42one “get-rich-quick” scheme after another—always blind to the evidence that his plans are impractical, always brushing aside unpleasant facts, always boasting extravagantly, his eyes on nothing but the hypnotically dazzling image of himself as a brilliantly skillful businessman. In order to protect a view of himself that the facts of reality cannot sustain, he severs cognitive contact with reality—and moves from one disaster to another, his sight turned inward, dreading to discover that the vision of himself which feels like a life belt is, in fact, a noose choking him to death.Or consider the case of a middle-aged woman whose sense of personal value is crucially dependent on the image of herself as a glamorous, youthful beauty—who perceives every wrinkle on her face as a metaphysical threat to her identity—and who, to preserve that identity, plunges into a series of romantic relationships with men more than twenty years her junior. Rationalizing each relationship as a grand passion, evading the characters and motives of the young men involved, repressing the humiliation she feels in the company of her friends, she affects an ever more frantic gaiety—dreading to be alone, constantly needing the reassurance of fresh admiration, running faster and faster from the haunting, relentless pursuer which is her own emptiness.Pretense, self-deception, “role-playing” are so much an uncontested part of most men’s lives that they have virtually lost (if they ever possessed) the knowledge of what it means to have an unreserved respect for the facts of reality—i.e., what it means to take reality seriously. They spend most of their lives in a subjective world of their own neurotic creation, then wonder why they feel anxiety and helplessness in the real world.There is no way to preserve the clarity of one’s thinking so long as there are considerations in one’s mind that take precedence over the facts of reality. There is no way to preserve the unbreached power of one’s intelligence so long as one is implicitly committed to the premise that the maintenance of one’s self-esteem requires that certain facts not be faced.The misery, the frustration, the terror that characterize the psychological state of most men, testify to two facts: that self-esteem is a basic need without which man cannot live the life proper to him—and that self-esteem, the conviction that he is competent to deal with
43reality, can be achieved only by the consistent exercise of the one faculty that permits man to apprehend reality: his reason.Self-Esteem Versus Pseudo-Self-EsteemTo the extent that a person fails to attain self-esteem, the consequence is a feeling of anxiety, insecurity, self-doubt, the sense of being unfit for reality, inadequate to existence. Anxiety is a psychological alarm-signal, warning of danger to the organism (Chapter Nine).In varying degrees of intensity, the experience of such anxiety is the fate of most human beings.Most men never identify the importance of reason to their existence, they do not judge themselves by the standard of devotion to rationality, and they are not aware of the issue of self-esteem in the terms discussed here. They are aware only of a desperate desire to feel confident and in control, and to feel that they are good, good in some basic way which they cannot name. But the cause of that formless fear and guilt which haunts their lives is a failure which is psycho-epistemological, i.e., a failure in the proper use of their consciousness—a default on the responsibility of reason. The anxiety they experience is part of the price they pay for that default.Since self-esteem is a fundamental need of man’s consciousness, since it is a need that cannot be bypassed, men who fail to achieve self-esteem, or who fail to a significant degree, strive to fake it—to evade its lack and to seek protection from their state of inner dread behind the barricade of a pseudo-self-esteem.Pseudo-self-esteem, an irrational pretense at self-value, is a non-rational, self-protective device to diminish anxiety and to provide a spurious sense of security—to assuage a need of authentic self-esteem while allowing the real causes of its lack to be evaded.A man’s pseudo-self-esteem is maintained by two means, essentially: by evading, repression, rationalizing, and otherwise denying ideas and feelings that could affect his self-appraisal adversely; and by seeking to derive his sense of efficacy and worth from something other than rationality, some alternative value or virtue which he experiences as less demanding or more easily attainable, such as "doing
