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  • Writer's pictureJoe Griffiths-Barrasso

“We suffer more in our imagination than in our reality"

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

“There are more things … likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” Seneca

This piece of Stoic philosophy strongly connected with me when considering the anxiety of the mind often seen with clients seeking counselling. Seneca was pondering the anxiety forming behaviour of the mind, therefore examining the nature of mind. What this tells us is our imagination is the source of our anxiety. Its easy for me to imagine, and therefore its just as plausible for me to imagine a future that has not happened, and most importantly a future that does not exist.

If you do this yourself then you can relate. What I wish to share is the effect this has on our overall wellbeing, our decision making, and our perception of the world vs our self perception and the warped reality imagination creates. Another way to think of this is that through imagination we create self—deception. When I forged this thought, a parallel thought occurred - what if we apply Decartes "Incognito ergo sum" - “I think, therefore I am" (Descartes, R. (1998). By thinking you exist, by thinking you exist you can think about how your existence could be. The mind is geared up for thinking, in fact we have approx 70,000 thoughts per day (2023). That is alot of thinking, but it happens without us knowing it. Thinking alone is bearable, and helpful, for imagination can conjure up happy thoughts, possible happy futures, possible happy events, and this can be useful. It can be less helpful, and inf act damaging if thoughts go towards the darkness. Fear based thoughts cause anxiety, for example. This is still imagination, as we are fearing a thought about something that we know nothing of. The future is not written, and yet the mind is keen to write it. When you pick up the mental pen, you have options, but many do not realise the options exist, and go deeper into the darkness. Then they get lost within the darkness. Anxiety grips tight. The other issue with anxiety is that it affects more then the mind, it affects the body too. Tense feelings, cortisol releases (Çay, M. (2017), shortness of breath, heart rhythms altered and other associated physical (somatic) responses will heighten and sustain fear based responses to absolutely nothing that is happening in the real world. Your reality is altered and warped all from the power of your imagination.

Through counselling I can help you find your way out of the darkness. With client work, the degrees of anxiety vary across many different aspects of a life. In Person-Centred counselling therapy I do not advise you, or tell you what to do. If you seek this then Person-Centred is not for you. If you wish to share your anxiety in all its deepest connotations, and feel respected, listened to, held and not judged throughout the counselling process, then Person-Centred is for you. Other therapies will certainly offer these attributes, but they do not focus on them. Intense listening, deeper understanding (empathy) and gaining the trust to be completely open with me is Person-Centred therapy. For then we can together, re-build and heal your inner-you. The voice you hold in your heart is the voice that is the most difficult to follow. There are many reasons for this which will come out in the counselling therapy process, but ultimately this is your choice, you lead, its you who does the healing. Once healed, this is a life changing fundamental shift in the way you view yourself first, and then the outside world after.

To bring us back to the start, stoic philosophy encourages us to remember that there is no benefit to complaining or overthinking about things that are outside of our control. They are fixed on anxiety as a by-product of this type of thinking. In a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approach, you could be transformed by the will power of mind creating its own empowering "will" - this is driven by high levels of motivation, which are driven by goals, inner strength, and sheer rationality. This over-laps into Person-Centred, but CBT is directional. Person-Centred is not. Both can help you if you lose track of the present, or embellish the future with fears and insecurities.

“When we are fiercely independent and self-sufficient, our disappointments loom large because we have nothing else to focus on.” Aurelius Foundation. (n.d.)

The power of negative thought, therefore the power of imagination will create vicious cycle of loneliness and comparison with others. Comparison is the thief of joy (Theodore Roosevelt) but where Person-Centred therapy does fit well is through individualism, the concept of self. Who we are and the threat to self, is who we are in relation to others and how we relate to others. But the Person-Centred counselling therapy work begins with the relationship you have with yourself.

Welcome to aMAZE counselling therapy. Book a free consultation here.


Descartes, R. (1998). Discourse on method. Hackett Publishing Co, Inc. (2023). Did you know that the average human brain generates 45 thoughts per minute? [online] Medium. Available at: [Accessed 10 Sep. 2023].

Çay, M. (2017). The Effect of Cortisol Level Increasing Due to Stress in Healthy Young Individuals on Dynamic and Static Balance Scores. Northern Clinics of Istanbul, [online] 5(4). doi:

Aurelius Foundation. (n.d.). Aurelius Foundation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Sep. 2023].

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