It’s All Relative

What would be worse: Having feet but no shoes or having no feet?

I was recently discussing this philosophical question with a friend of mine and, according to the conversation we had, the answer was not as obvious as it would seem. At first, my contention was that it would, of course, be better to have feet.

My friend, cunning and incendiary as he is, asked me, “What if it was freezing cold, you were stuck outside with no shoes, and there was snow on the ground?”

I understood his point immediately and thought of a past patient with an anxiety disorder (who I will refer to as Bob). Bob had a lot going for him including, among other things, intelligence, good looks, health, and a supportive family. Despite this, he worried all the time, never slept well, couldn’t concentrate, felt irritable, fatigued, and tense. He ruminated about his anxiety as if he was causing it himself and should have been able to banish it like sending a solicitor away from the front door. He had a mental battle being waged between the fact that he had so much going for him and yet had an anxiety disorder. The more anxious he felt the angrier he got at himself, which caused him to feel more anxious. It was a vicious circle of thinking making it difficult for him to make progress defeating the anxiety.

The immediate work was not to treat the anxiety but to help Bob accept that it was there, that it was not his own conscious creation, and that it was ok to feel bad even though there was so much positive going. It took almost six months before he could accept the fact that the anxiety was real and physiologically based despite the relative good position he had in life. In the course of those six months, he must have informed me that “This shouldn’t be here.” and “I have no reason to have this.” at least 400 times. Once the acceptance was there, however, his progress in defeating the anxiety became very rapid and he was able to achieve remission.
My guess is that, before treatment, upon seeing a person with no feet, Bob would have immediately thought something like, “I am a horrible person. I have feet and feel like this and that person with no feet seems to be just fine. What is wrong with me?”

In actuality, without truly asking, we have no way of knowing how somebody else really feels or thinks and what their situation in life really is.    For example, as Bob immediately assumed how the footless person must have felt, Bob felt worse himself. He felt guiltier, more ashamed, and angrier at himself. You can imagine how these feelings then exacerbated and intensified his pre­existing anxiety. Once Bob understood this process, it freed him to truly work on himself.

Everything in life is relative. Whether you have feet or not, you are who you are. You have your own unique story and everybody else has their own unique story. You can always change who you are, improve yourself, grow emotionally; but it is important not to compare yourself to others and to accept and embrace who you are.

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