When The Anxiety In Your Life Is Not Your Own Your Life Can Be A Nightmare
Do you live with someone whose anxiety affects your life so much you feel you might have the disorder, too? Well, emotional conditions are contagious. If you live with someone who’s afraid of travel, or being hungry, or other people, you will begin to have worries about those things, too. Especially when they become conflict issues between you. Fear of going out may mean you don’t get to go to restaurants or the movies. What is it like living with someone who is constantly on edge, anxious, worried, fearful of…God only knows what? It’s challenging at best.
Anxiety Is Contagious You Can Catch It From Your Loved One
The rituals surrounding someone else’s emotional state can literally drive you crazy. You’re always worried about how your loved one will react. You know you can’t do certain things you love. How do you feel about it? I read an article by Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, author of “Future Tense: Why Anxiety is Good for You (Even Though It Feels Bad), and it struck a chord. I have always lived with super anxious people, and they have ruled my life whenever I let them. I try not to let them anymore. Here’s what Dennis-Tiwary says about it.
The personal coping strategies of highly anxious people can cause unhappiness for everyone in relationship with them. When someone struggles with anxiety, they almost always fall into the trap of doing one thing too intensely and too often: avoid anxiety and any situations that might give rise to it. Maintaining this status quo makes their lives — and the lives of those around them — much, much harder.Dennis-Tiwary
Is Their Anxiety A Way To Control You Or Are You The Codependent
There are many kinds of anxiety from the simple to the level of a disorder or mental illness. I worry about getting somewhere and not being able to get home. I think this derives from my family moving away when I was seven. I lost my whole extended family. Worrying about getting home doesn’t stop me from going places, though. I know others who are anxious about money and not having enough even when they have plenty, same with food. Other people have a compulsive disorder or are socially challenged and afraid to go out and be with other people.
Worry can come from past trauma, or be part of the way your brain functions. It can also be a form of control someone has over you. How can you fix your internal conflict have between wanting to help someone you love who causes problems for you being able to detach just enough so you have the freedom to do your own thing and feel you can be yourself? Here’s what Dennis-Tiwary suggests.
Begin With Compassion
Compassion must be directed toward yourself and your relationship partner, accepting what each is capable of in a given moment, but working to improve.
You might feel anger and frustration toward the anxious person in your life. You might feel guilt. You might be wondering whether you can maintain this relationship. Whatever the case, the truth is that the attempts by both of you to cope with anxiety are getting in the way, and acknowledging this reality with compassion is the necessary first step.
What Are The Anxiety Patterns That Launch Conflict
Avoiding anxiety often takes two forms: dependence on others or exercising control. People who are dependent seem needy, ask for frequent reassurance, don’t trust their own judgment and prefer the passive back seat to the driver’s seat. You can try to help them contain their feelings of overwhelm, but unfortunately nothing you can do will satisfy these dependency needs or make them feel better for long.
On the other end are the controlling, perfectionistic types who try to achieve a sense of stability and certainty by holding onto life with a viselike grip. Maybe they need to keep the house a certain way, maybe it’s everyone’s schedule, or a set of rules to live by — and it’s their way or the highway. They become truly distressed when the world inevitably doesn’t perfectly conform to their plans — and they blame the world for it.
Begin To Create Boundaries
Once you’ve figured out whether your relationship is one of dependence or control, the next step is to create boundaries — and be consistent. It’s natural to be anxious about your loved one’s anxiety. It feels good to help them banish these difficult feelings. But that will set you up for more problems in the long run because over-accommodating their every worry and trying to protect them from these feelings prevents them from figuring out better ways to cope.
Setting limits is the best way to help them do this. Without boundaries, your relationship will worsen, and your life will slowly but inexorably become more constricting and frustrating because your own needs won’t be met. Set limits by voicing the patterns; describing the problems the behaviors cause; and suggesting compromises. To create effective boundaries, you must believe that you can care for others while also caring for your needs. This isn’t always easy because loved ones, especially controlling ones don’t want to listen. So learning to listen is an important components to an improved relationship.
Learn How To Scaffold
Setting boundaries may feel harsh to some, but what you’re doing is infusing more support with flexibility into the relationship. It’s not always their way, and it’s not always yours. This is why scaffolding — offering support and resources as your relationship partner makes changes — is the best approach.
High levels of anxiety can make this hard because the impulse is to do whatever it takes to banish it as soon as possible. Your relationship partner and you yourself may fear it’s likely to spiral out of control.
Anxiety, however, doesn’t grow stronger when we experience and go through it — we grow stronger. We develop resiliency to discomfort. We learn to sit with our difficult feelings and build skills to cope with them more effectively. We build emotional skills like we do physical fitness — with practice, and little by little.
There’s no magic bullet when it comes to living with other people’s anxiety because we can’t control what other people do or how they feel. But by creating the conditions in which you can act with compassion, identify patterns, set boundaries and scaffold instead of accommodate, you stand the best chance of making your relationship better and living better with the inevitable anxieties that we and our loved ones must navigate.
Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, PhD, is a psychology and neuroscience professor and health technology entrepreneur based in New York. She is the author of “Future Tense: Why Anxiety is Good for You (Even Though It Feels Bad).”
More Articles To Read About Anxiety And Boundaries
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Creating Boundaries Creates Peace
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Are You Struggling With Social Anxiety
Here’s How I Combat Anxiety With Meditation And It Works
Establishing Boundaries with Your Loved One During Addiction Treatment