Oh, anxiety. It means well. Those heart palpitations are great when your kid is seconds away from plunging off the couch. You weren’t planning on an ER trip, yet you can see it! You know your little one is about to crack their head open. But what if those feelings of danger don’t go away? What if your racing heart and sweaty palms start to become part of your personality? You’re dwelling on what you said the last time someone held the door open for you. Now you’re up at 2 a.m. fixating on what they have long since forgotten. Before you know it, you start thinking of every stupid thing you’ve ever said. Oh! Like that time in first grade! You’ve been saying stupid things since first grade. Now you’re convinced all you do is radiate stupidity. Your friends and family only talk to you to witness the fountain of craziness spewing from your mouth. Truth be told, they actually hate you. Congratulations, your whole life is a charade. Sorry it took a late-night anxious rumination to figure it out.
I have to tell you something. Promise you won’t think I’m crazy?
Your anxiety is lying to you.
While I am just a lady on the internet, my anxiety lies to me, too. Every day. I spend a good majority of the day trying to undo its lies. Up until recently, I never realized how many it told me. Anxiety feeds us these lies and distorts the way we see ourselves. It’s no coincidence that people who struggle with anxiety often have low self-esteem. Every time it successfully lies, it takes a little piece of our confidence down with it. If your anxiety is anything like mine, it’s a real Debbie Downer. It reminds me of Edith from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. If you haven’t seen the movie, Edith constantly tells Dewey he’s a failure, even though he reached fame and success at the age of 15.
Thanks for believing in me, anxiety.
These lies all come from somewhere but there’s good news. They don’t have to control us forever. When we catch our anxiety lying to us, we can fight back. Here are the 5 lies my anxiety tells me.
1. I’m not safe.
This is my anxiety’s favorite one. While it’s normal for us to feel unsettled from time to time, we should have at least one place where we feel safe. People who have experienced assault, sexual assault, accidents, or natural disasters often struggle to find a place where they feel safe from harm. A big one for me is feeling unsafe in any type of moving vehicle. From a logical standpoint, it makes sense. I’ve been in a handful of car accidents. When I was eight, a boat wreck nearly took my life. Every time I’m in a vehicle (or let’s be honest, when I’m planning a trip, or even thinking about riding in a car, etc.), I relive these accidents in my head.
The types of statements we hear growing up can affect the way we view the world, too. I’m sure the safety freak babysitter who told my brother and me blankets would kill us and all people at the door were incognito rapists didn’t help my poor sense of safety, either.
2. I can’t trust you.
Trust does not come easy for anxious people. If your anxiety stems from previous trauma, you may have learned to keep people at a distance. Distance is safe–vulnerability is not. If we can’t control who might hurt us, we take our control back in different ways. We might become more guarded and have a hard time letting others into our lives. If an anxious person opens up to someone and feels invalidated, this lie becomes more powerful. Inability to trust can cause serious problems in relationships. This lack of trust can explain why some anxiety sufferers struggle to ask for help. We’d rather wear ourselves down than risk asking for help and feel rejection’s sting. When we accomplish the task we refused help for, anxiety feeds us the next lie, which is…
3. I’m not good enough.
So many of us battle the not good enoughs. The moment we have a minor setback, we dwell on all of the reasons we’re not good enough. You started the day with a rejection email for the job you were sure you’d get. The waitress forgot to refill your Cherry Coke twice in a row. You didn’t get the invite to the girls’ night out you really didn’t want to go to anyway. Obviously, these things happened because we’re not good enough. Never mind someone else knew the hiring manager and was offered the job or the over-tasked waitress was lucky she got a bathroom break. We’re quick to blame ourselves instead of seeing these events from a different perspective.
4. My feelings don’t matter.
When you’re guilt tripped or frequently manipulated into doing things you’re uncomfortable doing, you’re feeding this lie. The same can be said if you’re constantly putting your own feelings aside to benefit others. Making everyone else happy is easier than rocking the boat, right? If you remember parents or teachers getting on to you for showing anger or sadness, you might believe this lie, too. It’s important to remember all emotions are valid. We have to feel emotions in order to learn how to regulate them. If our anger, sadness, or excitement is whipped out of us, we’re being told our feelings don’t matter. Sure, we shouldn’t be throwing ourselves on the floor in a grocery store when they’re out of our favorite Greek yogurt. The problem lies when you’re so sure your feelings don’t matter, you ignore them entirely.
5. No one likes me.
One of anxiety’s hidden talents is convincing you everyone hates you. The guy you saw on the walk to your car who didn’t say “hello”? He hates you. Your best friend took an hour to respond to your message when her Facebook shows she’s active now. She actually hates you. Your boss scheduled you on a Saturday. Definitely hates you! And don’t even get me started on your spouse, ’cause they hate you the most!
In all seriousness, the only good thing about this lie is it rarely strikes on its own. Probably because it’s the most absurd. Anxiety’s special talent is tricking you with the other lies first. Once it takes you down a few notches, it hits you with this one. Next thing you know, you’re alone crying in the bathroom. You know, usually right before something important, so you repeat all of the lies one more time before you pack the diaper bag and load the car.
Here’s how I fight back.
Knowing where these lies came from gives me the power to silence them. My therapist can take credit for this. She challenged me to remember the first time the lies were true. I wrote a list of times when I didn’t feel safe, couldn’t trust someone, and so on. From there, I picked positive cognitions–positive phrases to use instead. This part was really tough for me. It’s beyond difficult to find positive things to say when you’ve experienced two panic attacks in three days, constantly feel unsafe, think your feelings don’t matter, and so on. Fortunately, my therapist kept a lifeline in her office: a list to pick from. She reminded me I might have to “fake one” until I finally started believing it.
Fair warning, it takes a lot of practice to undo years of thinking this way.
Be gentle with yourself in the process. Writing your positive cognitions down and telling them to a support person can help you challenge these lies. You have the power to disarm them.
“I am safe now.”
“It’s okay for me to feel this way. Trust is earned, not given.”
“It’s normal to feel down sometimes but I’m doing my best. I am good enough.”
“My feelings may not matter to strangers but they matter to me and the people who love me.”
“When I honor my values, the right people will like me.”
Anxiety is an inevitable part of life. A little bit of anxiety can work to our advantage but sometimes, these lies interfere with our routines. Understanding the root cause of the lies can help us form new truths. If your anxiety keeps lying to you, see a therapist. They can teach you tons of tricks to keep these lies in check. You wouldn’t allow a family member or a friend to lie to you day in and day out, so don’t let your anxiety do it, either.
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