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Are You Suffering From "Fragidity"—Pretending You're on Top of Things, but It's a Masquerade?

Ever feel like you are treading water, exhausted, frantic, flailing? Who are you trying to save?

Photo Credit: Minerva Studio/


It happens to the best of us. Our lives get shaken; our grooves get broken. We get a little disoriented or maybe a lot. It’s all we can do to keep it together and every little further perturbation; real or perceived is a threat. 

So we circle the wagons, hyper-vigilant against attacks, challenges, feedback or questions.  We get prickly and rigid, insistent that we’re on top of things, precisely because we’re not. To those around us it can look like the height of arrogance but it’s actually vulnerability. We don’t think more of ourselves, but less and are grasping for the self-certainty we’ve lost.

For some of us it’s not a phase but a way of life. We need affirmation and never have enough.  Like hummingbirds who need nectar every 15 minutes to stay alive, we need a shot of self-certainty every few minutes. We bend and contort all conversations, all topics and all comments into positive reflections on us. Like corporate spin-doctors in a crisis, it’s all about damage control, even when there are no signs that damage has been done. The people around us wonder why we need to keep proving ourselves every few minutes, why our bravado is always in high gear.

Often we tie ourselves to the mast of some popular or pariah grand social campaign. We’re on a mission purportedly to convince people of some world-saving ideology, a solution to a global existential crisis. But it doesn’t come off that way.  It’s not the world we’re saving but ourselves.  We’re treading water, exhausted, frantic, flailing, trying to save ourselves.

These world-changing campaigns have their seasons. The missionary Christian, Muslim, leftist, new ager, Republican, Tea Partier, even climate crisis solver, all on a tireless mission, tiresome in the execution. Our achy hearts resonate with the global crisis we’re on a mission to solve. We project the problem as out there, not at home in our achy hearts. We get insistent, overwhelming, preachy, oblivious to our audience. For example, I’ll sometimes raise a question with friends about how to resolve the climate crisis, and get surprising blowback, normally considerate people telling me the one true and absolutely sure-fire way to deal with the problem. If there was one problem that dosen’t have an absolutely sure-fire solution, it’s climate crisis.

Fragidity doesn’t always attach itself to a grand campaign. It can manifest as a general prickliness, a tendency to feel attacked whether we are or aren’t. A symptom is what I call “leaden answers” a counterpart to “leading questions.” A leading question is a loaded question, like “Were you cruel to him?” Since cruelty is obviously bad, the question leads us to answer no, regardless of the situation.  

With someone suffering fragidity, it doesn’t matter if the question is loaded, the answers are leaden by even the slightest whiff of threat. “Were you frustrated this morning?” “Of course not, I’m not frustrated. I wouldn’t be frustrated. I’m always reasonable! How dare you insinuate otherwise?” as though frustration is a mark against you. 

Such leaden answers are leaden in two ways. The answer is being led by the emotional nose, no regard to substance only threatened status, and the conversations that ensue are deadly dull and heavy, like lead. They go nowhere, slow, the fragid person's insistence drowning out all true exploration.

Nor can you bring up how the conversation is going nowhere without that too feeling like a threat. Dealing with the brittle fragid person means living in what’s known as a double bind.  Regardless of what you feel about the fragid person’s behavior, they coerce you into regarding them as above board and honorable. That’s the first bind, and if you try to get out of it with some process talk, the fragid response will be “How dare you insinuate that I’m anything but above board.” That’s the second bind. The fragid person’s insistence on his rightness is exhausting, perhaps deliberately, prone to long monologues about their virtue and victimhood. Dare to raise the slightest challenge to his interpretation and he’ll start the monologue over from the beginning.

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