44one’s duty," or being stoical or altruistic or financially successful or sexually attractive.This complex process of self-deception, on which the neurotic builds so much of his life, holds the key to his motivation, to his values and goals. To understand the nature and form of a particular man’s pseudo-self-esteem, is to understand the mainspring of his actions, to know "what makes him tick."In the psychology of a man of authentic self-value, there is no clash between his recognition of the facts of reality and the preservation of his self-esteem—since he bases his self-esteem on his determination to know and to act in accordance with the facts of reality as he understands them. But to the man of pseudo-self-esteem, reality appears as a threat, as an enemy; he feels, in effect, that it’s reality or his self-esteem—since his pretense at self-esteem is purchased at the price of evasion, of entrenched areas of blindness, of cognitive self-censorship. This is why a man may be perfectly rational and lucid in an area that does not touch on or threaten his pseudo-self-esteem, and be flagrantly irrational, evasive, defensive, and stupid in an area which is threatening to his self-appraisal. His characteristic response to any potential assault on his pseudo-self-esteem is the suspension of consciousness. The anxiety triggered off by such an assault acts as a psycho-epistemological disintegrator. Thus, he perpetuates the very process of psycho-epistemological self-sabotaging by which he caused his initial failure of self-esteem.In this phenomenon, one may see the lead to one index of mental health and illness: A man is psychologically healthy to the extent that there is no clash in him between perceiving reality and preserving his self-esteem; the degree to which such a clash exists, is the degree of his mental illness.The process of evasion, repression, etc., is not sufficient to provide a neurotic with the illusion of self-esteem; that process is only part of the self-deception he perpetrates. The other part consists of the values he chooses as the means of achieving a sense of personal worth. In the process of choosing values, there is a fundamental difference in principle between the motivation of a man of self-esteem and a man of pseudo-self-esteem.An individual who develops healthily derives intense pleasure and pride from the work of his mind, and from the achievements
45which that work makes possible. Feeling confident of his ability to deal with the facts of reality, he will want a challenging, effortful, creative existence. Creativeness will be his highest love, whatever his level of intelligence. Feeling confident of his own value, he will be drawn to self-esteem in others; what he will desire most in human relationships is the opportunity to feel admiration; he will want to find men and achievements he can respect, that will give him the pleasure which his own character and achievements can offer others. In the sphere both of work and of human relationships, his base and motor is a firm sense of confidence, of efficacy—and, as a consequence, a love for existence, for the fact of being alive. What he seeks are means to express and objectify his self-esteem (Chapter Eleven).The base and motor of the man without self-esteem is not confidence, but fear. Not to live, but to escape his terror of life, is his fundamental goal. Not creativeness, but safety, is his ruling desire. And what he seeks from others is not the chance to experience admiration, but an escape from moral values, an escape from moral judgment, a promise to be forgiven, to be accepted, to be taken care of—to be taken care of metaphysically—to be comforted and protected in a terrifying universe. His values are not the expression of his self-esteem, but the confession of its lack.A man’s self-esteem or pseudo-self-esteem determines his abstract values, not the specific goals he will seek; the latter proceed from a number of factors, such as a man’s intelligence, knowledge, premises, and personal context. For instance, a man of high self-esteem will desire intellectually challenging work; but whether he chooses to enter business or science or art depends on narrower, less fundamental considerations. Similarly, a man of pseudo-self-esteem will desire that others protect him from reality; but a variety of factors determine whether he feels more at home among the country club set or the academic set or the underworld set.The principle that distinguishes the basic motivation of a man of self-esteem from that of a man of pseudo-self-esteem, is the principle of motivation by love versus motivation by fear. Love of self and of existence—versus the fear that one’s self is unfit for existence. Motivation by confidence—versus motivation by terror.Here, then, is another index of mental health and illness: A man is psychologically healthy to the extent that he functions on
