If you’ve got a toxic message, your shame doesn’t know the difference between it and the ones that you’ve agreed to. Shame is just … One of our colleagues calls it the loyal assistant. Shame’s just going: “oh you’re never going to be loved until you’re perfect.” Okay. And then some poor soul comes and tries to love you and your shame goes off on a bender. That is not comfortable. That is not healing. But it’s not the shame that’s toxic, it’s that message. The work of shame is to figure out what messages do you have, and to get rid of the ones that are painful and ridiculous and unlivable. And to keep the ones that when my shame says, “Karla, you’re being a jerk,” I’m like “okay.Yes, I am. ”

So I can laugh and I go, whatever, and stop being a jerk. Because that’s something I chose. But when it’s “Karla, you can’t be loved until you’re perfect,” that’s like a death curse. And I don’t want my shame to have that as a rule that it’s upholding.

Imi:

Do you think a lot of those … What do you call it? Death dread. Are they caused by trauma?

Karla:

They certainly can be, but we pick them up everywhere. The media is specifically brutal about male and female roles and physical appearance. It’s really toxic. And you don’t realize until … I got on Instagram a couple of years ago and I’m not really an Instagram person because I don’t do selfies. I just noticed everything coming through my feed and I’m like, wow, this is a lot of extreme self-centeredness and a lot of body shaming that they don’t think is shaming. I had to really be aware of what I was allowing into my brain and what I was having my shame look at.

Imi:

I think it gets really tricky when your authentic shame can get mixed up with the toxic loathe. Maybe you have done something that you regret. But then what makes it so painful and dreadful is all those layers of shame that is not authentic. It comes from the outside.

Karla:

Yeah. It could be that you do something wrong, something that goes against your own values, and then there’s also toxic shame there, the toxic shaming messages that are like: “well, now everything’s going to end for you, and now nobody will love you and you’ll die alone in the street.”

Imi:

Yeah. I find that it’s such a downward spiral. How can we stop it?

Karla:

I have a practice called burning contracts.

Imi:

I was going to ask you about that.

Karla:

Yeah. And it’s a beautiful shame practice because it says— ‘I don’t know how it happened, but I signed a contract with this belief system, with this shaming message. And it’s no good. If it were a normal contract, I could amend it. I could get a better contract. I could renegotiate it.

Imi:

Can you talk to our audience about the contracts a bit more? Because I found that to be a really useful strategy. What kind of unconscious contracts might we have signed without knowing?

Karla:

I just did a burning contracts session in a course that I taught and I wrote my stuff down,

Imi:

Oh, brilliant.

Karla:

Here’s some contracts that I had with what’s going on in my business, especially around my website. Here’s the contract I signed unknowingly: “I’m the only person dealing with the implications and the fallout.” I am paying for the trouble and the experts are getting paid, but I’m losing ground. The professionals need to collaborate, but they rely on me to coordinate the action That’s bad. I am losing but the experts are not. So that told me that: okay, I need to reset what’s going on. And so I was able to then talk to everybody. But until I wrote it down, until I did a contract burning session, it was just kind of stuff in the air that I was handling. 

Where you go along with something for long enough and there’s always something to do and you don’t realize that you’re now in a position that is unworkable and uncomfortable and it’s not good for anybody. 

Imi:

So you put into consciousness some of the beliefs that you’ve signed up to that’s causing the stress?

Karla:

Yeah. And the thing is that none of my professionals who are helping me with the website understood this. I was just taking it on because I tend to take things on. That’s a thing I do.

Imi:

That’s another contract.

Karla:

Yeah, that’s another contract.

Imi:

“I take things on.”

Karla:

Hold on. Excuse me, I have to go write that down.

Yeah, my discomfort and my shame and my sense of despair and depression were helping me understand what was actually going on. So yeah, it was uncomfortable, but it was uncomfortable for a really important purpose.

Imi:

Yeah. Do you have a particular ritual that you do to burn the contracts? Do you actually burn them? You just tear the paper down?

Karla:

Sometimes I burn them. Sometimes I tear the paper into little bits. And sometimes I crush it all together and I throw it as far as I can. My emotions see that, my behavior sees that, my psyche sees that, and go: “oh, she doesn’t want to do that anymore.” So the next time I tend into that behavior it will not be in my unconscious. It will be in my conscious awareness and my shame will be like, “Do you want to do that? Because I don’t think you want to do that.” Now my shame will be my friend helping me become aware of a behaviour I no longer want to support.

