Bottomless self-interest

Our country’s commitment to bottomless self-interest, manic work schedule, and a structural belief in competition and scarcity as moral imperatives is actually killing us. “Most of us were not taught how to recognize pain, name it, and be with it,” Brene Brown argues. “Our families and culture believed that the vulnerability that it takes to acknowledge pain was weakness, so we were taught anger, rage, and denial instead. But what we know now is that when we deny our emotion, it owns us.

Whenever I hear words like depression and anxiety come out of the mouths of my patients, I immediately wonder. What are you taking responsibility for that isn’t yours to bear? What is not working about the world around you? What problem are you embodying for the sake of other people, families, and whole communities? Like our angry teenagers, what pain have you been quietly (or loudly in front of company) bearing that was never meant to be yours alone?

Yet while depression and anxiety are great at noticing what isn’t working, they are terrible at fixing it. This is primarily because our culture has taught us to interpret the presence of these feelings as a form of internalized failure. When, in fact, much of our pain actually stems from forces larger than our ability to work harder and smile more. It’ isn’t just you who can’t stay afloat in these waters; it’s all of us. So maybe instead of ignoring, grinding through, or desperately rebranding our pain as some sort of necessary accelerant to living a productive, meaningful, and eventually restful life, what if we just listened to it for a moment? Because I want to argue that the problem isn’t just our troubled kids but their context. That it isn’t just our misfiring brains but our culture. That it’s not just you; it’s everything.

From “It’s Not You, It’s Everything: What Our Pain Reveals about the Anxious Pursuit of the Good Life” by Eric Minton