Anger and Stress Management Tips for Satisfying Relationships by Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

fear and apprehension(5) - Is anxiety your relationship glue?

Just the thought of being anxious is enough to make you anxious! Who wants the worry, the knots in the stomach, the thoughts of impending doom and the urgency that compels you to prevent it? Perhaps no one consciously chooses to be anxious, but it may be best buffer against selfish, grabbing relationships.

Past experiences infect the present frothing up anxiety

Jody was a loner, loved to read and listen to music. She woke up most mornings burdened with the weight of the day ahead. She felt tired and worn out even before she began the day, anticipating what people might think of her. She was concerned with who was looking over her shoulder, waiting to accuse her of doing something wrong. She expected to encounter situations that she wouldn't be able to handle. Memories of inadvertently upsetting people in the past invaded her mind. Uncomfortable past experiences infected the present, as Jody was whipped up into a froth of palpitating anxiety.


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Need for comfort and reassurance

Unable to contain herself, Jody called friends and talked, or made contact via instant messaging on the Internet. The words that her friends or contacts spoke were less important than their willingness to be there, listen, reassure and make Jody feel she mattered. Jody was able to allow herself this connection because it came at a time of dire need. As soon as she felt calmer, her need for contact diminished and she would go back to her lonely existence.

Paying a retainer to insure attention

Jody was caught in a cycle of wanting contact but not being able to tolerate it for more than a short time. As soon as Jody felt good, the same people who had been her soothers, turned into blood sucking leeches. They wanted to include her in their social lives, and share their ups and downs. They wanted her to help them out when they were stressed out, and wanted her company when they were lonely. Jody experienced this as a trap, having to put her agenda on hold in order maintain the relationship. It was worse than the anxiety attacks, because it meant having to make a choice between 'me or them!' No wonder she resented invitations to be with others. It was a retainer she had to pay in order to insure their receptiveness and attention when she was scared and anxious.

The world is made up of ' givers' and 'takers'

For Jody, the world was divided into givers and takers. When she needed contact with people she put on her 'taker' costume. The idea of being a 'taker' made her feel selfish, so she had to find a way of justifying it. Panic and anxiety to the rescue! What better reason to reach out for contact? Who would refuse to offer help in this situation? The 'giver' outfit stirred up other conflicts. It was comfortable so long as she could do so on her terms. But if she was being asked to give of herself on other people's schedule, it smacked of being used, abused and sucked dry. Jody feared that others would deplete her reserves, leaving her the dregs of protest and exhaustion.

Anxiety regulates intimacy

How come Jody views relationship through such a dismal lens? Because genuine closeness and intimacy was terrifying. It meant that she would have to give and get, see and be seen, and be in an equal partnership. This was too scary, so she used her anxiety as a way of making just enough connection with others to satisfy her basic human needs. When the need for closeness had been met, she pulled away. As soon as the need for closeness recurred anxiety was a sure fire way of getting it back, just long enough to reduce the fear of being alone. Anxiety was Jody's way of regulating closeness with loved ones.


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Caught in the repetitive cycle of anxiety

When making and maintaining relationships is a strain, anxiety allows you to reach out and be connected to another person. It provides the impetus for you to ask for support, comfort, company and acceptance. It gives you the opportunity to check if you are lovable, worth being with, and worthy of being taken care of. The comfort is temporary, ensuring that you continue to use anxiety attacks to replenish the stock of love-ability.

Learning to trust turns anxiety off

All the meditation and relaxation techniques in the world will not help if anxiety is your glue to relate with others. Exploring the origins of your anxiety and what purpose it is serving will be the biggest gift you give yourself, and the first step you take towards a less anxious existence. The second step is developing trust in people you interact with. Trust sets the stage for experiencing connections as rewarding rather than abusive and manipulative. It's a big risk, requires courage and a yearning for mutually supportive relationships. Psychotherapy can turn the 'me or them' script into a dialogue of 'us' that takes the stickiness out of anxiety glue.