Imi:

Love this. Absolutely love this exercise. Yeah. What are some of the unconscious contracts that are commonly associated with anxiety?

Karla:

“I can’t ask for help because I will look like a failure.”

Imi:

“I need to be perfect?”

Karla:

“I need to be perfect.” “If I’m going to miss a deadline, I can’t tell anybody.” “I’ll make up a story about why. Like, I’ll get sick or I’ll pretend to be sick.” So there’s, again, that not reaching out. “I should know everything by now and so I don’t need to ask anybody.” Other things like that. It’s just too much reliance on the self. Or “I’m too sensitive. There’s something wrong with me that I feel anxious all the time.” Instead of “I’m an anxiety shrine and watch me with my brilliance.” Basically, I think with all those things I just said, it’s not protecting the self. It’s treating yourself like a work machine that doesn’t have a choice and doesn’t have a voice.

Imi:

Yeah. Gets better contracts.

Karla:

Yeah. There’s some contracts.

WHAT IS ‘CONSCIOUS COMPLAINING?’

 

Imi:

Since we are on the topic of strategies, there’s just one more strategy that I want to talk to you about. It’s called conscious complaining, which is such a lovely name. In our world of positive psychology, I think many people might be surprised to find complaining as a strategy that’s helpful. Like you said in the book, most of us are taught to never complain because it’s negative and we’re supposed to be upbeat and happy and keep calm and carry on. So you call it conscious complaining. What separates conscious and unconscious complaining?

Karla:

One of the things that I do with conscious complaining is I needed to find a way for people to begin to be able to listen to their emotions. And in this book I share the solitary practice where you would go and say, “I’m complaining now.” And you would just begin to complain. And then when you felt the complaint was over, you would say, “Thank you. I’m done complaining.” And you move on. Now, you know you’re complaining, you start and you end. Unconscious complaining doesn’t have a beginning and it doesn’t have an end and people aren’t aware that they’re doing it. And I created it for a couple of people in my family who I would pick up the phone, “Hello.” “You would not believe what happened.” The person would just go right into the complaints.

I would be doing the dishes, I would be dusting, because the person would just go on a complaining rant for a long time and not even taking a breath. So I created conscious complaining for those people so that I could have some time. I was like, “Do you need to do conscious complaining?” And then there was a time limit, and they were done and then it was my turn.

I also realized that because of this positive and negative emotion idea, most people just repress their negative emotions. All of these emotions, anger, fear, anxiety, jealousy, envy, depression, sadness, grief— all of these emotions, fear, panic, are silenced. All of that amazing cognitive beauty and brilliance is silenced in the person. With conscious complaining, things get to come out. And you would think, okay, now people are just going to be more angry and more cranky. But because it has a beginning and an end and consciousness, what happens is that people say, “Oh, I hate this thing that’s going on.” And then you get to an awareness like I did in my burning contracts, that says I’m the only person dealing with this and nobody else has to take any responsibility. You get to the fatigue and you get to the depression, you get to the sadness, you get everywhere and all the emotions get to come out. You get to where you need to be because you allowed your emotions to speak. I love that practice.

THE NEW BOOK— EMBRACING ANXIETY

 

Imi:

I like it too. Thank you so much Karla for speaking to me in this unique time where we all have a lot on our plates to deal with. You’ve given us some really useful insights and skills to deal with not just anxiety, but the family of emotions that are constantly knocking on our door. Are there anything you would like to add?

Karla:

Well, this came in the mail a week ago. Look how beautiful it is.

Imi:

It’s beautiful. Yes. It’s a lovely cover.

Karla:

Yeah. It’s a purple and orange. We worked on this cover for a long time because I wanted it to be really beautiful and look like something that you would want to eat . They kept sending me covers that I was like nope. I said, “I want you to imagine it’s pride and it’s a pride parade add more sparkles.” So they gave me this. Because I wanted anxiety to have a beautiful thing so people would feel like embracing it.

Imi:

Please tell people where to find it.

Karla:

It’s at any bookstore, any place where you can buy books, and it will be available June 30th.

Imi:

And where can they find out more about you?

Karla:

At my website, karlamclaren.com.

Imi:

And I will put all of that in the show notes.

Karla:

Thank you.

Imi:

Thank you so much Karla for your lovely insights and hopefully we will get to speak again. You have got a massive family of emotions and if you go through each of them you’ll be talking to me forever.

Karla:

Thank you so much.

Imi:

Thank you so much.

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