MIRROR IMAGES OF OUR INNER DEPENDENCIES
„Es nützt nichts, ich muss dieses unordentliche Gefühl ertragen und vertrauen. Nicht nur dem Universum, auch mir selbst.„
Text and Photos: Regina Unterguggenberger
When our knees shake, our hearts drop, our asses go to the wall, our throats get tight or we feel like hiding behind the stove, the world stands still for a moment. The feelings and impressions we are confronted with in these moments we are unable to categorise in the conventional pigeonholes of our thinking. We are not – or not yet – up to the situation. And yet they are basically reflections of our own inner dependencies that we have before our eyes.
We often tend to avoid our fears. And we have developed all kinds of techniques to cover them up or suppress them. A joint, a bottle of wine, etc. also seem to be tried and tested ways of numbing fears. On the other hand, mankind has numerous methods to help us overcome our fears. Some of them even promise a fear-free life. At this point, our early warning system should activate. For our existence is inextricably linked with fears. It is up to us to accept and overcome them, or at least to bear them.
As elementary as fear is to life, there is no such thing as one fear. Every person experiences their own individual shades of fear, which have to do with their nature, their circumstances and their personal imprint.
Fear comes to us in all sorts of guises, and in everyday life this abstract concept comes dressed in all sorts of guises. I have found, for example, that my fear of fat spiders is at its core disgust for fast-crawling animals that I have always avoided. In the dialectal „Krake“ (house spider), the presumably inbred loathing of the elegant „weaver-sneak“ manifests itself. „Regina, pull yourself together, you’re not a child any more,“ I say to myself when another creepy-crawly crosses the living room. It wasn’t long ago that I would have killed the house spider with a shoe without hesitation. In the meantime, I have reached the point where I no longer jump onto the nearest bench or chair in fear, but rather guide the animal into a jar and transport it outside to its traditional habitat. The fear of spiders is completely different from the fear I feel as an entrepreneur during the Corona pandemic, when orders fall away or fail altogether. Then it is the uncertainty of what else is in store for me in this unprecedented situation that gets to me. As an entrepreneur, you can’t look infinitely far into the future anyway. But the question of whether and how my economic livelihood will develop in the coming years cannot be completely ignored, even with my inherent confidence.
No way, I have to endure this messy feeling and trust. Not only the universe, but also myself.
The feeling of fear when it comes to the fate, even the life and death of people close to me is particularly imprinted on me. The moment the senior physician pronounced the diagnosis „high-grade malignant non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma“, my father’s death came within reach. The awareness of human mortality, the powerlessness to do anything about it, choked my throat and made me angry at the same time. The cohesion in our extended family, many conversations with my siblings, the patience and inner peace of my father helped me to accept the certainty of having to let him go. Also my decision to accompany him on his way to the end. To look. To do what is possible and to bear what is impossible with the same humility as he did.
I had a similar experience at the hospital beds of my brother and sister-in-law, whose lives were hanging by a thread after a serious car accident. The people lying there, bloated and in a tangle of splints and plastic tubes in an artificial coma, no longer looked anything like them. And yet every day they lay there was a good day, because the time to go did not seem to have come for them yet. In the days of anxious waiting, I managed to organise the agendas directly connected with the accident as best I could, together with the other family members. Nephew and niece, 19 and 17 years old at the time, should feel the support of the family, that was important to me. Everything else was out of my hands.
In contrast, the fear of the inner critic, who gives voice to my own high sense of entitlement, seems almost banal. He often sits on my left shoulder and sows doubt about whether I am doing my job well enough. Then, instead of working, he suggests I go for a walk, talk to friends on the phone, clean the flat or look for something to eat in the fridge. My mind understands what is going on when I have writer’s block or keep putting off creative work. Surely it means well, the inner critic, because it wants to protect me from disappointment and failure. The equally well-intentioned fortune cookie sayings à la „analyse the causes, distance yourself from your inner critic, don’t listen to his advice any longer!
Only in the face of approaching deadlines does the inner critic become quite meek and take cover for the time being, where it then patiently waits for the next opportunity. With the combination of time pressure and the sober balance sheet that my work so far has always been solid, I keep the troublemaker at bay as much as possible. This is not a really satisfactory recipe. But I’m also not at all sure that, as a very demanding person, you can ever completely silence this voice that consistently questions.
Basic forms of fear
In his book „Basic Forms of Fear“, the German psychoanalyst and author Fritz Riemann locates four basic impulses to which all our fears can be traced: The fear of surrender, the fear of becoming oneself, the fear of change and the fear of necessity. Each of these four basic impulses contains something contradictory, something opposing. For example, the demand to become an unmistakable personality, to affirm our own being, simultaneously contains the danger of falling out of the security of belonging, of „also being like the others“. On the other hand, there is the demand to open ourselves to the world, to life and to our fellow human beings with trust. The fear of losing our own self in the process, of having to give up too much of ourselves in the process of adaptation, is their constant companion. The third basic Riemannian impulse demands that people strive for permanence, settle into life and plan as if the world were stable and the future predictable. This is connected with the knowledge of transience and all the fears of daring to try something new. As Hermann Hesse also demands in the poem „Stufen“ („With every call of life the heart must be ready to say goodbye and begin anew“), the fourth basic impulse demands the readiness for change and development. If a person feels the impulse to change particularly strongly and frequently, orders, rules, laws, the pull of habit etc. scare him. frighten him. (Cf. Riemann, Fritz. Basic Forms of Anxiety. 36th edition. Munich, 2003).
The book mentioned did me a lot of good – to better understand my own fears and those of other people as well as the background of my life history. I find Riemann’s approach that all four impulses are inherent in every human being encouraging. If one of them is clearly overweighted, it doesn’t have to stay that way for a lifetime. People are capable of developing and maturing.
I rub the latter in the face of my inner critic every now and then with a certain satisfaction: „We’ll see who has the longer breath here!“
Regina M. Unterguggenberger ist Fotografin und Autorin aus Österreich. In ihrer Fotowerkstatt Querbelichtet erzählt sie Geschichten von Menschen in Wort und Bild. An der Prager Fotoschule Österreich hat sie die Gruppe 43 mitbegründet und betreibt den Fotoblog Seelegrafieren. Auf ihrer Website Sprechrohr kannst du sie buchen.„
Regina M. Unterguggenberger is a photographer and author from Austria. In her photo workshop Querbelichtet she tells stories of people in words and pictures. At the Prague Photo School Austria, she co-founded Group 43 and runs the photo blog Seelegrafieren. You can book her on her website „Sprechrohr.“