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On Stress and our Fear of Change

Reposted from Of Two Minds with publisher’s permission.

We naturally fear change and transformation, but there is a more sinister source of our chronic stress.

Yesterday I addressed the stress created by the disconnect between official happy-talk and the reality we are experiencing: The Phony “Economic Recovery,” Stress and “Losing It”. The devolution of the Status Quo is stressful, and we naturally fear this process because what happens next is unknown. As correspondent David P. observes, all change is stressful, even the positive type. But David identifies another source of chronic stress/fear:

Last year you wrote an essay about what you called the “often-wrenching process of change.” (Change and the Process of Transformation August 15, 2011). I think there is a marketing/consumerist aspect to our fears. I think the fear of “being yourself” and wanting to retain that fantasy viewpoint is all about the fear that your real self is NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

Most of the country feels this way – not good enough. But we’ve had help getting there – a million commercials by age 35, lovingly scripted by experts focused on motivating us to consume, often based on improving status or looking better. How could your real self be good enough if you need all those products? Most people are terrified to be stripped of all their things that prop them up, not because they are intrinsically lame people, but because that’s how they’ve been programmed to think. Its very hard to avoid this programming. I mean, really. One MILLION commercials. And I’m certain more time, effort, energy, and creativity went into those commercials than the actual programming – especially given today’s reality TV crap. And parents and friends help to reinforce. Its one of the hardest things ever to have a healthy level of detachment from all the stuff.

I once read an almanac (don’t ask me why) from the 1950s and in the back, there was this table that I’ll never forget. It was a stress table, and it rated each stressful event. Obvious ones like death of a spouse, divorce, getting fired, but JUST AS STRESSFUL were the so-called positive changes – getting promoted, getting married, birth of a child. What I drew from this is that all change (positive OR negative) is inherently stressful. Which ties in completely with what you wrote. Transformation is stressful, even when nominally positive.

Thank you, David, for describing the ontological stress created by the consumerist marketing machine: the more insecure and stressed we are, the easier it is to sell us impulse buying on credit. Debt-serfdom isn’t just the result of easy credit: it’s the result of marketing aimed at eroding an authentic sense of self and breaking down our rational ability to make coherent plans and stick to them.

I address this process in my new book, which will be available in the Kindle format next week.

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