We all have our private, subjective interpretations of objective reality. This fact is unavoidable but what is avoidable is considering our own subjectivity to be objectivity. Many of us take our experiences as simple truth, not even really worth comparative analysis, neglecting the cognitive behavioral insight that there is always a vital intermediary stage of subjectivity between the activating event and the consequences of that event. This intermediary stage includes all our personal beliefs, values, perceptions, and biases, the human filter through which objective reality must pass.
One area where what we’re talking about comes into clear relief is how different people have very different thresholds for what constitutes an emergency. From the Gestalt point of view an emergency just means that a new constellation of factors has coalesced to create a foreground of enough strength that this gestalt must be completed before a new gestalt can be attended to. From the perspective of existential anxiety the recognition of an emergency is your warning system telling you in no uncertain terms that some threat exists in the environment that needs to be resolved to secure your safety and survival.
For many, and you probably know some of the people we’re talking about, just about anything novel qualifies as an emergency. They are on high alert. The result is going through life constantly on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop. A lot of unnecessary anxiety is produced by reacting to the slightest provocations as if they were emergencies.
Of course on the the other side of the coin is the tendency to ignore or discount a newly coalesced foreground that does represent some threat, symbolic or real. These types of people run the risk of leaving situations unattended that vitally need their attention. These situations, called unfinished business in Gestalt terminology, can end up festering in the background for weeks, months, even years, keeping people from growing, sort of keeping them in a holding pattern.
From our existential point of view you wouldn’t want to eradicate your anxiety even if you could, any more than you’d want to get rid of your only alarm, but you also don’t want your anxiety to be so crippling that it interferes with general functioning. The key is raising your conscious awareness during situations that you categorize as emergencies, adding mindfulness into the mix to notice whether your response is proportional to the activating event, whether your own biases are making you see these activating events as either more or less worthy of your attention than they objectively are.