46the principle of motivation by confidence; the degree of his motivation by fear is the degree of his mental illness.To the extent that a man lacks self-esteem, he lives negatively and defensively. When he chooses his particular values and goals, his primary motive is, not to afford himself a positive enjoyment of existence, but to defend himself against anxiety, against painful feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and guilt.If a man’s life is in physical danger, say, if he suffers from some major disease, his primary concern in such an emergency situation is not the pursuit of enjoyment but the removal of the danger, i.e., regaining his health, re-establishing the context in which the pursuit of enjoyment will again be possible and appropriate. But to the man devoid of self-esteem, life is, in effect, a chronic emergency; he is always in danger—psychologically. He never reaches normality, he never feels free for the enjoyment of life, because his method combating the danger consists, not of dealing with it rationally, not of working to remove it, but of seeking to persuade himself that it does not exist. Since A is A, since facts are facts and are not to be wiped out by self-made blindness, he can never succeed; but most of his evasions, repressions, and self-defeating actions are aimed at this goal.Fear is the ruling element in such a man’s psychology. Just as fear rules him psycho-epistemologically, undercutting the clarity of his perception, distorting his judgments, restricting his cognitive ambition, and driving him to ever-wider evasions—so fear rules him motivationally, subverting his normal value-development, sabotaging his proper growth, leading him toward goals that promise to support his pretense at efficacy, driving him to passive conformity or hostile aggressiveness or autistic withdrawal, to any path that will protect his pseudo-self-esteem against reality.Values chosen in this manner may be termed ''defense-values." A defense-value is one motivated by fear and aimed at supporting a pseudo-self-esteem. It is experienced, in effect, as a means of survival, as a substitute for rationality. It is an anti-anxiety device.Such a value is unhealthy, not necessarily by virtue of its nature, but by virtue of the motivation for choosing it. The value itself may not be irrational; what is irrational is the reason for its selection. Productive work, for instance, is a rational value; but escaping into
47work as a means of evading one’s flaws, shortcomings, and conflicts, is not rational. Often, however, defense-values are irrational in both respects—as in the case of a man who seeks to escape anxiety and fake a sense of efficacy by acquiring power over others.The extent to which a man lacks self-esteem is the extent to which defense-values constitute the building-blocks of his soul. The following example illustrates the process by which defense-values and pseudo-self-esteem develop, and the psychological crisis to which they can lead.Consider the case of a person who, as a child, is characteristically antipathetic to exerting mental effort: who rebels against the responsibility of thinking, who resents the necessity of judgment, who prefers an undemanding state of mental fog, and drifts at the mercy of unexamined emotions. Whenever feelings of inadequacy or anxiety penetrate his chronic lethargy, warning him of the danger of his course, he seeks to evade them as best he can. He clings to the guidance and authority of those around him, in order to obtain a sense of security and protection.As a result of his policy of unquestioning obedience, his parents praise him as a “good” boy.At school, his work is mediocre; and he feels an unadmitted resentment against the brighter boys in his class. He is pleased whenever they show signs of unruliness and are chastised by the teacher; this proves, he feels, that they are not “good” boys and that, notwithstanding his intellectual weakness, he is their moral superior.He enjoys going to church, where he is informed that it is not the head that matters, but the heart—and that "the meek shall inherit the earth."As he grows to adulthood, he is seldom conscious of the steps by which he selects his values and goals. But, moving like a somnambulist under the direction of subconscious orders, he is guided through all his crucial decisions by his unacknowledged sense of impotence, his fear of independence, his longing for safety and his antipathy to thought. These lead him unerringly to choose friends of undistinguished intelligence, to accept a job in his uncle’s hardware store, to join the same political party as his father, and to marry the girl next door whom he has known all his life.
