Consider that agonizing could be an interesting pattern of behavior. It would be most interesting to those who are experienced with it and/or who frequently witness it practiced by people of importance to the observer.
I mentioned that agonizing is a behavior. Agonizing involves words and verbal concepts, so that means that agonizing is one type of linguistic behavior.
Agonizing can be categorized as a type of distress, a mild form of hysteria, or even a borderline form of panic. So, the WAY that language is used when agonizing can be very limited and also notably inattentive.
Agonizing has a specific purpose, which is to interrupt prior momentums of activity. It does that quite well. For most any other purpose, it is entirely inappropriate, ineffective, and disappointing.
So, it can be important to understand agonizing and how it works. Since the behavior of agonizing can build in to a tremendous momentum, it can also be intriguing to know how to notice it early and interrupt it effectively, whether momentarily or completely.
One of the most common forms of agonizing is the formation of a dilemma. Two options that are understood to be exclusive (as “either/or” alternatives) are contemplated with a general mode of anxiety.
Note that agonizing produces increases in anxiety, even to the point of agony (which is the root word of AGONizing). Again, that agony can serve a valuable purpose of interrupting existing patterns of behavior and avoiding almost all new explorations- except for those that relate to the specific targets of attention within the behavior of agonizing with language.
When does agonizing arise? When there is a perception of potentially extreme risk without a clear assessment of the exact risk level(s), that is the essential condition which can lead to the behavior of agonizing.
Agonizing typically involves speculating about possible risks. The primary alleged risks identified in the agonizing may not be the real concerns of the one agonizing. However, the issue of “assessing risk before proceeding” is generally the basic issue in question, even if there is some imprecision about the sources of potential risk.
The agonizing could be considered a type of stalling or resisting. Agonizing can also be “mimicked” in order to justify a withdrawal from existing activities (which one may prefer not to directly identify as unappealing). There can be a real experience of distress, then an invention about some trivial dilemma as a justification for the distress. Further, the stated dilemma may not seem trivial to the one who invented it.
The language of the agonizing may be quite hysterical (and off-target / out-of-focus). A “ritual of confusion” (or other excuses) can be an important part of the coping behavior of agonizing.
In the most intense cases of agonizing, there is no blurring of the issues. The blurring is to perpetuate mild states of anxiety (without any other action) through frequent agonizing. As a state of actual panic is approached, a single dilemma may come in to focus with two very specific alternatives: “either this or that!”
So, with agonizing, there is a concern about possible risks. “What cautions should be exercised? What clarification should be sought? What pace is appropriate?”
Doing nothing may seem risky, but the action or actions under consideration may also seem risky. Can the risk levels be measured (as in compared to each other) and even reduced?
In interacting with someone who is practicing the behavior of agonizing, a few alternatives are possible. There is a common tactic of invalidating the agonizing, including through the use of what amounts to deception: “I am sure that everything is fine.” Of course, this can be favorable for momentarily calming down a person who has been agonizing (or if the intent is to distract them from ever attentively assessing risk, like by shaming them for their concern or caution).
Another tactic is to respect the basic concerns of the agonizing, but specifically invite a higher degree of precision and calm and focus. That validates the purpose but challenges the specific method of anxious panics of mental speculation. “If there are risks, then that would make sense to know in advance, so let’s find out together, okay?”
Another tactic is to increase the experience of fear in relation to one of the possible options. In many cases, an observer may encourage less assessment and more outward activity (adding their own distressed rage to spark a panic): “Stop just sitting there and do SOMETHING!” Or, there may be a repressive intent: “You have no idea at all what you are doing, do you? You better sit down right NOW… before you get yourself hurt, mister!”
Perhaps the most effective way of interacting with someone who is practicing the behavior of agonizing is to offer to assess the alleged risks for them (in a way that works for them). They may be terrified of even assessing any of risks (assuming that they are genuinely interested in assessing the risks that they reference in their speculations). They may lack confidence in their own capacity to assess risk. They may be desperately hoping (quietly or loudly) for someone to come and assess the risks for them.
So, someone else can hire an expert to assess the risk for them (like the risks related to a automobile that may need repair or to some physical complaint like a possible injury). Or, someone can suggest a specific expert that they can hire themselves… or a specific action that they can take to find an expert on their own.
The idea is to promote the precise assessment of risk without the stress of them having to make the assessment (for they may really lack the competence to do so). They are in distress about the possibility of risk. Maybe someone else will offer to “stand next to them” when they go to the doctor, for instance.
Maybe they are terrified of hearing “bad news” (at least without someone else there to help them “keep it together”), so the agonizing is basically a very indirect (and often ineffective) method of attempting to bait someone else in to encouraging them to “go get that checked out by an expert” and even offer to go with them or give them a ride. The underlying issue is a sense of lack of security. They feel distress with no confidence about their own competence to resolve the distress.
Either the distress will resolve or not. Either the energy of the distress will contribute to a future of increased tangible security or not.
