For the anxious person, relationships can be a living hell. Far from the oasis of warm support and connection most of us associate with relationships, the anxious person is caught in a vicious cycle of stress responses that create yet more anxiousness.
An anxious person typically has the most difficulty in romantic relationships, followed by friendships and work relationships. Oddly, the research doesn’t mention family relationships.
I worked with one woman whose relationship with her romantic partner was wonderful. She came from an intensely religious family and as a gay woman she felt insecure and rejected. Told she would burn in hell by her (otherwise loving) family, she needed friendships to fill the role of family for her.
However, when there were changes in her friendships she found herself panicking. She couldn’t trust the bond of friendship to weather the natural disruptions of life such as someone moving or even being very busy. She couldn’t trust her close friendships to continue to be “like family”–that they wouldn’t abandon her–because on a deep level, her family had abandoned her.
See the catch 22? For her, family, intimacy, bonding, love–all mean being abandoned at the primal, core level of accepting who she is as a gay woman. When her friends needed space to work out their lives, she became needy and demanding, “making it all about me,” as she put it.
Relationship anxiety is an internal battleground where the desperate need for reassurance and security are the very things that threaten the relationship.
The anxious person is caught in a catch 22. The obvious need is to trust—but at the same time when trust is most needed she absolutely must not collapse into trusting her overwhelming sensations of anxiety.
“I am driving my partner crazy with my drama and neediness and I can’t stop! My anxiety is pushing him away… and that just makes me even more anxious,” is a typical complaint.
In 2004 the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) conducted a survey of GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) sufferers on the effect their anxiety on their romantic partner relationships.
Seventy percent of GAD sufferers believe their relationship anxiety has a negative effect on their relationships. Compared to non-anxious partners in romantic relationships GAD sufferers were:
- Half as likely to perceive themselves as being in a “healthy, supportive” relationship.
- Twice as likely to experience relationship problems in communication, social activities, arguments, and sexuality.
- Three times more likely to avoid sexual intimacy.
- Seventy-five percent believed their anxiety impaired their ability to participate in normal activities with their partner.
Relationship anxiety often creates mental state of suspiciousness and worry about their partners’ love, care, or faithfulness.
Becoming aware of their anxiety only serves to make them suspicious of their own thoughts and feelings. The inverse holds true as well: Suspicions about their own thoughts creates anxiety. The perception is there nothing to trust. Any evidence of love and care on the part of the other gets lost in the fear and confusion.
Persistent needs of reassurance, dramatic confrontations and destructive impulses create even more stress in the relationship. Intolerable mental-emotional states create an urgent need for relief (but make for bad decision making.) There is a downward spiral.
Anxious people blame themselves for not overcoming feelings of fear and panic and for the negative effects it has on their relationships. Despair takes hold. Traditional therapy leaves them “knowing better….but not being better.”
What we see as a pattern underneath the anxious person is someone who wants and needs (but is unable to receive) the closeness and security of relationship.
What we see in the relationship patterns of an anxious person is someone who desperately needs assistance with healing.
What we see in the unhealed stress responses requires much more, or something much different, than what either medication or thought-out rational explanations or problem-solving can even begin to provide.
What I see is a great need for Resonance Repatterning.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Frederick Buechner
Resonance Repatterning Practitioner specializing in abandonment and natural anxiety treatment
Resonance Practitioners Association Executive Board, Journal Committee, Skills Development Facilitator