Beliefnet
Serenity in an Age of Anxiety

lipstick_on_the_mirror-800x533      What do you worry about?  What keeps you up at night? The first step to mining your anxiety narrative is to identify and understand it. The narrative is a collection of reasons you have that keep the anxiety flowing. They are an artesian well of red herrings, even if many of them are understandably frightening. Problems are like fertile bunnies. As soon as you get rid of one, another will take its place and will keep you hopping for a lifetime while distracting from the real discontent that is too overwhelming to face.

 

Start by identifying a few of your recurring anxieties or the latest most worrisome issue. A typical narrative might begin with:

 

I am not generating enough business.

The doctor has not called back with the test results.

My mother seems to be forgetting things.

Nobody is responding to me on match.com.

How will I pay for college/retirement/a house?

I can’t figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life.

 

Identify an issue that strikes you and ask yourself, what this situation means to you.  You can use this structure:

When…..fill in your concern…….I think that means…….fill in your interpretation.

 

For example:  When nobody responds to me on match.com, I think that means something is wrong with me.  Or: When my mother forgets things I think that means she might have dementia.

 

Continue the same process by uncovering the next concern your interpretation brought up. The structure is the same.

Fill in your interpretation…..might mean ….fill in your bigger concern.

 

For example: Something is wrong with me might mean that nobody will ever love me.

Or: If my mother has dementia that might mean I have to take care of her, etc.

 

Let your mind run through your secret ruminations and interpretations until you arrive at a final core issue.  This fear will not be directly related to the situation but is something any number of circumstances in your life can trigger. To see how this works, let’s run the first example all the way through the narrative. You may need to add the word ‘if’ in front of your interpretations as you go along.

 

When nobody responds to me on match.com, I think that means something is wrong with me.

If something is wrong with me, that might mean nobody will ever love me.

 

 

If nobody loves me, that means I will be alone.

If I am alone that means there is outward proof I am unlovable.

Therefore:  I am unlovable.

I am afraid I am unlovable.

 

Here is another example.

When my mother forgets things that might mean she has dementia.

If she has dementia that might mean I have to take care of her.

If I have to take care of her that means I will be miserable and is my worst nightmare.

If taking care of her is a nightmare that means I won’t do it.

If I don’t take care of my mother that means I am a bad son.

Therefore: I am afraid I am not a good person.

 

An anxiety narrative inevitably ends with some version of: I am not worthy, I am unlovable or my life lacks meaning. This is the rotten root of anxiety. A root covered by stuff that seems to be happening to cause the anxiety. A snub on match.com or nobody coming to your birthday party are no more proof that you are unlovable than putting a parent in a nursing home makes someone a bad person.  These are interpretations of events based on our personal history and life views not to mention a partial picture of the situation.

 

Circumstances do not seek people out to prove they are worthless or unlovable. On their own, circumstances are neutral.  The tree fell. The test results were positive. People decide what events and behavior mean. If these assessments and judgements end with, ‘I am not loveable’, they are flat out wrong. Challenge interpretations. Get a bumper sticker that says, ‘Don’t believe everything you think.’ When you stop thinking, you can start extending love. More on that next time.

Post #7

Next time: The Anxiety Narrative Resolution

 

 

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