Individualism: The Anxiety of Success

Hey, you-as-Ego – I’m talking to you!  Are you listening?  Our modern, Western society is geared up to put you on a pedestal so that you can be seen by all as personally outstanding. A focus on individual rights and responsibilities, as opposed to a more collectivist view, has been exaggerated to a point where the sole purpose of your existence is to ‘get ahead’, where society is a competition and where ruthlessly pursuing self-interest (regardless of the rules) is a reasonable aim. Individualism has led to a more limited outlook, a concern with self-gratification, an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a need to be flattered and adored. This makes for an ‘upside down’ society, one in which the people most loved and respected in our culture are, in many ways, the least authentic, the least in touch with themselves. We worship a sickness called celebrity.

You live in a world of extremes. The celebrities you have been conditioned to adore are either angels or devils. They are built up, then fall from grace. All around you, in the media, in politics, in life, things are either the best or the worst – one viewpoint or its diametric opposite, often lurching from one extreme to the other. Is it not inevitable, then, that as an individual, you also shuttle between extremes?  You see yourself as being either one thing or the other: strong or weak; a success or a failure; a good or a bad lover, partner or parent. You strive not to become unbalanced; no longer able to see and accept the full range of possibilities of your being. The more you try to associate with the positive end of the scale, the harder you have to work to deny the negative. But, try as you may, you’re never able to fully suppress the internalised conflicts of yourself as an isolated ego.  Inevitably, they leak out, through your body, your mannerisms and what you say. They are the root cause of your permanent feelings of anxiety.

Our world is fast-paced and full of distractions. Work is highly pressured and exhausting, and our leisure time is either spent compensating for the hours at work (making up for ‘lost’ time) or recovering from them. Simply ‘being’ is not an ‘activity’ society places great value in. We get bored easily. Our focus is on productivity. Those amongst us with an active imagination and a wish to ‘live life’ have to be ‘doing’; when not doing, we distract ourselves away from being by listening to the radio, watching television, reading, drinking, taking drugs, anything but being with ourselves.

After yet another decade of gorging consumerism we have to begin to ask ourselves – have these excesses really given us what we wanted? The truth is that the latest gadget, the newest designer clothes, the fastest car, that sofa, the jewellery, the make-up and perfume… none of this does anything to extinguish that nagging feeling of: ‘isn’t there more than this?’ Materialism just doesn’t deliver the goods!

Having become aware of all of this, what then? Do we leave behind family and home and seek the barefoot path to enlightenment? It didn’t work in the ‘sixties, and it won’t work now. The real answer is not to detach ourselves from the world as it is, but to immerse ourselves in it – to swim in it, as a fish swims in the water. There’s no such thing as a separate human ‘being’; the ego is just an illusion. In reality we exist only as a part of the whole – the integrated state that can only be described as ‘being-in-the-world’. We are only ourselves because we are part of what surrounds us. We have no choice but to engage in it.

In each of us there is an innate potential for bringing the conflicting parts of ourselves into a Unitive® whole.  In order to experience that elusive integrity, you’ll need to let go of the fantasies of your ego and take the risk of living authentically, showing your true self to other people and to the world at large. Instead of swimming against the tide of what you really are, breathe deeply, float, and go with the flow.

by Charles Bentley – Founder of the Unitive® approach to personal development

Click to watch our video on YouTube about coping with anxiety (opens on another page)