Relationship Connection: When the likes of a Christopher Dorner gets into our heads

Relationship Connection Columnist Geoff Steurer, January 2013 | Photo courtesy of Geoff Steurer, St. George News

Editor’s preface: Since our columnist, Geoff Steurer, penned this column it appears that Christopher Dorner’s rampage may have been brought to an end Tuesday as law enforcement in Southern California believed they identified him, pursued him, cornered him in a cabin, engaged in gun battle with him and now await recovery and confirmation of his body from the burning cabin.

The past nine days, many of us have tuned in to the massive manhunt for a fractured and dangerous man. Knowing this man once lived among us in Southern Utah has given many a heightened connection to the manhunt, and for many an extraordinary anxiety – will Chris Dorner pay us a return visit?

Although this particular saga is more dramatic than many stories we follow in mass media, it is neither the first nor the last time that a human being takes on the persona of a bogey man in our heads and souls. We are vulnerable to the effect of this kind of news, each of us are affected differently to be sure.

In this late edition of Relationship Connection, Geoff Steurer talks to us about what to do when the likes of a Christopher Dorner gets into our heads. We present it as written without attempt to conform the preliminaries to the most current events unfolding today. The levity he employs in closing is not intended to make light of the gravity of the Dorner saga developing before our eyes.

Opinion: Add to the reality of the ongoing manhunt for Christopher Dorner, the murders accounted to him and his mad manifesto, the constant presence of round-the-clock news coverage and his connection to Southern Utah University, and we’ve got the perfect storm of danger and uncertainty.

Some folks are on high alert, convinced that Dorner will bring his killing spree to Southern Utah while others aren’t worried about this at all.

While I have no way of predicting where he’ll end up, I can predict that if we let ourselves get too anxious about the unknown on a regular basis, there can be troublesome health consequences.

Our bodies aren’t designed to be on high alert for more than a short period of time, or at least until the real threat or danger has subsided. Before the presence of 24-hour global news coverage, we were only aware of the threats that were in front of us. Now, we get to worry about things that happen thousands of miles away, which will never actually directly impact our personal safety. However, when we worry, our bodies cannot tell the difference.

Physical threats and emotional stress all impact the body the same way. We get tense, our brain doesn’t function as well, and we stay hypervigilant. In other words, we wear down quickly and suffer needlessly when there is no actual threat to worry about.

Instead, I recommend you get perspective about where the real threat is coming from. Is the threat in your city? In your neighborhood? Is it something you can do something about? If there isn’t anything you can do to take further action, it’s time to move on to acceptance.

Healthy acceptance is the understanding that you cannot control most things in life. It seems that one of our modern-day challenges is to accept that bad and random things still happen. Because we can prevent so much with early detection systems, medical cures, and other advances in science, it causes us to become more anxious and afraid when something awful happens.

I’ll conclude with a humorous thought shared by John Tanner, professor of English at BYU:

“In a facetious little essay entitled ‘On Transcendental Metaworry,’ science writer Lewis Thomas observes that ‘Worrying is the most natural and spontaneous of all human functions … Man is the Worrying Animal.’ This rare capacity to worry, Thomas continues, ‘is a trait needing further development, awaiting perfection. Most of us tend to neglect the activity, living precariously out on the thin edge of anxiety but never plunging in.’ To remedy this, Thomas recommends the practice of Transcendental Worry (or TW), preferably ‘before work and late in the evening just before insomnia.’

To practice TW, Thomas recommends the following: make yourself as uncomfortable as possible; tense all your muscles; close your eyes tight ‘until the effort causes a slight tremor of the eyelids’; focus on the muscular effort required to breathe (preferably attempting to breathe through one nostril at a time); then repeat to yourself a suitable mantra like ‘worry.’ Soon you will experience the vertiginous pleasures of angst. Worries will circle in and out of your consciousness like carrion fowl – swirling images of burning rain forests, swelling pimples, unpaid Visa bills, the national debt, expanding waistlines, receding hairlines, and finals in classes you never attended. Surrender yourself wholly to this sense of anxiety. Then, if you are blessed with the right nervous temperament, you will sink into the final stage of TW: ‘pure worry about pure worry.’ At this point you will have attained what Thomas calls ‘the Wisdom of the West,’ or TMW, ‘Transcendental Metaworry.’

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed the Editorial Preface to this column.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

Relationship Connection Columnist Geoff Steurer, January 2013 | Photo courtesy of Geoff Steurer, St. George News

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3 Comments

  • Christopher Dorner February 13, 2013 at 1:19 am

    Christopher Dorner LAPD Burn Down Cabin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FD944We9Qm8

  • JJ Slice February 13, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Shameful tag of a popular headline. The reality is that most normal people worry about real life issues: their jobs and their relationships with friends and family.

    It is bush-league to tag into the Dorner media frenzy to discuss the impacts of worrying. Noone in Southern Utah was so worried about Dorner to the point that such worry caused them health impacts. Many people in Souther Utah are worried about their jobs and relationships to the point of negative health impact.

    • Jen February 14, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      I complete disagree with JJ. This is a common reaction to high profile crimes and there were people so anxious over it that they were having anxiety, stress and health concerns. Remember the killing spree is DC about 10 years ago? Professionals begged people to turn off the TV. They were terrified of going outside, but even those not close enough to DC to be terrified had become addicted to watching the news and how it unfolded and were watching in front of their kids. It had a huge impact on the whole nation. I think Geoff was right to tackle this issue. And the issue will be need to be brought up again during the next tragedy.

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