Apathy and Mindfulness

I recently read an account from a psychotherapist which mentioned that patients sometimes take an objective view on what is happening to them in extreme situations. They do so as an automatic withdrawal mechanism which helps them cope with the situation.

So far so good.

Then he talks about this behavior being an eventual invitation to dulling the reception of feelings. This leads to a form of apathy. In accounts of concentration camp survivors this went as far as making people unconcerned with torture, death and most other atrocities that they happened to witness.

And who wouldn’t develop symptoms of emotional withdrawal in such extreme circumstances? But this made me think. Some people feel like they are literally being lived. They are disconnected and barely react to what is happening around them. Signs of apathy are even worse than those who worry about their daily struggles. When we worry we still exhibit reflexes that show some humanity. When we display apathy we are virtually dead.

Total withdrawal is something different. Perhaps not so different, but it does represent a transposition in the way we deal with our thoughts. It surely involves a broken relationship with our thoughts. Mindfulness is about watching the thoughts without labeling them. In some cases we have a hard time giving up control and are hurt in this process as we now not only have thoughts we dislike, but we also have the thought that we dislike our thoughts. This leads to an overload in our brain.

That’s why I think that it is worth questioning the use of mindfulness at times. There’s nothing like going into the back-country for a few days with your family, your dog, your friends or your lover and just realize that we are already it.

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