48Whenever he feels vaguely guilty over his inertia, or whenever his wife reproaches him for his lack of ambition and nags him to demand a raise, he responds by summoning the thought that he is a “decent citizen,” a “good provider,” a “devoted, faithful husband,” a "God-fearing man,'' and that he has done all the things “one is supposed to do.” Whenever he feels a surge of envy or hostility toward those men around him who have made more of their lives than he has, he tells himself that his cardinal virtue is humility—and that people are at fault in not recognizing this and giving him the respect he deserves. It is thus that he makes his existence tolerable psychologically.At the hardware store, he performs the routine tasks he has been taught, initiating nothing, learning nothing, thinking nothing. But occasionally he dreams of the higher income and enhanced prestige he will enjoy when his uncle dies and leaves him the business; if the moral implications of his wish rise to trouble them, he promptly unfocuses his mind and thus eludes them.However, when the longed-for event finally happens, he does not experience the elation he had imagined. A day after his uncle’s funeral, he awakens in the middle of the night, his heart pounding frantically, in a state of acute dread. He does not know how to account for it; he knows only that he feels overwhelmed by a sense of impending disaster.The evasion and self-deception which have been habitual since childhood, now forbid him to know the meaning of his anxiety. For years, he had been shrinking his perception—and the dimensions of the world with which he had to deal—in order to avoid coming face to face with his moral and psychological default, and to escape any potential threat to his precarious inner “security.” He has crawled through his life, accepting, nodding, agreeing, obeying, seeking to bypass the effort and responsibility of thought by making humility his means of survival, seeking to establish for himself a world in which this would be possible. But now reality has demolished the walls of that world, he has been thrown into a situation where intellectual responsibility will be demanded of him, where he will have to exercise judgment. Two thoughts have collided within him: “I’ve got to know what to do!” and “I can’t!” In response to this collision, the chronic fear he had always evaded explodes into terror—the terror
49of the knowledge that his defense-values are now inadequate to protect him and that there is no longer any place to run.Just as a psychologically healthy man bases his self-esteem on the use of his mind, and gains an ever-increasing sense of control over his existence by choosing values that demand constant intellectual growth—so this man based his pseudo-self-esteem on his humility, counting on others to solve the problem of his survival, and chose values appropriate to this manner of existence, values intended to reassure him of the validity and safety of his course. The terror he feels when he assumes ownership of the hardware store is the terror of a man suddenly divested of his means of survival, who must act and function in reality without weapons.A significant characteristic of defense-values is the unreasoning compulsiveness with which they are usually held. Men of pseudo-self-esteem cling to these values with blind tenacity and fanatical devotion—as they would cling to a life-preserver in a stormy sea. Man’s greatest fear is not of dying, but of feeling unfit to live. And to escape the agony of that feeling, men will pay any price: they will defy logic, they will sacrifice their practical self-interest, sometimes they will even forfeit their life.With rare exceptions, they will pay any price except the one that could save them: they will not acknowledge the fraudulence of their defenses, and work to achieve an authentic self-esteem; they will not accept the responsibility of living as rational beings.The number of different defense-values which men can adopt, is virtually limitless. Most of these values, however, fall into one broad category: they are values generally held in high regard by the culture or subculture in which a person lives.The following examples illustrate common defense-values of this category:—The man who is obsessed with being popular, who feels driven to win the approval of every person he meets, who clings to the image of himself as “likeable,” who, in effect, regards his appealing personality as his means of survival and the proof of his personal worth;—The woman who has no sense of personal identity and who seeks to lose her inner emptiness in the role of a sacrificial martyr for her children, demanding in exchange only that her children
50adore her, that their adoration fill the vacuum of the ego she does not possess;—The man who never forms independent judgments about anything, but who seeks to compensate by making himself authoritatively knowledgeable concerning other men’s opinions about everything;—The man who works at being aggressively “masculine,” whose other concerns are entirely subordinated to his role as woman-chaser, and who derives less pleasure from the act of sex than from the act of reporting his adventures to the men in the locker room;—The woman whose chief standard of self-appraisal is the “prestige” of her husband, and whose pseudo-self-esteem rises or falls according to the number of men who court her husband’s favor;—The man who feels guilt over having inherited a fortune, who has no idea of what to do with it and proceeds frantically