Before I started working with my counselors I was very hard on myself. I did not like my behavior at times, or the way I occasionally spoke with people, and I would walk away from certain situations and my inner dialogue to myself would be very harsh. I would classify the way I spoke to myself as verbally abusive.
I couldn’t understand why I behaved or said the things that I did sometimes. Maybe I wanted to stay at a party, but I just couldn’t. Or out of fear I would say something that may have seemed rude. My behavior was just not the way that I wanted it to be, and I didn’t understand it.
When I began working on my formal recovery, one thing the counselors who ran the work group would always discuss with us was “acceptance”. Acceptance of who I am today. This doesn’t mean that I do not want to change who I am, or who I want to be tomorrow. But for today, this is who I am. And when I found myself in a situation that I was not happy with myself due to my anxiety-driven behavior, I would remind myself, “I may not like who I am today, but I’m working on changing it”.
This was a turning point in my recovery. Previously, my harsh criticism of myself would actually fuel my anxiety and make things worse. By learning to accept who I was and not judge myself actually allowed me not to feel so restricted.
All anxiety is rooted in control, therefore our behavior is in essence guided by the need to control whatever situation we are in. By allowing myself a little flexibility in not being “perfect” according to my own expectations, I was actually learning to relinquish control over the situations I was in. This had a profound effect on my anxiety recovery as a whole.
Years later when I began training to become a certified counselor myself, I had the honor of working with some of the senior counselors. These senior counselors all had over 30 years’ experience each, and were a wealth of knowledge in understanding and approaching anxiety disorder recovery.
One day while I was talking with one of the counselors I made a comment about regretting so many of my actions when I was younger. And she looked at me and simply said, “All you were trying to do is survive”. And at that moment things instantly took on a new light for me. As if all of a sudden my years of suffering and regret all took on a new meaning. We ended up discussing further and it was a conversation that I will never forget.
What she said was basically this; when we live with anxiety disorders, our behavior is guided by the will to survive. Anxiety is the mechanism which assesses danger. Once the danger is recognized we respond in a way to protect ourselves; to survive. Even when the threat of danger is not real. The perceived threat of danger that our anxiety disorders present to us cause the same reaction as if we were in a real life dangerous situation. Our self-defense mechanisms do not distinguish between real danger and false perceived danger (anxiety).
When we are feeling levels of anxiety, we are actually responding to a dangerous situation. This in itself causes great conflict within us because we know intellectually there is no real danger, but yet we feel like there is, and so this creates a struggle within ourselves.
All of this will have some impact on our behavior. It’s inevitable.
I share this with you today so that you can begin working on acceptance yourself. Allowing yourself some flexibility in not having to be perfect all the time. We are all a work in progress. Who we are today is not who we will be tomorrow. And as long as you have engaged the process of recovery and put in a daily & consistent effort, then positive change will come your way.
But for now, we must remain patient. Treat ourselves with care. We do not deserve to be punished by anyone for our anxiety, especially ourselves.
There is a saying that I have seen posted on social media, and I remind myself of this often;
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.”
Keep practicing tools. Keep practicing self-care. Remain patient. But also remain diligent in your efforts.
Never give up! Persistence!
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