Stop Worrying

Worrying is waiting for the other shoe to drop and telling yourself you’ll feel relieved if it doesn’t and prepared if it does. The biggest problem with this approach is that we rarely account for the energy being used during the in between times of anticipation and fruition.

In her most recent blog, Karen Foley explains why she is a world class worrier:

Karen’s story will resonate amongst caregivers, especially if they happen to be Adult Children of Alcoholics/Addicts (ACOAs). ACOAs got lessons in powerlessness early and often in life. We learned that bad things can happen and we were made to feel responsible for them. This taught us to anticipate them and prevent them before they occurred.

We tend to see a gender divide in worrying. Men tend to ignore the source of their concern and become irritable and easily frustrated over everything other than the real problem. At the other extreme they will relentlessly pursue ways to fix that which cannot be fixed – this is the limitation of a problem solving paradigm. Traditionally, women come more from a relational paradigm. This affords greater awareness of the well being, emotional state, and the potential impact/consequences of actions on others. This also provides a greater awareness through which they can find things to worry about.

Being worried is not the same as being concerned. To have concern is to have empathy and compassion. This is a reflection of caring and it shows sensitivity to the needs and fears or others. Without clear boundaries (spoken and unspoken rules that divide us) the pitfall is that your problems become my problems, your fears become my fears, I take on your pain as though it were my own and I worry.

I have been working with an amazing mother/grandmother who has reached both a beautiful plateau of healing and a horrible place of transition. The devastating news is that for the first time in half a century, her life is going very well and while there are challenges to be overcome, there is nothing to be worried to death over. Those unacquainted with anxiety will find this odd. Imagine your driving force of 50 years becoming obsolete. The question that will haunt you is, “What am I supposed to do now?”

Many of us never learned to feel truly safe and secure. If we cannot find something to focus our fear on we will create something automatically. The alternative would be to acknowledge that it is we who need help and support. She explains it well, “I just feel like if I’m not on the edge of my seat that something will go horribly wrong.” She knows this is not rational, but knowing that isn’t enough to let yourself relax. It’s like carrying a large weight on both your shoulders your entire life and then someone tells you it’s okay to put it down now. “Don’t you understand? This is the weight of the world. This is every hope, every dream, every fear of every person I have ever loved and the thoughts of what might go wrong for them!”

My friends in Al-Anon tell me that they had to learn to resign as Protector of the Universe. The battle cry of the Caregiver is, “If I could just…” What worriers tend to overlook is that deep down they are often very hurt and angry that they have to dedicate so much time and energy into the well being of others. We teach others to expect this of us. We expect it of ourselves. Even still there is a small voice within us that asks pitifully and/or rage fully, “And when do I get mine?” The answer is a set up. “When everyone is happy and has everything they want and need, then and only then will I attend to my own needs.”

And then it’s time. They grow up. They take care of themselves. Problems are either solved or they become things we learn to live with. What the hell do we do now? Ideally, we invest in ourselves. We identify our own needs, which is foreign to us. We made our own happiness contingent upon theirs. Now they don’t need us…but feeling needed…is a lot like feeling loved. Why would anyone love me if they didn’t need me? How am I to express my love if they don’t need me to worry about them anymore?

We never truly just stop doing anything – we replace it with something else. Answer the question, “Now what am I supposed to do?” Leaving this to a subconscious choice is a big part of why people have a mid life crisis. We choose ways of being…ways of coping, structuring our lives, deriving meaning and purpose. Without these things, our lives become an empty process of going through unsatisfying motions – like waltzing without a partner.

If folks encourage you to stop worrying about them and worry about yourself – meet them halfway. Choose a better life. Choose more direct ways to express your love and concern. Choose to be focused on who your Higher Power want you to be. I believe the outcome will be exactly the same whether you worry or not. Choosing to have a purpose centered life will result in more substance, happiness, and joy.

“Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.