Worries getting you down? ... Here’s expert advice on how to snap out of it. You may have more on the ball than you think
IN THIS world of ours, which worriers regard as a “vale of tears” and nonworriers as a happy place to live in, there are just two big eternal worries: first, worry lest you lose your feeling of self-importance; second, worry for fear you won’t make good. There are hosts of little worries, but these two head the Big League. They often dovetail and fuse together, but usually your worries fit one or the other of these two major forms.
You must first see how this worry about your selfimportance gets your goat, when you really think you are worrying about something else. You must realize that the passion for importance, for approval by your fellow mortals, is the strongest most eternal urge in human nature. Nobody can.escape it. People will go hungry, deny all sex and home-building impulses, and even commit murder or suicide to gain or preserve fheir feelings of importance—in other words, to keep up with the Joneses. Three fourths of the quarrels between husbands and wives, parents, children and in-laws are not about the things they think they are quarrelling about. They are mental shindys in which each is trying to preserve his feeling of superiority over other people.
As an example of this, a young man came into my office recently for help about his troubles with his wife. 1 am merely a homemade psychologist, and charge people nothing for weeping on my shoulder, which is about all most of them want to do, and which I shall show you is always the wrong thing to do. This lad had written a long letter, which he assured me would “bring his wife around.” I said, “Well, Jim, let’s hear your letter.” So he began, “Now, Julia, if you would just get down off your high horse and swallow your pride. . .” “Stop right there!” I said. “You needn’t go farther. You know that will make her mad as a wet hen. You are asking her to do the very thing which neither of you has been willing to do, and which is the cause of your troubles. You are asking her to sacrifice her feeling of importance, acknowledge her inferiority, and agree to feel like a worm, while you sit on a pedestal of self-glorification. You must eat some humble pie yourself if you expect her to do the same thing.”
After tossing the letter into the wastebasket, I said, “There is no necessity for either of you to sacrifice your pride or feeling of importance. You are equals and love each other. If you did not you would not worry so about what each one says and does. Now sit down and write her this: ‘Darling Julia, I still love you.’ Don’t say any more, but go around to the florist’s, put this note in a box of roses and send it to her ‘Rush.’ Don’t mention the roses. If you do it will give her the feeling you are handing her a favor to pacify her. Flowers always speak for themselves.” A month later Jim and his wife came in to see me and, plainly, the sun was shining again. Jim said, “It’s great, Doc. We thought we were quarrelling about a lot of little things, but we were merely trying to show which was boss. We now know each is as important as the other, only in different ways. We settle our problems now on a fifty-fifty basis, and forget about which one is more important.”
If you analyze your worries you will see at least half of them are due to your effort to keep up with the Joneses. Many years ago, when my wife and I first went to housekeeping, it was the fashion to have a “plate rail” around the dining room for displaying your china along the walls. In after years, when we
both knew more about human psychology, Mrs. Wiggam often laughed at herself, because one of her chief worries was to get one of those plate rails for our dining room. She honestly thought it was because she enjoyed the beauty of having our new dishes where she could constantly see them. But when the European psychologists invented, or discovered, the “inferiority complex” and showed how we fool ourselves into thinking we admire something beautiful or fine or heroic, or are “acting noble,” but are really worried lest we lose our feeling of importance, she discovered these plate rails were a very doubtful piece of interior decoration.
Excuses Are Not Reasons
THIS process is what psychologists now call “rationalization,” that is, manufacturing excuses for our behavior and worries which we honestly think ' are reasons.
The best picture of this whole field of psychology, which causes half the worries of the world, was contained some years ago in “Little Benny’s Notebook,” a newspaper column by Lee Pape. No psychologist has ever improved on Little Benny’s description of this self-fooling process of rationalization.
“Pop was smoking to himself in his private chair and ma sed, ‘Wimmen are sheep, Willyum, just sheep following each other from one fashion to another without rime or reason and never even asking themselves why or wherefore.
“ ‘It’s pitiful,’ ma sed, ‘how they’ve all taken to wearing these new eagle skin shoes, and of course they’re fritefully ixpensive because theyre the latest dictation of fashion with a capitol F, but what do wimmin care? They rush off and pay 22 dollars a pair for them without drawing a breth, because they all want to be ferst and not last. Well thank goodness I’ve got common sense not to pay 22 dollars for a pair of eagle skin shoes just because they are the last cry from Paris and the latest rinkle from Fifth Avenue and a million other wimmin are sheepishly wearing them,’ she sed.
