On Self-Absorption




Confession: I get self-absorbed when I am anxious. Consumed by whatever it is I am worried about. My body contracts, and my mind goes around and around in my own little swirly moon shell. It sucks.

I understand that this is the nature of anxiety. It pulls us into its swirl, limiting our scope to whatever it is that troubles us. Whether over the quotidian worry du jour, or something very legitimate and scary that is actually happening, anxiety consumes. So I am not beating myself up about what I am confessing, but nonetheless, I find it embarrassing.  

When I was a little girl, I was so anxious about potential calamities befalling my family members on any given day, that I held us all up every morning begging for reassurance. “Dad, you promise you won’t fall in front of a subway?” “Mom, you promise you won’t get in a head-on collision?” etc.. etc.. ad nauseam. Finally one morning, in an act of brilliance born of running extremely late, my mother preemptively said, “You Are Reassured.” Which over time then got shortened to “YAR.” That one syllable became all I needed to hop out of our VW bus with its Flower Power stickers and go join my friends in school. But the point I’m making here is: I was asking my family to reassure me. I had no idea how to self-soothe. Again, I don’t blame myself.  I was a kid. And, to be fair, the anxiety was actually a byproduct of our family system, all the chaos and unresolved dysfunction that had come down the multi-generational pike and now lived in my house. (Hence in my body. And my mind.)

But still.

In my twenties, when I was a newlywed and (luckily for my brand new husband) in therapy, my wise wonderful therapist Leigh told me I was no longer allowed to wake up Pierre in the middle of the night when I felt anxious. “It’s not his job,” she said, “it’s yours.” What? My anxiety was my job? To manage and handle? Til death do I part? Cold turkey, I stopped waking up my husband. And found I had quite a big job on my hands. Working the night shift.  

What I ended up discovering recently, through writing my memoir, is not only how self-absorbing the state of anxiety can be, but also, how the state of gratitude is its antithesis, or antidote. I spontaneously entered a state of over-the-top gratitude when my twelve-year-old daughter Téa miraculously recovered from a life-threatening accident. Organically, I experienced how the state of gratitude precludes anxiety, as well as the reverse: the state of anxiety obviates gratitude. Not that you can’t toggle back and forth between the two states, because I certainly did.  And do. But the biochemistry of the two states are very different: anxiety fuels and floods the brain with adrenaline and cortisol, whereas gratitude creates the feel-good hormones like dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin. I am currently revising my memoir to make this point more explicit, and include the brain science behind it. But in the meantime what I want to share is: anxiety isolates us, keeping us in our negative swirl of what could go wrong.  Gratitude connects us, opening our hearts and physical postures to all of life, all that’s right, and to each other. 

33 thoughts on “On Self-Absorption”

    1. I’m not sure if you’d agree, but the word I feel captures that anti-anxiety state of mind well is “equanimity.” I love hearing that gratitude is a pathway to that place. 🙏

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes I love that word. In the next blog or two I am going to explore a cluster of words for states that all arise under the rubric of being in the parasympathetic nervous system. Equanimity is definitely top among them, right up there with gratitude, compassion, curiosity.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Such great writing – I am grateful for you! The metaphor of the sea shell swirling in its own world is poignant too.

    I think you have a new acronym – IAR: I Am Reassured

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ..and how healing are both gratitude and curiosity. As a human being I have both anxiety and gratitude. I can choose which one to lean into, which one to nourish… and hopefully keep my anxiety out of the other’s space.

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    1. I find the brain science helps me to practice self compassion, note to self I am human. It takes the edge off of all that I experience knowing much of it has a physiological component. It is not just ME. We are wired to see threat from the get go and we are wired to connect. You are reassured. I can feel those three words. Perhaps words which were once offered to us as children to soothe are words we can offer ourselves now when necessary with self compassion and gratitude for being human.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love this comment. Yes, the brain science depersonalizes it: we are not singularly fucked up or defective, it’s part of the human condition. And as another person said in this online conversation, we could change YAR to IAR, in that I am reassuring myself. A huge job to be sure, but one many of us are working on mastering!


    2. Exactly. It’s the toggling back and forth thing — we all have the capacity for both states and at any given moment can slip from one to the other. The skill we want to cultivate is intentionally getting the hell out of Anxiety Land and into gratitude, curiosity, equanimity, compassion, peace… May we all learn that skill and hone it, especially in this highly anxious times.


    3. Choosing. Choice. Yes that’s what we want to cultivate: the choice muscle. Mindfulness allows us to see: oh, here I am in a state I don’t like. Choice allows us to do something about it. Thanks for your insight.


    1. Yes, borrow away. And someone shared above a new spin on it: IAR. I am reassured. That’s the one I am currently working on cultivating! Thanks everyone for joining me in this conversation. Love love love love love, Hilary


  3. Once again, I want to thank you all for your comments. The wisdom being shared means so much to me. THANK YOU. Some more conversation in response to these blogs is taking place on my face book page; I may copy and paste some of the nuggets of it to add over here for those of you not on FB (which I had never been on either, as of a few weeks ago…)


  4. Hillary! Loved learning about YAR. Years ago you introduced me to the Yabut, that huge and interfering creature. Naming things is more than half the battle, and makes the learning and overcoming possible. Gracias.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right — the Yeah’but .. that inner creature that takes something positive and invalidates us! We have so very many inner creatures, voices… etc… Internal Family Systems is ingenious at identifying all the many inner selves who have a say in all that goes on. It’s a cacophony inside! And then, beneath all that noise, there is the Essential Self. The Self Energy. Which some call God Energy. But uh oh: I am getting into the G*D territory again!!


  5. It’s important to see the two impulses of self absorption and gratitude as conscious states and not as generalized ideas or personality characteristics. Self absorption and gratitude develop into bigotry and tolerance respectively, then imperialism and democracy. There is accretion from individual to society to civilization. But it all begins with what Blake calls the closed self or with the open, vulnerable one who is always ready to express gratitude.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the Blake reference. In so many ways, there are no new ideas really, just new ways of expressing them, or experiencing them for ourselves. Blake was onto this long ago. And the ancient yogis, even longer! Each of us in our lifetime can hopefully get there — to the ability to inhabit Open Self — in whatever ways work for us. Thank you for your comments and participation.


  6. So enjoying these wonderfully written pieces ! ☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

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