You ever see the spoof movie trailer for Elf recut as a Thriller?
That’s sort of what experiencing anxiety is like. 😛 It takes a reality that is seemingly innocuous and zooms in on the fearful bits.
In the past (and sometimes in the more recent past if I’m being completely accountable), I would become a detective and look to gather evidence that would validate my feelings of fear. There are times that I’d find it, which fed the fear-fire, which ultimately just ended up consuming my dominating thoughts, which led to destructive patterns in relationships, which led to their eventual demise. And then a new relationship would begin and the pattern would inevitably repeat.
There are also times when I would not find anything. In those moments I would feel relief (from not having found anything), shame and guilt (from thinking the worst about a person or situation and likely from invading their privacy), and residual anxiety (maybe I didn’t look hard enough, maybe the person is lying, etc.).
Somebody shared with me that this behavior is “Shopping for pain“. So true. It really is a lose-lose situation. I’ve learned that I was trying to control the outcome of a situation. Like, if I found something, maybe I could have a conversation with the person to find out why, to share with them my experience of what I’d found, and potentially STOP an outcome (e.g. of them being unfaithful, etc.). I don’t know about your experience, but in my own, that has never worked. If anything, it just makes the person feel like they are being controlled and now they can’t trust me and they dig in their heels further and likely continue said behavior to express their autonomy. And it makes me a drag to be around. With those thoughts swimming in my brain like hungry, vicious sharks which result in those long, circular conversations where nothing gets resolved because both individuals are clinging to their belief that they are right to feel as they do. And they are.
Turning this around, one of the things I like about my brain is that it is good at playing devil’s advocate and it has a tendency to really understand all viewpoints, whether I personally hold that viewpoint or not. I’ve decided to use this as a superpower to help me get past this anxious behavior. What if….I found evidence for The Good. (Whaaaaaaaaat? And possibly expose my tender underbelly to those mean ol’ sharks?!)
This is not always true, but I think that, for the most part, people have a way of living up to our expectations of them. If we expect them to be dirty, rotten, scoundrels and act as such, that’s likely what we’ll see and get from them. If we expect the best from them, and act as such, perhaps they will live up to that?
So, when I find myself in that panicky situation, I really, really need to Stop. Breathe. (Maybe take some CBD oil.) Center myself. And ask myself these questions:
- What am I afraid of?
- Is my fear realistic?
- Can I actually control the situation?
- Is it worth the intimacy it would cost me to try to control? (If it is regarding another person.)
(Note: The above questions are an excerpt from The Empowered Wife by Laura Doyle.)
In most cases I do think my fears are realistic…but I know I cannot control the situation. I mean, maybe temporarily, but ultimately, no. So, no, my destructive behavior (snooping, detective-questioning, agonizing over external forces out of my control) is absolutely not worth the time spent diving into those rabbit holes. Even if I do have spicy armpits.
Here’s where I can use my powers for good. I write down the opposite of my fear. Whatever my fear is, I find the opposite outcome that I actually want to experience and write it down (kind of like an affirmation). I then find evidence to support that cause – the more, the better. I find this works. It may not last forever, but it definitely helps my brain focus on the good stuff and expect the best. If I have no control over an outcome of something, I can at least choose to change my experience of it. And then I can find something really, really fun to engage myself in instead. A reward, if you will, for biting my thumb at the fear-sharks. 🙂