I’m on an email list consisting of hundreds of counselors. We write to each other with referral requests, and recently someone sent out an email to the list looking for a counselor to work with a young woman with “clinical levels” of anxiety (read: significant).
The young woman’s family was described as not being committed to her treatment. Their support for her was politely referred to as “intermittent,” which was illustrated in the email as, “we support you getting help today, next week we might not.”
Never have I seen such a clear-cut suggestion of cause and effect in a referral request for psychotherapy!
Of course, I know nothing of this young woman or her family beyond what’s described in the email. But I believe that how a family reacts under stress is usually a condensed version of the essential truth of their relationship.
If that’s the case in this family, how could this young woman NOT be anxious?
Imagine growing up surrounded by people who are “intermittently supportive,” giving and then withdrawing help arbitrarily, evidently ambivalent about whether to stand by you or leave you to fend for yourself.
I’ll cut right to the chase. The vast majority of people with mild to moderate anxiety, probably including this unfortunate young woman, are anxious for the same two reasons: insecurity and/or emotional constipation.
Medication doesn’t cure either of these. All it does is mask the symptoms. And sometimes it does more than that, causing problems with side effects.
Not knowing where your next meal is coming from … or the next smack in the face.
Not knowing whom you can turn to, or whom you can trust, or whether to trust anyone at all.
Not knowing when you’re going to be rejected … but knowing you eventually will be.
These kinds of experiences – not an exhaustive list, unfortunately – would make anyone anxious.
Security is one of our most basic needs. Take that away from any human being and you’ll create an anxious individual.
What to Do About It
Understanding that it’s natural to respond to insecure situations with insecurity is the first step on the road back to Normal. If you’ve experienced a lack of physical or emotional safety early and/or often in your life, you’re at risk to develop some level of chronic anxiety.
There are those who will tell you that you may have an “anxious temperament” and you just have to learn to live with it, but don’t believe it. It’s one thing to have an anxious (or whatever you want to call it) temperament, but quite another to suffer from anxiety all the time. Temperament is just a blueprint; it’s not destiny.
I’ll talk about emotional constipation next week.
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