A healing practice for apathy

Image of a winding purple river of flowers in a peaceful forest.Your apathy steps forward to protect you for many reasons.

You may be in an unworkable relationship, job, or situation where you can’t set clear boundaries. You may not have a practice for your anger yet.

You may be avoiding your fatigue. Your apathy may be protecting you from moving into a necessary depression if you don’t have time to slow down (or if you don’t have any practice for depression yet).

It may also be protecting you from the activation of anxiety if your situation won’t let you take effective actions, or if you don’t know how to work with your anxiety yet.

Your apathy may be protecting you from any number of emotions or situations that you can’t yet work with. 

The healing practice for apathy

Apathy is very protective, so thanking it is a good first step! Thank you, apathy!

The first question for apathy is What is being avoided? If you sit with that question, you’ll see what’s happening, and you may become aware of the ways in which the things you value are not being respected. You may realize that you’re avoiding the conflicts that might arise if you speak clearly or set boundaries.

Or that you’re avoiding a deep fatigue, an underlying depression, a sense of anxiety and even dread, or any number of emotions and situations.

It’s okay when you and your apathy know what’s happening

Let’s be honest: it’s fine to avoid these things if you don’t have the time, space, or energy to focus on them. Avoidance is fine when you know you’re doing it.

But if you don’t have any consciousness of what you’re doing, your life won’t really be your own.

Asking this question about avoidance helps you begin to work with your apathy and channel it, because your apathy arises when you need protection and when you cannot or will not speak up and set clear boundaries. Apathy’s masking and protective actions are important responses to trouble.

However, if you’re not conscious about your apathy, you can get lost behind its mask.

The important second question for apathy

That’s why the second question is What can be made conscious? Which parts of this situation can you become conscious of and which parts can you begin to address?

How can you partner with the protective nature of your apathy?

If you can bring consciousness into the situation, you will begin to shift things. Even if you’re stuck in an unhealthy relationship or situation, your ability to see things clearly will return some of your autonomy to you.

You’ll begin to be able to set boundaries around what you value, even in the face of currently entrapping situations or relationships.

In the privacy that apathy gives you, you can create the freedom that your situation doesn’t offer or support.

Your apathy can free you

Apathy can help you be a whole person inside the privacy of your own psyche. When you can bring your consciousness to your situation, you may discover many other emotions besides anger that are being protected by your apathy.

Your apathy exists to protect you when you cannot set boundaries openly; it’s a very supportive emotion.

You may also uncover your fatigue, your lost dreams, your unsaid words, your unspoken desires, and your energy.

Bringing consciousness to apathy-requiring situations is a big change, and you may find that you need to drop back into your apathy behaviors until you can stabilize the changes you want to make.

That’s okay. Consciousness isn’t something to force, especially when you’re in a situation that has required your apathy to step forward. You may need to move back and forth between clear action and the protective mask of apathy.

What’s important is that you gain a clearer idea of what’s happening and that you regain your voice and your sense of agency and autonomy, even in tedious situations that sort of require you to abandon yourself.

How apathy protected an entire classroom

We’ve all been in scholastic or work situations where we really can’t do much besides go through the motions, and in these situations, apathy and distractions can be a godsend.

When I look back at the binders I’ve kept for past college classes, I can tell how boring they were by the amount of doodling I have in my class notes. In some classes, I had the time to draw an entire town, mock up a website, and recall all the steps of the quadratic equation.

My apathy protected me and my classmates, because otherwise, I would have interrupted the class to alleviate my boredom or set boundaries with the boring professor.

Apathy rocks!

However, if you can affect change but you’ve been avoiding your deeper life and diminishing your boundaries in the masked state of apathy, please ask the questions for apathy: What is being avoided? and What can be made conscious?

Listen to your answers, thank your apathy for giving you an excellent time out, and find out why its presence has become so necessary in your life.

Thank you, apathy.


5 Responses

  1. William Weinstein
    | Reply

    Very helpful advice in my current apartment situation which isn’t far enough apart.
    I also found your advice about listing tasks to counter Anxiety. So I have written my ‘daily’ tasks in circular (not necessarily in any order) fashion on my ‘white board’ (refrigerator). My anxiety had centered on not engaging with my online Spanish lessons. That is now not an unconscious ‘thing’ set apart from the context of my other tasks. Thanks.

    • Karla McLaren
      | Reply

      Hello, yes! It’s so important to find a type of list-making that works for your anxiety.

      I found that my lists were not helping, because I was putting things on my daily lists that belonged months out in the future. I found an online task-planning app called Trello that helped me organize my future tasks so that I could keep my daily/weekly tasks on lists near me. Much better!

  2. Debora Shiflett
    | Reply

    “It (Apathy) may also be protecting you from the activation of anxiety… if you don’t know how to work with your anxiety yet.”

    I love the freedom that being older brings. Along with that, though, I’m more acutely aware of how short (and random) life is. That awareness, coupled with our current political climate, has created a continual undercurrent of anxiety for me.

    After reading this section, I realized that my apathy is likely masking anxiety that I don’t know how to work with yet. I’m having trouble making decisions, focusing, doing things I’d like to do. Where do I learn how to work with my anxiety in order to get past the apathy and accompanying confusion?

    Thanks for your work. It’s been incredibly helpful. ❤️

    • Karla McLaren
      | Reply

      Hello Debora, and welcome. I empathize with your current state.

      Our world is deeply catawampus right now, and it is hard to focus. In my Embracing Anxiety book, I write about the connection between anxiety and depression, and anxiety and confusion (among many other emotions). These seemingly paradoxical emotion pairs can actually help us open up new ideas and new ways to be in a upside-down world.

      I’m also teaching a course on anxiety this month over at Empathy Academy, if you’re interested in being with a group of fellow emotion-explorers. Embracing Your Anxiety course: https://empathyacademy.org/course/embracing-your-anxiety/

  3. Debora Shiflett
    | Reply

    Thank you, Karla. I’ve ordered your book and appreciate your taking the time to point me to some helpful information.
    I’m especially intrigued by the connection between anxiety and confusion.

    Looking forward to reading about it…

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