Anxiety and the Default Mode Network
How the stories we unconsciously create affect our wellbeing
What is your story? We all have deeply ingrained beliefs about who we are, and how we are affected by things that happen to us. We typically identify as this or that… man, woman, non-binary, parent, child, student, professional, successful, unsuccessful. While these identifications make us feel like we have a certain place in the world, they can also limit our experience of who we really are at a deeper, more fundamental level. Instead of perceiving ourselves in a multi-dimensional and integrated way, our experience is often reduced to thoughts and identifications. This can make us feel stuck in a story about our life that can cause anxiety and depression.
The Psychological Costs of Identification
When we over-identify with our gender, skin colour, job, political views, or role in our family and society, we can experience all kinds of negative effects. The psychological costs of identification include:
- Identification has a fixed quality, but life is not static.
- Identification is a conditioned response, not a conscious choice.
- Identification causes life to be lived automatically or on autopilot, where every day seems to be the same.
In his book “Open Mind, Discriminating Mind”, Charles Tart explained the downsides of identification:
The difficulty inherent in identifying with anything in the real world, or in our own minds, is that reality keeps changing. Many philosophies and spiritual traditions have pointed out that reality is subject to endless change. Thus, when we identify with something (physical object, mental concept, feeling, person, social movement) that thing is going to change, not stay what it was when we identified with it. So we will eventually be disappointed because the real thing (as opposed to the static mental image of it) has changed on us.
The brain contains a certain network structure that generates narratives that link what happens to us to our experience of who we are. Understanding this can provide insight into how we unconsciously create a sense of self, and how we can improve our wellbeing by becoming more aware of the story we tell.