“ ‘I certenly wouldn’t pay out 22 dollars just to be able to say I was wearing what everyone else is wearing,’ ma sed. ‘If it was a question of comfort, that would be different. That would be sensible. And eagle skin shoes are comfortable, they certainly are, and that is the sole and simple reason why I invested in a pair thus afternoon,’ she sed.
“ ‘Ye gods you mean you bawt a pair?’ pop sed, and ma sed, ‘They’re perfectly bewtiful, I haven’t seen a better looking pair on anybody, and the moral victory of it is, I bawt them because they’re so wonderfully comfortable and not because I want to compete with the vain silly wife of every Tom, Dick and Harry.’ ”
If you will watch yourself go by for awhile, you’ll be
Continued on page 50
Continued from page 10
j sure to find you are giving excuses I instead of reasons, both to yourself and i others, for most of your worries and S general behavior.
In the worry field one of the most important discoveries of modern psy: chology is that some little failure or mishap which occurred in childhood often becomes one of the major sources of worry and failure in later life. These ¡ original mental wounds are usually j caused by overloving or by dominating parents or teachers. You may therefore | not be entirely responsible for all of j your worries. You are, however, j responsible for not tracing them to ! their sources and using your intelligence to get rid of them. Often a parent or teacher ridicules a child and sets up worries that last a lifetime. Personally, | I would rather someone would maim my child physically than to ridicule i him.
Some time ago Dr. David Mitchell, distinguished consulting psychologist of New York City, told me of a big executive who had come to him, worried to the point of illness because he was afraid to meet his board of directors. The doctor discovered this | worry went back to just two things in his childhood. First, his father had i been determined the boy should be the champion football player of his school. ; This led the father to an exaggerated ! anxiety over any little accident the | boy might have. If he sprained his little finger the father had it wrapped up and doctored. This in time got the boy so worried he would even play sick when a big game was coming on, and imagine he had some muscular strain which would keep him from | doing his best. This is the way hysterics set up spastic muscles, “nervous I indigestion,” and a host of ungodly I symptoms that by-and-by seem as I real as the real thing. Worry can j actually cause “broken hearts” and even death.
As a climax, thus boy gave a wrong j signal, which lost a big football game. | “And now,” said Dr. Mitchell, “here ; was this man of 45, a big six-footer and a top executive, who was so worried he was unconsciously sneaking out of j meeting big situations, just because his j father had taught him to sneak out of j the hard problems of childhood.”
“Yes, but . . .”
One of the commonest forms that ! this worry about preserving our import:
I anee takes is the habit of saying, “Yes, i but ...” The late Dr. Alfred Adler, j who seems to me to be about the only one of the famous Vienna psychologists I who had much horse sense (properly I defined as “stable intelligence”), main| tained you can always tell a neurotic | ! worrier from the person who has a real i problem by the fact that he continually ' j says, “Yes, but ...” He claimed if j j you have this habit it marks you as a I ! neurotic professional worrier. These ; Yes-but-ers are the main clients who I I fill every doctor and psychologist’s j ! office.
The Yes-but-er has a regular formula he follows, as though it were a doctor’s prescription. No matter what you say to him, he (or she) comes back at you with, “Yes, but, Doctor, you don’t understand.” “Yes, but what if . . .” “Yes, but you fail to consider . . .,” etc., etc. You can’t back them into any kind of a corner but they try to wiggle out with this Yes-but business. That is one reason why marriage counsellors find it useless to talk to an unhappy couple together. The moment I you think you have got somewhere the wife will say, “Yes, Doctor, 1 admit [
A4±+-+++++ a4t~~4 = = -+ = --= = -t~J1~ -+~++*+ ± = - .= = g~'&p~~'-.=-=--+ a44t1+ =-f-====++= a~+f ±~ = I 1~4La~ -. /7~~&i~4J -~= = = + + -= -~Q/),1J~J f±++ = = + =
all that, but he . . or the husband will come at you with the same proposition and at once both are off on the old merry-go-round.
Of course, many married persons have real maladjustments. Rut a large proportion of marital worries are rooted in this desire of each to preserve his superiority; and one of the commonest ways they take to preserve it is by this neurotic Yes-but formula. It gives them a chance, when you show them one worry is unreasonable, to find another that will still preserve their importance and dignity.
