Like the great warrior of Homer’s Iliad, we each possess an Achilles’ Heel. Paris slew Achilles by shooting an arrow into the mighty warrior’s exposed heel. In a similar way, Anxiety takes aim at our Vulnerability, unleashing torrents of human distress.
Acquiring the Achilles’ Heel Then and Now
Legend tells us that Achilles‘ mother dipped the infant hero into the river Styx, carefully holding him by one heel. As a result, his physical vulnerability was limited to the space not submerged in the magical river. When you and I popped into the world, we immediately began to develop our Very Own Achilles’ Heel. But it was not, and is not, a physical vulnerability…
Yet Anxiety is like the legendary Paris, taking careful aim at our exposed Achilles’ Heel…
Our trouble started in infancy. As little children we began to Expect clean diapers and soothing comfort. Yet too often, Reality fell short of what we knew we needed. We were trapped between Expectation and Reality before we could even walk or talk. The first pains pierced our mental Achilles’ Heel. In response, we anxiously demanded that our expectations be met – with loud cries and flailing bodies. Sometimes this elicited a dry diaper or tender comfort. Other times, not.
Fast forward a few decades, and we remain uncomfortably imprisoned between Expectation and Reality. We expect spouses to be faithful, friends to be trustworthy, and alcoholics to stop drinking. Yet reality surrounds us with unfaithful spouses, untrustworthy friends, and alcoholics who keep tipping the bottle.
How Anxiety Targets this Vulnerability
Maybe now we see that the size of our mental Achilles’ Heel is determined by the gap between the Height of our Expectations and the Depths of our Reality. The greater that distance, and the more rigid our Expectations (i.e., the more they morph into Demands), the larger is our exposure to anxiety and distress.
Let’s pause to consider the demand-like Power of our Expectations…
We exert super human strength to make spouses faithful, friends trustworthy, and alcoholics sober. We argue and cajole, ernestly plead, or even pour alcohol down the drain. If we do anything less, we may fear that Anxiety will consume us. Yet for all the times we raise the tenor of our emotional pleas, unleash a bit of anger and shame, or throw around some threats, the expected change we demand eludes us…
Failing to push Reality towards our elevated Expections, we often tumble into a maelstrom of anxiety and or depression. Why can’t we make people and situations rise to Our Expectations? What’s wrong with us?
Understanding Anxiety’s Role and Our Role
What’s wrong is that we may not fully grasp the problem we face. Just as Paris had a grudge against Achilles, so Anxiety has a grudge against you and me. At the fateful moment, Paris aimed an arrow at Achilles’ exposed heel. Why was the vulnerable heel exposed? Anxiety aims a full quiver of arrows at our human minds – throughout each day. Why do we leave our minds exposed to its arrows?
Maybe we need to understand the objective of our Opponent. Anxiety endorses Our Expectations, regardless of their merit and regardless of any other human on the planet. It maintains that Reality should rise to Our Expectations, and that we should be able to make it so. Our Anxious Foe suggests that you or I possess power over other humans and situations that depend upon other humans. Clearly we do not possess such power.
Yet we do possess to the power to guard the vulnerable parts of our minds, and executing that power is Our Role.
Two Suggested Steps to Guard Against Anxiety’s Arrows
In order to reduce the size of your mental Achilles’ Heel, you must decrease the gap between Expectations and Reality. And for that reduction process, I recommend two steps…
Step 1: Take an Objective Look at Reality.
What are you actually confronting? If any of us ignore the honest answer to this question, we will set ourselves up for a quiver full of pain. Once we nail down an honest-as-possible description of Reality, it’s time to deploy the next step.
Step 2: Determine Reasonable Expectations
What Expectations are Reasonable for your situation? Anytime our expectations are unreasonable, we expose ourselves to a flurry of anxious thoughts and feelings. It seems that we frequently expect things from people and situations without considering what is actually possible. It’s time to change that, so we can effectively execute our best decisions.
Let’s take the case of a Husband with an alcoholic Wife. He’s spent the past 10 years expecting Wife to stop abusive drinking, so his Achilles’ Heel must be large and painful. He’s likely argued, poured out her liquor, and meticulously montered her actions. As her behavior worsens, his anxiety grows.
What is Husband’s reality? If he’s brutally honest, he realizes that he’s been unable to change his wife’s behavior for a decade. Attempts to control her have been fruitless.
What are Husband’s reasonable expectations? Any ideas of controling his wife’s behavior are clearly incongrous with reality and unreasonable. Therefore, his most reasonable expectations will include that which he can control – his own behavior and response to her.
What I’m really saying about Anxiety and Your Achilles’ Heel:
I’m not saying that abusive drinking is reasonable in any relationship. I’m saying that expecting it to suddenly change is unrealistic and therefore unreasonable. If we can accept the presence of something unreasonable in our lives, we’ve got a much better chance of determining a reasonable response to it. Why? Because when we bring Expectations more in line with Reality, we reduce the size of our mental Achilles’ Heel. As that vulnerabilty becomes smaller, we get a break from the onslaught of Anxiety’s arrows. And in that less threatening place, we form and execute our best plans.