What You Don’t Know May Hurt You!
If you are one of the millions of people who have seen the Matrix, then you would remember that Neo was given a choice to take either the red pill – which would open his eyes to reality, or the blue pill – which would keep him living behind rose-colored lenses. What would you have chosen? To live in eternal ignorance or in constant awareness? Let’s weigh the pros and cons.
Living in ignorance may protect you from much of the ugliness of the world. You won’t have to know reality for what it truly is. You can avoid experiencing worry and anxiety. In essence, you would be fearless, because you won’t know any better. However, this also means that you won’t be aware of all the potential dangers that may harm you. Take young toddlers for example. They are blank slates with very few experiences of their environments. In other words, they are innocent yet ignorant. Toddlers who have yet to experience a burning stove will not know that touching it will hurt. They do not have the awareness until they experience the limitations of reality. Thus, ignorance may be more harmful than blissful.
On the other hand, living in awareness will inform you of all the sufferings in the world. You will know reality for what it truly is, which may trigger worry and fear. You will experience discomfort and anxiety because you are mindful of the limitations that exist. However, you will also have the awareness to take appropriate action when necessary to minimize potential harm. Take your health for example. We all know that healthy foods + exercise = healthy lives. Although this awareness may trigger anxiety and guilt for some of you, for others, learning what constitutes healthy food and exercise gives you direction to take appropriate action.
Awareness without appropriate action creates anxiety, which we have all been guilty of at one point or another. We have made up excuses to avoid taking action – “But I have no time” or “This small dessert won’t really hurt me”. If you are mindful and acknowledging of your excuses and their potential consequences, then you have taken attempted action to minimize experiencing anxiety. If your awareness and action (or lack of) contradict, then you are not doing what it takes to minimize anxiety and suffering. Better yet, if you have the awareness and take appropriate action to reduce the potential risks, then you are eliminating worry and anxiety. Ultimately, knowledge IS power! And you have the power to be aware and make improvements when necessary.
The truth is that fear and avoidance of awareness actually creates anxiety. What do you think happens when you avoid certain fearful or uncomfortable situations, emotions, or sensations? You are actually evaluating the situation, emotion, or sensation with more meaning than what it deserves. You are giving your fears more credence than is necessary. And you are appraising the perceived consequences with more value than what is rational. Essentially, you are creating an anxiety monster. And the more you avoid the anxiety monster, the bigger it gets.
Let’s take panic attacks for example. The hallmark of panic disorder is a fear of the fear. This means that you fear experiencing the physiological sensations of your biological fight-or-flight response – heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chills, sweatiness, nausea, etc. Sufferers will usually avoid feeling these sensations at all costs, which keep them safe and comfortable in a box. Or so they think. By refusing to step outside this box, you actually become weaker while the anxiety monster gains power waiting to attack at the next opportunity. To take back this power means that you will have to step outside of your comfort zone, face your dreaded fear, and fight the anxiety monster. To grow stronger means that you will have to behave in ways that are counterintuitive to your fears by becoming very familiar with those panic sensations. To be resilient means that you will have to expose yourself to those uncomfortable sensations, so that you learn they are harmless. If you are willing to endure these challenges, then you will overcome anxiety and irrational fears.
Remember awareness generates relief and power, while avoidance leads to anxiety and suffering. Neo chose the red pill, because ultimately what you don’t know will hurt you. What will you choose?
Dr. Jenny C. Yip’s experiences with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) began long before her current position as Executive Director of the Renewed Freedom Center. Since childhood, Dr. Yip has fought her own personal battle with OCD. Inspired by her struggles and motivated to helping others overcome theirs, Dr. Yip has dedicated her professional career to treating families and individuals with severe OCD, performance and sports anxiety, body image issues, and related anxiety disorders. Dr. Yip has developed her own innovative treatment modality integrating Mindfulness Training and Strategic Paradoxical Techniques with CBT in the treatment of children and adolescents. She’s published numerous articles, presented at more than 35 national and international conferences, and worked to train other professionals in the field to be effective clinicians. She holds a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology from Argosy University, Washington, DC – an APA accredited program. She is an Institutional Member of the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), a Clinical Member of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), and a Clinical Member of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT). She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles County Psychology Association (LACPA) where she chairs the Membership Committee and the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Special Interest Group (CBT SIG).