So many times this past week, when talking to a new clients about their anxiety symptoms or panic attacks, I have heard how vulnerable the each client feels as a result of these horrible anxious feelings that seem to come from nowhere. Of course, because the client becomes so totally focused on his or her symptoms, the sense of vulnerability, the fear of more and worse symptoms takes over.
What I really focus on is helping each client see and understand that the vulnerability they feel is most often the result of feeling vulnerable in their life, mostly due to emotional conflicts and issues with people. So, in essence, REAL LIFE creates situations and conflicts that especially when repressed or avoided, create the feeling of being out of control, which makes us feel vulnerable and weak. This leads to anxiety symptoms which seem to come out of the blue, because remember, we are trying to avoid those real live issues and conflicts.
Why do we avoid and thereby become vulnerable to anxiety ? We so often become lazy, complacent and too dependent on others because of our need for approval and acceptance or our fear of rejection or failure. We stop taking care of ourselves, and sort of let ourselves go instead of always trying to look our best. We feel stuck in a frustrating, even sometimes an abusive relationship, but the longer we stay, the more we doubt we can do any better. We are frustrated in a job that is not challenging, but avoid more education or training for fear of failing, or just laziness, and that again causes us to feel in conflict within ourselves, and more vulnerable.
So the anxiety symptoms become the focus of the client's attention, and distract him or her that much more from dealing with the source issues. " I can't do anything about that or make any decisions until this anxiety and panic stops !" In therapy, I bring the client back to the real issues and help the client look at all options and choices, while making sure that the client takes small but important steps to deal with the conflicts. Most often, it takes time to turn things around in one's life, to take steps to be more in control. That is ok, as long as there is a PLAN, because having a plan gives one a sense of control.
I am NOT saying people who have these anxiety symptoms are weak. However, they often are adapting personality types who try too hard to please, stretch too far to be needed by others while not expressing their needs, and are all too often taken advantage of by those who can. The most gullible tend to be the caregivers, conformers and peacekeepers along with many perfectionists. Good people, caring people, who get lost in seeking approval.
Back to therapy ! Yes, of course we work to help the client deal with, understand and desensitize to the actual anxiety symptoms. And yes, we use medications as necessary to help relieve some anxiety, although that is not the answer to really taking control of the symptoms.
The answer is knowledge of what is really happening to you, developing a PLAN to deal with the sources of your emotional conflicts,and learning you can control the symptoms until you gradually gain trust in yourself that YOU can take better care of yourself in the real world where some people in your life play games with you. You learn to assert yourself, respectfully but firmly. You learn to set boundaries. You learn that healthy, non controlling, non manipulating people will actually respect you more for speaking your mind, because you are at the same time, respectful to them. You learn that those who have other agendas, and just use and manipulate, need to be gradually made a lesser part of your life. Not easy you say ? Your right, it is not easy to set such boundaries when the offending person is a boss, intrusive mother-in-law, or a bully. Each case is unique with different solutions, but a general rule to follow to be less vulnerable to difficult people is to never become complacent, never allow your professional skills to lag, always be busy creating new contacts and realizing and EXPERIENCING the EVIDENCE that you can grow and change. The persons who survive dealing with difficult people are the ones who keep their momentum going, thereby decreasing their dependency on the people who would do them harm. Too often we allow ourselves to become dependent on these people, or we avoid speaking up, we do not take steps to grow so our self-esteem and confidence deteriorates over time. When there is momentum, there is growth. Where there is visible growth, there is self-esteem. Where their is self-esteem, there is the perception that you can achieve so much more. The more you achieve, the less vulnerable you are because the world needs achievers.
I would be happy to hear comments !
I invite you to join us any Sunday Evening, at 9 PM ET for our on-line Support Groups at OneStepataTime.com . You can also sign up for our free Newsletter, "Boundaries", which will be e-mailed to you each week.
Also, take a look at the many articles we have posted in our Blog at RuledByFear.com
Gene Benedetto, Psychologist/Coach
The Benhaven Group