The Loan Wolf – How social anxiety behaves like double
What seems like a lifetime, I have struggled with anxiety. It’s a thing I hide well. On the face of things, I am an assertive man who gets what they want. I have learnt from a young age to use my size and stature to camouflage what I may be feeling.
We develop anxiety through our childhood. In the absence of a nurturing environment filled with love, protection, and forgiveness. Children are genetically coded to absorb love and nurture and with this lack in the child’s life, the child becomes weary of others, untrusting of people because the very people who are supposed to create this loving environment abuse this trust.
Children require a stable home life where life patterns are predictable. It’s fine to be spontaneous, but this is not what we are talking about here. If the home is chaotic and here the underlined adjective in bold; uncertain — children exposed to a stressful home life will find handling stress in adult life difficult. Often, these adults will reach for something to quieten the anxiety such as drugs, sex, or booze. In my case, food was the primary addiction with sex making a close second. Paul Walker calls this self-sufficiency, but my favourite is Brené Brown. She calls it her Willy Wonka shit tunnel and one of the biggest triggers for the child or adult is a sense of uncertainty.
Let’s not cloud anxiety with the notion of worry because they are not the same. Worry is not an emotion although worry can cloud the emotion of anxiety. Worry is a pathway of thinking about things in a negative context. And worry is something which pitches us in the future. We don’t worry about what we said last night, but we can worry about the upcoming test which you feel you haven’t prepared for. Remember, there is no past, there is no future, there is only now. Using this simple mantra will quell any worry which may grow inside of you. Eckhart Tolle is the modern-day evangelist of living in the now and achieving life free from worry and isn’t hyperbole, it’s absolutely achievable with the right treatment.
Uncertainty which leads to anxiety is because the primary parent is absent themselves, along with being emotionally abusive and behave unpredictably gives the child a tariff of mixed feelings. Children are genetically coded to receive only love and affection. When the child isn’t receiving these messages, their brain struggles to find reasoning. This bleeds into adult life when people are untrustworthy and changes to the adult’s paradigm without advanced warning can lead to deep states of anxiety. Even if there has been an advanced warning, the situation in itself being different can lead to raised anxiety. Add new people who the adult is not familiar with can cause levels of anxiety which can be dangerous.
I can’t stand social situations. I would rather walk across broken glass than go for a drink with people I know, let alone strangers and this isn’t to disrespect my friends, it’s not them, and forgive the cliché here, it’s all me!
Even such as cutting the grass at the front of the house can evoke horrible flashbacks to my childhood creating levels of anxiety which can leave me paralysed with fear. Working in a surgical speciality I am less familiar with can leave me catatonic with anxiety, again, flashing back to the abuses in my childhood.
It’s crazy to think our minds can work in such a paralysing way.
When I am out, the event is enjoyable, but prior to the event I can go through long periods of time agonising over the impending social event, causing sleepless nights, bingeing on food, and letting the inner critic ride rough-shod over any therapy I have had. Some might say facing your fears and doing it anyway, another cliché. Even with an arsenal of coping strategies, I’m still left cold with anxiety about going out for a drink with people I spend a large part of my day with. People who strangely, want to spend time with me, imagine that?
Some of my close friends will invite me out knowing I will cancel at the last minute and only because they’re aware of the situation I put myself in. These guys always find a way of inclusion without socially rejecting me and I love them deeper for it and something we must spot in our social circles. When you no longer offer an invitee because someone always cancels at the last minutes does nothing for the inner critic of the person. Now they’re not worthy of an invitation out, can you see how the inner critic can interpret any situation in order to separate, isolate and destroy your dreams?
My happiest moment is any day is walking alone, with my dog, in nature with no one clouding my thoughts and I have reached an age where it’s okay to think this way. I have had a lifetime of anxiety, having things which are stable in my life is key to a healthy mind and truly being alone or with my wife is enough for me; I am okay with this.
We need to focus on the cornerstones of complex-PTSD, and anxiety in the social context is something that affects all sufferers to the point of paralysis.
What does anxiety bring?
Avoidance–In its simplest term, avoidance is ignoring something; paying the bills, calling a friend, getting the car serviced. As banal as these things are, they have real-life consequences if ignored. Imagine not paying that bill and leads to court action, imagine not having your car serviced, and it breaks down or causes a catastrophic accident. How does it feel when you don’t service the car, knowing it needed to be serviced, each time you turn the key, this cements the anxiety in your mind, causing the inner critic to spiral.
Not paying that bill leads to telephone calls, which progresses to debt collection agencies now calling you. You avoid answering the phone in fear of being cornered by a bailiff on the phone and by avoiding the phone you miss a call from a friend who really needs you to help and now their life is affected. The door to the inner critic is opened again.
‘You’re no good with money, you’re even a crap friend, you can’t even pick the phone up when it rings, how pathetic, you deserve to lose your home, do the world a favour and kill yourself.’
This sounds ridiculous, right? In the cold light of day, it comes across as ridiculous when dealing with inner emotions perverted by abuses, anything you think about you shouldn’t trust without first analysing the thought and the emotion which follows. And the quote above is a statement from my inner critic when I had a tax bill which needed my attention. I ignored it to my peril; these were the words I said to myself.
In her phenomenal book, The Five Second Rule, Mel Robbins talks about anxiety and excitement being the same, if you haven’t read this book, I urge you to. It carries powerful strategies which to the socially anxious person will shed some clarity on what you’re feeling and how to combat it.
But I am going to take issue when addressing the feeling of anxiety and excitement.
While physiologically excitement and anxiety evoke the same feelings and affects in the body, they are not the same. We have to be careful where and how we label anxiety and how it manifests in a situation.
I can confuse anxiety and excitement with public speaking, or I can feel the anxiety or excitement of an upcoming exam for which I have researched and revised succinctly. The same feelings experienced when you’re waiting for a consultation with a doctor regarding a biopsy. Anxiety and excitement although affect the body in the same way, they are not the same.
If we have had this awkward, tough upbringing, the pages of the top shelf self-help book will not solve your troubles. They will help and I have spent countless hours reading some of the world’s most known self-help books from authors who are truly inspiring. But we have to address the deep core of our mind in order to change the programming.
If you’re an anxious person in adult life after a challenging childhood, you ought to seek professional help, that’s the first must you ought to do. You cannot break free from the inner dialogue without the help of a translator and in simplest terms, a therapist is a translator helping you decode the raft of feelings and emotions you experience each day and how they affect you.
While avoiding situations of uncertainty is unrealistic, realising it this and addressing your inner dialogue is key.
Openly tell yourself you’re safe, no one is going to hurt you. Tell your inner child you are the adult, and everything will be okay. Hold each of your elbows and hug yourself, give yourself self-love. Acknowledge this is an uncertain time, but nothing is going to happen which will hurt you.
Working in a surgical division of a busy hospital, each day is uncertain. I don’t know what speciality I will work in; I don’t know which team I will placed in; I don’t know if the kit is available, and I don’t know any of the patients. Sometimes it’s good news where the day will be familiar while other days compromise my attitude. It’s during these times I must take myself away from the situation, and self sooth my feelings and emotions.
What I know, uncertainty makes up the fabric of the human experience and there is nothing we can do to standardise our day. We must accept change is inevitable and sometimes doing things we don’t like is part of the experience. I spend a lot to time self-talking to myself massaging my inner child through the day. Understanding this is a major step in my recovery, but, above all, I am patient with myself.