Removing Anxiety

Many people call a psychotherapist and say that they want to "not be anxious anymore." However, anxiety, like any stress, varies in intensity and in what it does to us and what it does for us

Anxiety is of many kinds and has many reasons for being present in our life. We need to find out what it means for us at the differing times it may occur. If the anxiety is with us all the time it still may vary in intensity. Anxiety within a tolerable degree can be a signal that is useful to us because it lets us know that something is going wrong in our thoughts, feelings or actions and thereby warns us that it is time to investigate what is in our mind, or what should be in our mind. We need to analyze whether or not the anxiety is so great that we are paralyzed and unable to think or function. Does the anxiety precipitate an obsessive-compulsive loop of feeling, thought and/or action that inhibits us from reaching or even knowing what our goals are or should be? Is that anxiety actually one way in which we protect ourselves from imagined further hurt by inhibiting our thoughts, feelings and action? Undoing the reasons for the anxiety can remove enough of it to let us function more comfortably.

If improving our life is something that is on our unconscious inner list of irrationally forbidden goals, improving our life may mean disagreeing with the precepts of some major authority that raised us and on whom we still unconsciously depend. Our anxiety could mean that we are changing the balance or homeostasis of the childhood atmosphere that we grew up in and sadly connect change with abandoning our family and/or being abandoned by them...

We can become anxious because we are becoming able to see ourselves more positively and therefore inwardly at the least, getting ready to live our life in our own personally chosen manner. If you were raised to feel, consciously or unconsciously, that what you did, thought or felt had to be what a significant other person thought you should be-or be doing, you might find yourself irrationally perceiving your coming independence as a kind of secular sin, or attack upon those who gave you the need to always satisfy someone other than yourself.

It may make some individuals feel anxious to be thinking that there must be many ways that one can be good to oneself and often to those who are emotionally important to one. We may become unable to select one, or a few processes that could satisfy us, thus paralyzing ourselves.

The performance of even objectively good but forbidden endeavors such as going on for further education, improving our career opportunities or traveling on a desired vacation, may make us feel as if we are harming or abandoning family members who could not accept us in this role. We may be punishing ourselves for doing something for ourselves that our family did not accept as our role. If we are engaging in thought, feeling or action that our early environment forbade us to take part in, the apprehension or "anxiety" of crossing into the forbidden may be activated so that we will cease going in that direction. If our parents or similar authorities unconsciously or overtly could not view us as having what we want, then we may have learned that we are not supposed to have that which we desire; we may then feel upset when we sense that our parent, for reasons of their own life’s history, cannot accept us being successfully happy. Succeeding at tasks can lead to punishing ourselves for doing something for ourselves that our family did not accept as our right to perform.

Our parent may have been competing with us or overly identifying us with their own inability to progress. We may have an unconscious awareness of what the parent is needing us to be but may feel that it is too painful to become fully conscious of that which part of us knows. However, when we become fully conscious we may be able to better control the direction of our life.

For many people, not all, becoming fully conscious of what is actually inhibiting us and making us anxious does not overwhelm us, but will actually free us to do the good things that we want to do. If irrational fears or beliefs have controlled us, then a rational comprehension of what we are doing and what has been done to us may empower us rather than hurt us. A more complete comprehension frees people who want to be free.

The comprehension that we need is rarely only cognitive or intellectual but usually must cover enough of our emotional feelings and history of actions as well as intellectual thoughts before we can know enough to control ourselves towards whatever direction is good enough. Often it takes many multi-level repetitions of observing how we were made to be ourselves and are now treated, to free us of our irrationally inhibiting anxiety-provoking personality aspects.

Evaluating ourselves, our thoughts and feelings in the interpersonal social-like atmosphere of a weekly therapy group along with an insightful accepting therapist in an individual session can eventually free many of us enough to uncover and discuss our true feelings, and thus enable us to act differently than when we were not sufficiently aware. Such awareness can change our attitudes enough to give us a chance of living a more satisfying life.

Insight-oriented psychotherapy is for those individuals who find it useful to investigate the "why" of how things work. However, some originally rigid defensive people do also respond well to a deep search for the reasons that underlay the surface reasons most of us accept.

We never know enough if we cannot use that knowledge.

Drs. Lehrer
Associates in Psychotherapy, P.A.
Scotch Plains, NJ

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