to give it away, clinging to the “ideal” of altruism and to the vision of himself as a humanitarian, keeping his pseudo-self-esteem afloat by the belief that charity is a moral substitute for competence and courage;—The man who has always been afraid of life and who tells himself that the reason is his superior “sensitivity,” who chooses his clothes, his furniture, his books, and his bodily posture by the standard of what will make him appear "idealistic."Among defense-values, those of a religious nature figure prominently. In such cases, obedience to some religious injunction (s) is made the basis of pseudo-self-esteem. Faith in God, asceticism and systematic self-abnegation, adherence to religious rituals, are devices commonly employed to allay anxiety and purchase a sense of worthiness.Still another type of defense-value may be observed in the person who rationalizes behavior of which he feels guilty by telling himself that such behavior “does not represent the real me,” that “the real me is my aspirations.” Such a person supports his pseudo-self-esteem by the vision of himself as an aspirer—an aspirer who is prevented from acting in accordance with his professed ideals by reasons beyond his control, such as the evil of “the system,” the malevolence of the universe, the tragedy of some unspecified "cir-
51cumstances," “human infirmity,” “I never got a break,” “I’m too honest and decent for this world,” etc. The concept of a "real me,'' which bears little relation to anything one says or does in reality, is an especially prevalent anti-anxiety device, and often coexists with other defense-values.Defense-values and pseudo-self-esteem do not always or necessarily break down in a violent and dramatic form, as in the case of the man discussed above, who collapsed into acute anxiety. Often, the process of psychological erosion and disintegration is quieter, more insidious; the person involved is not brought to a moment of unmistakable crisis; rather, his energy is slowly drained, he becomes increasingly more subject to fatigue, depression, and, perhaps, a variety of minor somatic complaints, his pretense at self-value becomes progressively more frayed and worn—and his life peters out in desolate, meaningless misery, without climaxes, without explosions, with only an occasional, lethargic wonder, wearily evaded, as to what failure could have so impoverished his existence.No evasion, no defense-values, no strategy of self-deception can ever provide a man with a substitute for authentic self-esteem. The sense of efficacy and virtue men long for, cannot be purchased by any of the self-frauds men perpetrate. Man needs the conviction that he is right for reality, right in principle—and only a policy of rationality can achieve it.Let a man tell himself that self-esteem is to be earned, not by the fullest exercise of his intellect, but by its abandonment in submission to faith; let him hold that efficacy is attained, not by thinking, but by conformity to the beliefs of others; let him hold that efficacy consists of gaining love; let him believe that his basic worth is to be measured by the number of women he sleeps with; or by the number of women he doesn’t sleep with; or by the people he can manipulate; or by the nobility of his dreams; or by the money he gives away; or by the sacrifices he makes; let him renounce the world; let him lie on a bed of nails—but whatever he may expect to achieve, be it a moment’s self-forgetfulness or a temporary illusion of virtue or a temporary amelioration of guilt, he will not achieve self-esteem.The tragedy of most men’s lives comes from their attempts to escape this fact.
52Self-esteem is the key to man’s motivation—by virtue either of its presence or of its absence. And perhaps the most eloquent testimony to the urgency of man’s need of self-esteem, is the terror that haunts the lives of those who fail to achieve it, the twisted paths along which that terror drives them—and the inevitable wreckage at the end.
53Chapter Nine—Pathological Anxiety:A Crisis of Self-EsteemThe Problem of AnxietyThere is no object of fear more terrifying to man than fear itself—and no fear more terrifying than that for which he knows no object.Yet to live with such fear as a haunting constant of their existence is the fate of countless millions of men and women: it has been the fate of most of the human race. I do not speak of that fear which few men today can escape: the fear of dictatorship, of concentration camps, of war, of enslavement, of economic collapse, of arbitrary, unpredictable violence—of all the insignia of a world such as the present, in which reason has so largely been abandoned and open force is everywhere in the ascendency. Such fear can be natural and rational, a realistically appropriate response to concrete and tangible dangers. The fear of which I speak occurs without the existence of any such clearly apparent perils. Its unique characteristic is that it appears to be causeless. Its victims know only that it has struck them; but they do not know why.Project the kind of terror a man would feel while hanging by a frayed rope over an abyss—then omit the rope and the abyss, and conceive of a person victimized by such an emotion, not while suspended precariously in space, but while safely at home in his living room, or at his office, or walking down the street. This is pathological anxiety—in its acute stage.Pathological anxiety is a state of dread experienced in the absence of any actual or impending, objectively perceivable threat.
