How Dreading the Future May Be a Symptom of Your Past – Free Ebook

One common kind of mental illness (which doesn’t
present itself as an illness to us of course,

it’s far too clever for that) leads us to
worry incessantly about the future: to worry

about bankruptcy, disgrace, physical collapse,

What is pernicious about this kind of worrying
is that it picks up on genuine features of

the here and now; it presents itself as reasonable
but, on closer examination, it clearly isn’t.

There are always a few alarming things going
on: there is some turbulence in the economy,

there can be things that go wrong with bodies,
reputations do rise and fall… But what should

eventually alert us to the peculiarity of
our position is the duration, scale and repetitiveness

of our worries: we should learn to see that
we are essentially worried all the time about


The target may shift, but what is constant
is our insecurity about existence.

It is in such situations that a therapist
may make a hugely useful intervention: they

may point out that the way we worry about
the future is in fact telling us a huge amount

about our past.

More specifically, we are worried right now
in a way that mirrors the panic we once felt

as children; we are greeting the challenges
of the adult world with the defenceless panic

of the child we once were. What we are doing
in the process is exchanging the pain of remembering

the difficult past for a sense of foreboding
around the future; the catastrophe we fear

is going to happen has already happened.

So sealed off are our memories, we project
them forward, where they greet us as apprehensions

of what is to come – rather than identifying
themselves as legacies of unmasterable past


The good therapist becomes aware of the correct
source of the anxiety – and doesn’t let

go of their insight. They will listen politely
and generously to our description of our current

panic – what will happen in our job? Have
we studied enough? What if our enemies gang

up on us?

But then they will gently try to shift the
conversation to the past, to show us that

the future looks so fearful because we are
being counterproductively loyal to the terrors

of an earlier age, which we now need to remember,
to feel sad about and then eventually to mourn

and move on from.

We should be disloyal to those who brought
us up in an atmosphere of fear in order to

save what remains of life from always appearing
doom-laden: we may be trying to stay close

to them by continuing to panic alongside them,
but we owe it to ourselves to break the circle

of worry and to make our future different
from the past, by remembering, localising

and mourning what belonged to yesterday even
as it pretends to be about tomorrow.

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