Continuing with our series on the Tricks of Anxiety, let’s talk about how it threatens us with the idea that “it’s going to be awful”. Catastrophizing* every situation as inevitably going horribly wrong.
The threat of something being so bad that we could never handle it, can feel so overwhelming that we just give up before ever getting started. When we do this, anxiety wins by keeping us stuck and miserable and alone. The perpetual cycle continues; Anxiety feeding on itself, growing stronger and stronger as we feel weaker and weaker.
It’s like, no matter how much we want to do something and no matter how good it will be for us, anxiety is there to persuade us that there is no way we can handle it. The conversation in our heads can often times go something like this:
- Me: I’m excited to go out with my friends tonight, it’s been so long since I’ve had an evening out to blow off some steam.
- Anxiety: Don’t do it, you know you’ll never be able to handle it. It’s going to be terrible.
- So we have a choice then, do we stay home and just forget it or do we challenge the threat of anxiety and head out with our friends? When anxiety is ruling our lives, we often go with the first option because the 2nd just seems entirely too risky.
- Me: This vacation coming up with the family is going to be amazing, we’re going to have a great time together.
- Anxiety: Oh no, it will be a disaster! Everyone will be fighting, you won’t have enough money, the car will break down, and the weather will be miserable!
- Here we are again, fighting with anxiety . By challenging the authority that Anxiety thinks it has, we can overcome the threat and take that vacation. Again, if Anxiety has a strangle hold on us, we end up missing out on a great family bonding experience.
Let’s look at it from another angle, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and the anxiety threat of, “Do this or else!”.
For anyone that lives with OCD, this where the term Anticipatory Anxiety really comes into play.
When I first learned about, Anticipatory Anxiety, I was watching a Facebook LIVE with Jodi Aman, and it was a total lightbulb moment for me. In the back of my mind I always knew that I was anticipating the worst happening if I didn’t do “this or that”, but I never knew why or equated it to anxiety . That’s precisely what it is though. When you see how OCD and Anxiety play off of each other, it gives you such great understanding into yourself and gives you the advantage of awareness and knowledge.
If I didn’t check the door at least twice, after I locked it, somebody was definitely going to break into my house after I left. Or if someone wasn’t going to break into the house, the cats were sure to get out. I would get into my car, back out of the space, and then stop, get back out of my car and go check the door (after I had already checked it of course). However, if I did go back and checked the door, it might make me late for work because I’d surely hit the wrong traffic pattern on the drive.
So I was doomed if I did and doomed if I didn’t. Anxiety was loving every minute of it, all the while I was in a perpetual state of self invalidation.
OCD and Anticipatory anxiety manifest themselves in virtually any similar situation: Obsessing over checking to see if the burners on the stove are off, the windows are locked, the bed is made, the shower curtain is closed..the possibilities are endless.
So no matter what we do, or don’t do, the worst is going to happen according to anxiety . This is where, again, we have to challenge the authority that anxiety thinks it has. Analyze each situation and break it down, look at it from a high level point of view, using Wise Mind. This way we are able to see that in fact, there’s no evidence of “the worst” happening at all. If we go out with our friends, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to be miserable. If we go on that vacation, all of those bad situations aren’t guaranteed to happen. If we don’t check the door multiple times, it doesn’t mean someone is going to break in.
But you know what, what if “the worst” does happen…then what? I mean lets face it, bad things happen to everyone. It’s just part of life. While anxiety would love for us to think that we couldn’t possibly handle a situation going south on us, it’s rarely as bad as what we anticipate it being. Even if it is bad though, we’ll figure out a way through it and come out stronger in the end; it may not be easy but it’s not impossible. We are always stronger and more capable than we think that we are.
So how does all of this come into play with abuse survivors?
One of the biggest ways it affects survivors is in the area of relationships: romantic, friendship, work, siblings, you name it.
We’ll self sabotage something good with another person before it ever gets started, or once we start to feel comfortable, because anxiety is telling us that it’s never going to work. This is especially relatable to me in the dating world. In order to keep myself safe, I would make sure to not let a relationship go too far because I just knew it was going to end in disaster. Or at least that’s what anxiety wants me to think.
Don’t confuse this though, with being aware of an unhealthy relationship. Awareness is key and not letting ourselves get involved in a relationship that isn’t healthy for us, means that we are putting ourselves first, and that’s good! Where we run into trouble is when we start seeing red flags that aren’t there, in an effort to protect ourselves from the inevitable nightmare that awaits, according to anxiety.
Why do we self-sabotage relationships? One big reason is, as survivors of abuse, we were groomed to feel like we weren’t worthy of anything good. We were used for someone else’s own sadistic pleasure, and therefore we believe the lies and manipulation that we are “damaged goods”, worthless, and just better off alone. So in order to not take anyone else down with us, and save ourselves from more pain and guilt, we just don’t even try. “Nobody else should have to endure being with us” and “we don’t deserve healthy relationships like others have”.
We don’t have to live this way friends. You are not damaged goods, broken, or better off alone. Confront those feelings head on and question them every time they come up with rational, wise-mind thinking. Catastrophizing does nothing but give anxiety more and more power. Take that power away and put it back in your corner.
- Pictures courtesy of Pixabay. Social Media images created by Matt Pappas using Canva.
- Jodi Aman approves this series on Surviving My Past and the weekly Periscope Videos. I encourage you to check out her book and get your copy via her website or on Amazon.
- *Catastrophizing as defined on Psych Central.