As I said at the beginning, the second big worry is the fear you won’t make good. Of course, this is a phase of the importance complex. It is all based on just one mental habit—the habit of making a blanket judgment of yourself and comparing it with a detailed judgment of some one item in the other fellow. You are making a wholesale estimate of yourself and comparing it with a retail judgment of each person you are worried about. This is the basis of all lack of self-confidence, and the feeling you won’t make good. A woman meets another who has a more stylish hat, and instantly she feels no good all over. Like Mrs. Gummidge in “David Copperfield,” she is now a “lone, lorn creetur,” whereas a moment ago she was on top of the world. You can’t imagine how deep this goes into human nature. I knew an Irish Paddy who worried because he was not a “fancy shoveller” like the other men.
One of the most curious manifestations of this worry comes out when you give such persons a test of their real abilities, especially their personality capacities. It is truly comical that when they see they are going to come out with a higher score than they had expected, they actually fight against the discovery. They foresee, if they find they have the ability which they have been fearing they did not possess, they will have to make good on it. Worried for fear you cannot make good with an ability which you plainly see you possess! Think of it! Yet that happens right along.
Dr. Mitchell, previously mentioned, has invented a device for catching these people unawares and boosting their self-confidence. He has them list 50
ordinary, everyday performances. You can make up your own list. Here are a few items on which one man tested himself: drive a car, grow flowers, tell an interesting story, cook a meal, dance, play cards, care for animals, care for children, repair a motor, paint a house, write letters, sew, knit, run a typewriter, review a book, etc., etc. Then he has the person select 10 friends and compare himself with them on each one of these 50 performances. He gives them five points for each item. You can easily make up this test for yourself. Twenty or 30 items will do. If you think you are as good as Friend A on driving a car, or on any of the other performances, rate yourself five. If you are just no good on that performance, rate yourself one, and rate other comparisons in between. Then rate each of your friends the same way. Since there are 50 performances, and five points for each one, the highest score you can give yourself or any friend is 250, and the lowest, 50.
Dr. Mitchell showed me the score of one man who had all sorts of worries about his lack of abilities. Yet when this man added up his own detailed judgments of his abilities, he found he had a score of 176. That is, although he thought he was down at the bottom —50, in total ability—yet by his own analyzed and itemized judgment he had a score of 176—that is, 3 Yi times the ability he thought he had! He rated only one of his 10 friends above himself. His score was 220. Only two he rated near himself, Mr. E., 173, and Mr. H., 170. He was away above all the others. This means that, when he carefully analyzed himself, he was actually superior to nine out of 10 of all the persons he was worried about. Yet he was worried for fear he couldn’t make good. Can you beat it? I rated a college student not long ago by this scheme, or rather he rated himself, and he found he had five times as much ability as he thought he had.
One of the happiest discoveries of modern psychology is that when you give people itemized tests of their capacities, they have four or five times as much all-around ability as they think they have. This is particularly true of persons who lack self-confidence, and of egotists. Egotism is always a form of fear and a sure proof that one is lacking in self-confidence. He is so afraid he will lose his import-
ance in your eyes that he has to bolster his courage by bragging about himself. He is simply whistling to keep up his courage.
After all, what is it you are doing w hen you worry? Are you really trying to solve your problems? Are you analyzing the situation and trying to find w ays of meeting it? Are you t hinking in a straight line toward a solution, or thinking in a circle? The latter is what you are doing. Psychologists properly call all worry“cireular reasoning." It is not reasoning, but emotionalizing. Worry always means you cannot reach a positive decision and stic k to it. I used to lunch ev ery day with a man who could never decide what be wanted to eat. After all the rest of us had ordered he would pick up the menu and say solemnly, “Now, boys, the next thing is to decide what 1 ought to eat.” He would go round and round over the various dishes and finally order something. Put had he decided to order it by straight thinking? No, he had finally, in desperation, taken a plunge. The chronic worrier never really decides anything. He goes round and round in a circle and finally falls ofif or jumps off somewhere, with no idea where he is going to land.
Y ou ask, therefore, how is the worrier going to cure himself? Well, plainly, he must see clearly what he is doing. He has lost the power to decide both his little and big daily problems positively and intelligently. He is actually afraid to let go of his worries, relax and look at his problems intelligently, lest he fall out of the universe. He is like one of the paralytics that were trained some years ago into a baseball club down in Washington by the late Dr. S. I. Franz, one of the great pioneers in this field. On one occasion one man laid down his crutches, balanced himself and made a base hit, and ran to first. When he got there he yelled for his crutches because he couldn’t walk! Indeed the extensive work going on now by which persons with paralyzed or spastic limbs train themselves to almost unbelievable performances by positive efforts and hard positive decisive trying ought to convince the worrier what a transformation he can make in himself by proper effort.
