Two Steps to Overcoming Anxiety

I’ve been reading a lot of personal stories lately about what it’s like to live with anxiety. What’s striking to me is that we refer to it generically, when in fact, there are many different manifestations of anxiety. Categorically, the most common include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder (PD) (with & without) accompanying Agoraphobia, Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

There are overlapping symptoms in each of these conditions, yet each person’s anxiety is unique and deeply personal. What saddens me is that folks often view it as something they simply have to live with – as though it’s part of their genetic makeup or an unchangeable aspect of their way of being.

It’s not. It never is.

Anxiety isn’t genetic but it does run in families. It’s a product of unhealthy, learned behavior and unmet needs. It’s caused by trying not to feel what we truly feel and not to think about or remember things that cause negative emotions to surface.

It’s a product of  flawed perception, false beliefs and/or of not feeling safe, episodically and/or holistically. It’s often irrational and it ebbs and flows in response to triggers (things that set us off). Our biggest downfall is trying to hide it. This results in struggling alone and fighting with ourselves.

The key to getting better is the choice to view oneself as a work in progress. There is no all better for us. Every day, we get opportunities to become better. I love getting better. I often hate the discomfort of growth and healing but I freaking love the results. It’s as my friends in AA say, “Acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today.”

Acceptance = I am not a problem to be solved. I am a person to be loved.

We fail to see that how we relate to ourselves constitutes a relationship. Being my own worst enemy and my own worst critic were what I knew to be…until I learned to use the Golden Rule in reverse: I am free to treat myself as I treat others. It had never been ingrained in me to do so, but the things that had been ingrained became things that could be drawn out and the things that were missing became things I took responsibility for giving to myself and accepting from others.

The hardest thing I have ever accepted was (and sometimes still is) me – just as I am, warts and all. I have come to believe that I am powerless to change anything at all until I first accept, if only for this moment, that it is what it is and that I am how I am.

As long as I am telling myself that I should be better I can’t get better. When I beat up on me, I ensure that improvements will not be made today. Close examination of what I used for self control revealed rejection of self and speaking to myself in a way I would consider cruel to address another person.

These things do not occur consciously. The unhealthiest of habits are primarily subconsciously driven. They occur automatically and reflexively. No one has ever deliberately beaten themselves up verbally, nor do they make conscious decisions to neglect their own needs.

Change occurred for me in two ways:

1. I took my therapist’s advice that I was free to treat myself as lovingly as I treated my children. She pointed out that my focus on my children’s well being was the opposite of my avoidance of self.
She referred to it as:

Attunement  (noun):
Being or bringing into harmony; a feeling of being “at one” with another being.
(Read Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh for more on harmony).

2. I sought out people like me. I am a misfit. I do not fit into mainstream society. (Nor do I want to). I connect to people who are wounded and working to get better. These folks get me and are happy to support me. (We give away what we want to receive).

Reciprocity didn’t exist in my world. I was a one way street. I gave and did not receive. I’ve learned that it takes far more vulnerability to accept what good people offer (praise, recognition, appreciation, acceptance, friendship) and I came to accept that while I was not being selfish, I was being self centered. I decided for others how they should feel about me, think of me, and value me.

Turns out I’m worth a lot more than I was ever comfortable believing. Bet you are too.

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.