54Pathological anxiety differs, not only from those rationally warranted fears afflicting the world at large, but from the ordinary fears of everyday life: ordinary fear is a proportionate and localized reaction to a concrete, external, and immediate danger, such as fear of standing in the path of an oncoming car. It differs, also, from objective or normal anxiety: normal anxiety is a feeling of apprehension and helplessness directed, like fear, toward a specific source, but the danger is less immediate than in the case of fear and the emotion is more anticipatory, such as the feeling that might overcome a person confronted with signs of some serious illness, or might strike parents whose child is in the hands of kidnappers. Fear and objective anxiety vanish when the danger is removed; they are not, in effect, a personality attribute of their possessor. But pathological anxiety is.Pathological or subjective anxiety does not always appear in an intense or violent form. Many of its victims know it, not as an acute attack of panic or as a chronic sense of dread, but only as an occasional uneasiness, a diffuse sense of nervousness and apprehension, coming and going unpredictably, pursuing some incomprehensible pattern of its own. It can exist on a continuum from faint discomfort to an experience of such agony that many who have known it have sworn they would sooner die than undergo it a second time.The common denominators linking the mildest form of this anxiety to the most extreme, are: the sufferer can give no identity to that which he fears, he feels afraid of nothing in particular and of everything in general; if he tries to offer some rationalized explanation for his feeling, if he grasps at some sign in the external world to prove he is in danger, his explanations are transparently illogical; and he acts as though that which he fears is not any specific concrete, but reality as such.One of the most graphic descriptions of the onset of an anxiety attack is given in an autobiographical passage by Henry James, Sr., the father of philosopher-psychologist William James. The elder James describes his traumatic experience as follows😮ne day . . . towards the close of May, having eaten a comfortable dinner, I remained sitting at the table after the family had dispersed, idly gazing at the embers in the grate, thinking of nothing,
55and feeling only the exhilaration incident to a good digestion, when suddenly—in a lightning-flash as it were—“fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake.” To all appearance it was a perfectly insane and abject terror, without ostensible cause, and only to be accounted for, to my perplexed imagination, by some damned shape squatting invisible to me within the precincts of the room and raying out from his fetid personality influences fatal to life. The thing had not lasted ten seconds before I felt myself a wreck; that is, reduced from a state of firm, vigorous, joyful manhood to one of almost helpless infancy. The only self-control I was capable of exerting was to keep my seat. I felt the greatest desire to run incontinently to the foot of the stairs and shout for help to my wife,—to run to the roadside even, and appeal to the public to protect me; but by an immense effort I controlled these frenzied impulses, and determined not to budge from my chair till I had recovered my lost self-possession. This purpose I held to for a good long hour, as I reckoned time, beat upon meanwhile by an ever-growing tempest of doubt, anxiety, and despair, with absolutely no relief from any truth I had ever encountered save a most pale and distant glimmer of the divine existence, when I resolved to abandon the vain struggle, and communicate without more ado what seemed my sudden burden of inmost, implacable unrest to my wife.Now, to make a long story short, this ghastly condition of mind continued with me, with gradually lengthening intervals of relief, for two years, and even longer. 1The percentage of people in the world who suffer from an acute form of mental or emotional disturbance is high. Yet such persons constitute only a very small percentage of the total number of men and women who suffer from pathological anxiety throughout most of their lives, but whose disorder never reaches a sufficiently alarming degree of intensity to command the attention of a psychotherapist or to gain recognition in any statistical survey. These individuals would, in most cases, be regarded by those around them as quite normal and would not themselves think of questioning their psychological health merely because they are prey to fits of inexplicable, objectless apprehension.These are the persons who, for instance, cannot bear to be alone; who cannot live without sleeping pills; who jump at every unexpected sound; who drink too much to calm a nervousness that