Write Out Worries .
I cannot hope to cure all the worriers,
I but I can suggest two things. The first is a warning and the second a plan of procedure. The warning is, don’t talk your troubles over constantly with other people. Tf you will write out your worries and problems, without dodging or trying to save your face, that will be an amazing help. You can hardly do anything better. One psychologist had numerous persons write descriptions of what they were worried j about, and especially list, the things they were afraid were going to happen. ■ After a few weeks or months he had j them review these fears, and they saw j that about 99% of the things they had I feared would happen had not happened.
I t is the old story of the man who said he had had many troubles but most of them had never happened.
But it is a different matter to talk your troubles to others. Experiments have shown t hat this is one of the worst things a worrier can do, because as he I talks he does two things—he lives over ! again the experience or the fear that is J worrying him; and second, the more he talks the more excited he gets and the bigger the troubles appear. Not long ago a young man came in to see me and began, very quietly, telling me about a set-to he had had with his boss.
Pretty soon his voice began to rise, his muscles gradually grew tense, and by the time he was through he was pacing up and down and shaking his fist under his boss’ nose.
That is what people do who carry old griefs and disappointments. A number of years ago my mother died at the age of 96, from an accident. She had never talked to a doctor till she was 92 (which I always told her accounted for her long life and good health). She also never worried, which E am sure accounted partly for her long life and good health, even though she reared eight children. Well, she had a housekeeper whose husband. Bill, was a teamster. One day the horses started suddenly and Bill fell out and broke his neck. Fifteen years afterward whenever I visited my mother I would lind this good woman, quiet and composed and apparently contented. But the moment she could get me to one side she would begin talking about Bill and her terrible grief. By the time she was through or I was paralyzed emdash; she was in hysterical tears.
You can surely see by these examples the folly of continually talking your troubles to others. The worrier often says, “I just have to talk to somebody; I can’t keep bottled up all the lime.” Better be bottled up than explode. Now what you should do is occasionally talk with someone who can really counsel you. If you can get a trained psychologist or psychiatrist, nothing could be better. They can actually help you, both to diagnose vour worries and to solve them. But indiscriminately talking your troubles over is always bad business. Of course, if your worries or griefs are extreme, your family should refrain from bringing them up, or showing you undue sympathy. Hosts of people display their griefs solely in order to obtain sympathy, because that gives them a feeling of being important. That was why ray mother’s housekeeper put on a show for me every time she got a chance.
The last advice I shall give the worrier is, he must learn to compare himself frankly, fairly and honestly with other people. He can do this in a few minutes by filling out the SelfConfidence Chart or Personality Comparison Chart which follows. It is Dr. David Mitchell’s own invention, and is
somewhat similar to the device I have already described. The main difference j is, it compares your mental and personj ality traits with other people’s, instead of comparing yourself on various i practical performances.
You should first make a list of 12 (or more if you wish) of the traits you desire in the left-hand margin. Then rule off 10 vertical columns and at the top of each w’rite the name of some friend. Next fill the squares under each name on each trait. Use the plus, j minus and equal signs to indicate ¡ whether you think you excel, equal or fall Mow each friend on each trait. I There are 120 judgmentsemdash;12 judgi ments on each of the 10 friends.
The finished chart shown is that of an actual man. By counting the plus signs you will see he excelled his friends ' in 41 of his own judgments, equalled them in 50, and fell below in only 29. Yet this man came to Dr. Mitchell, j down in the mouth and with a blanket wholesale judgment that he was below all of his friends on all the traits of his entire personality. Again, can you beat it?
You will find by this chart that you are not only a much better fellow than you thought you were, but that you equal or excel at least three fourths of the very people you have been worrying about, and who have been making you feel weak-kneed and lacking in selfconfidence. I have known several salesmen who, when worried about going in to see a big customer, would take this chart out of their pockets and compare themselves with their prospects. It boosted their courage enormously, and no doubt has made many a sale.
I am sure, as Dr. Mitchell once said to me, that if parents and the schools would train children to compare themselves frankly and fairly with other people and make just estimates of their traits and abilities, and teach them how to reach positive decisions on life’s problems, that worry and lack of selfconfidence would well-nigh disappear from the world, and the fear of personal failure would be unknown. Your enterprises may fail: you are hound to lose money, friends and loved ones. 1 These are the things that try all men’s souls. But you will not fail, because by a just estimate of your abilities and a ; true comparison of yourself with other j people you have achieved the aim of j all educationemdash;a confidence in your j own self.