Pretty bold claim to make, don’t you think? That there is a cure for something so commonplace in our society today that it plagues nearly everyone from time to time, and some more than others, is indeed a bold statement. Nevertheless, that is what I want to discuss today.
Let me begin by saying that this is not an overnight cure. It takes time, intention, usually some good guidance, humility, and a truckload of hard work to get to a place where one’s anxiety is mastered. Most folks aren’t interested in putting forth that kind of effort, and they settle for the quicker, yet less permanent, fix of anti-anxiety medications. This type of symptom management is fraught with side-effects and lack of efficacy in the long run. Many times, those who use anti-anxiety meds must change prescriptions as the drug’s impact is reduced from long-term usage.
While there may be circumstances when the use of these medications is beneficial for periods of time, what I want to look at today is the long-term goal and work needed to become anxiety AND med-free. Would it be worth the effort if you knew the results would be favorable?
Anxiety is not an inherently negative emotion. It is an indicator, just like anger and pain. Much like the pain of a sprained ankle lets you know that the injury isn’t healed yet, anxiety lets you know that there is something beneath the surface that needs your attention and needs to be healed: a set of beliefs that are harmful to the person, that need to be rewritten.
There are “truths” that have been accepted if one is suffering from severe or chronic anxiety. Mastering anxiety means un-learning your current paradigm and re-learning a new one. It’s not easy. The ideas we have about how the world works were taught to us as we grew up, and we have learned how to exist and cope in the world using these ideas as our guides. The problem is, when chronic anxiety is present, those ideas are not serving us well. They are wreaking havoc on our ability to cope and function with natural stressors.
As it turns out, the paradigm we built for ourselves as children is based on the observations and level of understanding of a child, when we were complete ego-maniacs and nowhere near emotionally mature. That doesn’t stop us from carrying a lot of those ideas into adulthood, however. We take our learned responses, ideas, and neuropathways into our adult years, and struggle with changing them even if they aren’t working for us anymore…because change is hard.
Here are some of the false paradigm “truths” that perpetuate the symptom of anxiety (and you may have them without consciously realizing it):
- I can control other people’s thoughts and feelings about me.
- I can be engulfed or abandoned, and if I am, I will die.
- I am not, or will not be, accepted for who I am, and I will be disconnected and alone forever.
- I have to do things perfectly in order to be lovable, acceptable, and safe.
- If I worry today about tomorrow, I can change or control the future.
- The future is a bad, scary place.
- My doing something, enough, will ensure that the future a good and peaceful place, and will get me the love and acceptance I need.
- And I think that the belief that there is no Higher Power in charge of the universe can also perpetuate anxiety.
What if we were to replace those deep-seated not-so-much “truths” with statements like these?:
- I can have control only over my thoughts, actions, and reactions. Any attempt to control others is short-term at best, manipulative, out of balance, and unsafe.
- Fluctuations between relational closeness and distance between people are natural, and I can survive and thrive under the conditions of both. I can also have good boundaries and healthy neediness.
- The thought that I am only lovable if certain people love me is a myth.
- You are completely lovable and acceptable because you are, not because of what you do.
- Worrying today about tomorrow steals peace from today and has no real effect on the future.
- The future will be what it will be, and whether we like it or not, it is largely unknown to us.
- A Sovereign Higher Power is in control of the universe…this is a comforting thought if you are so inclined to believe it. It allows a release of control that brings considerable internal peace.
What do you think? Can a paradigm shift to these latter statements free you from the chains of anxiety? Yes they can, if you let them permeate the deepest levels of your heart. Most people who are open to making this shift would next be asking the question, “How do I do that?” The answer is this… “how” is the wrong question. It’s not a “how” question, it is a “when” question. When will you make the effort to change your paradigm? When will you be ready to face the consequences/fears/difficulties of changing your paradigm? When will you let go of unhealthy attachments and learn to become more differentiated?
Confused? That makes perfect sense! Come on in and we’ll discuss it, tailoring it to fit your story and your circumstances.
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© 2015 Nancy Eisenman, MSW, LSW