Use the Power of Opposites With Anxiety
First, let’s look at this relationship of opposites. All the activities of our world are built around a dynamic tension between opposing forces. There is a natural balance between rest and activity and between expansion and contraction. Examples abound: the ocean tides, a pendulum, summer and winter, day and night, our patterns of work and rest, and the movements of our heart and lungs. These are essential life-sustaining rhythms. The Emergency Response and the Calming Response also form a relationship between two equally powerful and opposing systems within the body that help to maintain our balance of health.
Polarity creates and maintains all types of activity. Every book, play, short story, movie, or TV show involves at least one basic polarity: antagonist “versus” protagonist, a detective “missing” the answers, a man “wanting” a woman, a teenager “struggling between” right and wrong, a poor family “seeking” food or shelter. Without this basic push-and-pull found in conflict, desire, struggle, decisions, or other differences, these “dramas” would not succeed. It is the tension of such unresolved problems that maintains our interest and involvement. In world politics, major activity is found only where a polarity exists, as was the ideological differences between the United States and the Soviet Union from the 1960’s through the 1980’s, or one country’s need to import what it is missing and another’s need to export what the other needs.
On a more personal level, all parents have experienced this same dynamic when you take a toy away from child, instantly the struggle begins, because now the child wants the toy. If you surrender and give the toy back, the child is soon bored with it and moves to some other activity.
Scientifically, opposites attract. Place the north end of a bar magnet next to another magnet. It will repel the other north end and attach itself to the south end. To make sure we continue to populate the earth, Mother Nature creates men and women as attractive opposites, producing desire.
In each of these examples there exists a complementary relationship between two opposites. Think of your own life and the lives of others around you. Whenever we set our minds to a goals, whether it is to graduate from school, achieve recognition, cook a meal, or take a vacation, we create this dynamic tension by choosing something we don’t already have. We produce our positive, goal-oriented drive by distinguishing between what we have now and what we want. We are “missing” that degree, that recognition, that supper, or that vacation. And we “seek out” what we are missing. Once we reach that goal, we stop working and come to rest. (Of course, moments later we have some new goal, large or small, because this process takes place constantly.) These polarities, and the ensuing tensions they create, are not bad or wrong; in fact, they are the driving force of all action. If activity is taking place within a given field, you will find a basic tension between two opposites.
Now let’s reverse the tables. How do you write a screenplay that will fail at the box office? Here is one way: make all your characters happy and content. Don’t let any character worry, or set a tough goal for himself, or realize that he needs something more in his life. Let no one struggle to fulfill a dream. How will your audience react? Zzzzz.
How could we reduce the hostile tensions between two opposing countries? One way would be to devote a greater amount of media and government attention to our similarities instead of our differences, thus reducing the degree of polarization. Or we could discover a foe that is more powerful than either county alone (a worldwide disaster, another Hitler, or aliens from outer space). This would shift the dynamic tension toward a new polarity, a new “them versus us.”
How could you make yourself depressed? By never setting any goals for yourself, by never striving toward the future. By not believing that things change or that you can change. By expecting that tomorrow will turn out just as badly as yesterday did. How could you deepen your depression? By creating a polarity in your mind between “everybody else” (who can change) and you (who can never be different).
How is this related to panic? In the most powerful ways.