Note that when someone feels secure, they are not averse to risk. They consider risk, assess any potential risks that are considered important, and then they take whatever other action that they take.
That is not what is going on with the behavior of agonizing. There is a foundation of insecurity.
The idea that “life should be free of risk” is a delusional linguistic construction designed for pacifying someone who is actually in distress. It is like stating affirmations while driving instead of actually looking at the road and the traffic signals.
There is such a thing as risk (an actual linguistic category). Some assessments of risk are more or less precise. Some levels of risk are more or less terrifying or intimidating or disturbing.
Agonizing can be sort of an “exhaustion response” in which someone experiences an intense terror that they wish to keep secret. The agonizing may be kept private. The person contemplates and speculates, then may make some assessments of risk, perhaps also in secret.
How accurate are their perceptions of risk? Maybe the risks are much greater or much less than they perceive.
What are they afraid of? Maybe they say and maybe they do not.
Maybe they are so anxious (such as in the case of a neurological electrical misfire) that they simply have massive amounts of adrenalin even without any immediate threat. Maybe they just watched a movie that disturbed them much more than they recognize. There may be an irritability or frustration and no sense of the underlying issues- just a sensitivity to triggers that bring their background of distress beyond the threshold of awareness.
They may know they are in distress but may have no specific awareness of the causes: “Why am I so upset (when I should NOT be)?!?!”
That is also agonizing. They are invalidating the upset by identifying it linguistically as something that should not be happening. Then, with a terrified commitment to the idea that they should not be upset, they may attempt to find an explanation that they consider socially acceptable. That can be difficult. That can take a lot of time. A justification for the upset may even need to be slowly and carefully constructed: “now I know who is to blame for me being upset, which I should never ever be!”
By beginning with anxiety about the idea of being upset, they are set up for suppressing any upset that arises (such as anger or fear or disappointment). They may start with a rejection of certain emotions as “negative” or “unacceptable.” Then they proceed with a commitment to justifying their hysterical rejection of the emotions that they fear with intense paranoia (including the emotion of fear).
Since they reflexively assert that it is “bad” to admit fear, then they fear the display of fear. That is not just an occasional state but an ongoing paranoia. For most people, that is an almost constant state of anxiety since long ago in their early childhood before they learned to pretend not to be afraid.
So, in their conflicted emotional state, what actions can they be expected to take? Until their agonizing fulfills it’s purpose and they begin a new experiment, they may maintain the “holding pattern” of withdrawing from social interaction by practice agonizing to such an extent that the obsessive practice of agonizing destroys any potential for attentive communication beyond the limited scope of their favorite dilemma.
They may chatter, plus others may join them in their chatter, but unless the primary risks are assessed and then one alternative is determined to be clearly more repulsive than the other (riskier), then they may remain “stuck” in their agonizing. Or, perhaps they will be distracted from their dilemma or even will “deconstruct” their own inventing of the dilemma and lose interest in justifying whatever past patterns that they may been have been justifying through the the “great” dilemma that they have been practicing and rehearsing and refining and perfecting. They do it quietly in private at first, constructing something that they think will “seem acceptable.” Then they test it and if it works well for attracting the kind of interaction that they are targeting, they may parade their dilemma openly and widely, then act offended if something does not worship it enthusiastically enough.
If someone says in anxious agony “but should I do this or not,” then I may offer a different linguistic model that is not an “either/or dilemma:” “if you did it, how would you like it to go, and how exactly would you like to do it? If it seems too unsafe, then how could you make it safer or more reliable?”
Note that there is one major problem that people may have with those who are competent in the art of inventing dilemmas. Other people may find it to be a problem that they cannot easily enchant the other person and put them under the spell of their favorite dilemma. The one competent in consciously inventing dilemmas is not easily deceived by those who are less competent or less conscious in their invention of dilemmas.
The competent one may even make fun of the dilemma: “Should you or shouldn’t you? I just do not know! This is such a serious dilemma. Just out of curiosity though, can you name nine things about this dilemma that make it very serious and extremely disturbing? I was going to get a little sleep last night and eventually I almost started to doze off, but then I realized that if I did not practice insomnia for at least a few hours, then I might suddenly fall asleep and then have a horrible nightmare that would wake me up and then I would not be able to get back to sleep, which would be absolutely terrible and can even lead to agonizing about how to prevent contagious outbreaks of incurable hypochondria. So, what would be six of the most horrible things that could happen in a nightmare? Actually, do you think that six is the right number? How about seven? Seven or six… I just do not know! This is so confusing that I must continue it until I find a way to agonize the right way so that I can eventually become clear and calm by agonizing so well. Then again, if I pick six things to start with, then I could always sick a seventh after that, right? Why didn’t you think of that and then just tell me that sooner? Anyway, I know that I have a very serious problem, but I just do not know exactly what it is yet. Please be patient. This is very confusing for me, too. This is really such a serious problem though. I obviously need a lot of help with it because I would be unable to maintain it without competent assistance and outside validation.”