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I wrote a post back in August about the Surrender Reflex (HERE). In it I talked about how we get TRAINED by anxiety into giving up. It’s a terrible training, but one that we can reverse and kick out of our lives.

Today’s post is a follow-up to that August post. I am going to talk about how that trained giving up that anxiety sets us up for takes shape – i.e., the ways we explain to ourselves why it’s OK to give up.

News flash: giving up takes us nowhere. Nowhere. It is SO tempting, so alluring to just throw in the towel and say things like “I’m never going to get free of anxiety” or “this is too hard for me.” But none of those things are true and none of those things are useful.

Let’s start the list:

It’s Hard

Hey, this is hard work. I’m not going to contest that. Hell yes this is hard work. It’s tedious, it’s exhausting, it often sucks and it would be nice if someone could just make this stop. I’ve heard all these things and I SAID all these things myself when I was slogging through this work.

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But it is easy to make hard a reason to give up. Anything new we learn will challenge us. Any new set of skills will require some sweat and toil. Certainly changing the habit patterns of anxious thinking is harder than learning to ride a bike or play the guitar.

And certainly Flight or Fight doesn’t make it any easier. This work demands that we learn new thinking skills and face down the crap we’re getting in our body and feelings. That work won’t come easy, and we will fight that work. Change is hard!

But so what? Do we want lives that are free of chronic anxiety or not? Hard is a quality, not an impassible barrier. It’s hard being pregnant and giving birth (or at least so I’m told – I’ve never had a baby and baby, that seems MUCH harder than overcoming anxiety, at least as far as this boy is concerned.) 🙂

Hard gets a bad rap. Hard makes us stronger. Hard means that we have to lean in and really dig for this work. Hard makes us smarter. Hard is largely based in the NEWNESS of this work for us – the often alien way this is making us rethink our thinking, the task of actually changing and challenging thinking (which most of us never learned to do, and which seems freaky and alien.)

Hard – but not impossible. Hard – but totally within reach. And it definitely gets easier and faster AS we learn to treat problems as problems, and as we learn to stop making Flight or Fight reactions into a crisis.

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It’s Lonely Work

Holy crap, yes, this is lonely work. I’m not going to fight you there. It seems like nobody really understands what we’re going through. People look at us like we’re mutants, they get impatient with our fears, they get frustrated when we won’t do what they want to do or when we just want to stay home and hide under the covers.

Yeah it’s often lonely. And? Does that mean we shouldn’t do this work, or that it isn’t worth doing? Of course not. Lonely is a quality, not an impassable barrier.

Of course we’re not truly alone. Not these days. There are lots of people talking to each other in places like Facebook and other online communities who are there to support us in our fight against anxiety. We can find people to talk to, people who understand and have been where we are in this fight.

(I would offer a suggestion that we, as we find and get involved in such groups, be leery of lots and lots of discussions about symptoms of Flight or Fight reactions, or how terrible the day is, beyond some focused sympathy and getting good information about the commonality of this fight for all of us. It can get easy to get lost in too much comparing of miseries – and that isn’t going to help us. It can in fact add to our anxiety, and we sure as hell don’t need THAT when we’re breaking the habit of anxious thinking.)

That isn’t counting the therapists, doctors and coaches who actually get this work and are there to help us as well. We can and should avail ourselves of that help as much as we can! (See my post HERE for more about finding a therapist.) And we’re of course usually not utterly alone even within our own communities and families.

It might mean having to get clean with people we care about – explaining to them, making them listen, teaching them how they can support and help you. Yeah, that might be challenging. But then we’ve developed a nasty habit of running away from the things that scare us – and that hasn’t worked out so well, right?

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I’m not strong enough

Forgive this next word, but, well, bullshit. If you’re here, on the planet, and you’re still breathing, you’re strong enough to do this work. No, you’re not the Man (or Woman) of Steel that you’d like to be, but you have the strength you need.

Hey, you’ve been anxious for years and decades, and you’re still here, yes? You’ve had terrible panic attacks or fought chronic unrelieved anxiety or fought ongoing depression (or all three) and you’re still breathing the air, yes? Then you’re strong enough to do this work.

When we say we’re not strong enough we’re really saying we don’t FEEL strong enough – and right away we’re talking the results of our anxious thinking, not any accurate measure of our actual strength. Don’t fool yourself that you’re not strong enough.

It is SO tempting to default to how we feel! Holy crap! But feeling not strong enough is just that – a feeling. Anxiety fighters are usually blind to their own strength. Any of us can do this work – if we begin to develop the habit of not letting feelings and sensations decide for us what we can and can’t do.

Other people don’t have to fight so hard

OK – it can feel that way. It can sure as hell look that way. People seem to breeze through the world, smiles on their faces, clothes clean, heads held high – it looks SO much easier for them.

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Except we have no idea what they’re dealing with in their lives – do we? This judging of other people’s lives and challenges based on how they LOOK – it’s a classic behavior of anxiety fighters. It’s an easy, nasty and useless habit to fall into if we’re not careful.

EVERYBODY has challenges. EVERYBODY is missing pieces of the puzzle and is having to make their way. So they have perfect teeth? So they get to ride around in Porches? So what? You don’t know what battles they are engaged in, there in the marches of the night, by themselves, with no-one to impress and no image to maintain.

And speaking of images, most of us anxiety fighters are doing a damn fine job of portraying a life of calm and zen peacefulness to the people around us. Most folks in our lives have no idea the battles we are engaged in, EVEN WHEN WE TELL THEM. They may hear it – but they don’t really GET IT until they have to deal with it themselves.

Kvetching about other people having it easier than us won’t take is anyplace. Doesn’t mean we can’t once in a while mutter to ourselves about how WE’D like to have a Porsche or perfect teeth – but we are then better served to get on with where WE are, not where someone else appears to be…

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It’s unfair

Damn right it’s unfair. Nobody should have to fight this fight. Just like nobody should have to fight cancer, or diabetes, or high blood pressure, or get in a car accident, or ever lose a child, or be poor, or deal with political debates. 🙂

So what? Fairness conversations are best left to the sports and the courtroom. Life is what it is, for each of us. Getting lost in debating the fairness of our situations when it comes to issues like anxiety or physical challenges is largely a waste of time and will produce little that is useful for us.

By all means draw boundaries. Fairness is part of living in the human community. Don’t be a doormat. But if you really think anxiety is unfair then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Wade in, attack the thinking that scares you, unlearn your learned flinching back from Flight or Fight, and CHANGE YOUR CRISIS TO PROBLEM THINKING.

Then you won’t care nearly so much if it’s fair or not. 🙂 By all means, get mad. Get frustrated that you feel weak. Be sad for yourself. Cover yourself in sackcloth and ashes. 🙂 It’s LEGAL! We fighters of anxiety are so quick to beat ourselves up for “being weak” or other unkind things we think about ourselves. This is hard work! Pity parties are part of the journey and we’re not losers if we succumb to frustration and fury over the struggle some days.

The problem isn’t getting upset or feeling sorry for ourselves. The problem is not taking action despite feeling that way.

Avoiding the thinking that makes us surrender

I hope that today’s list of ways we talk ourselves out of doing the necessary work to overcome anxiety is useful to you. This kind of thinking derailed me for way too long in my own fight, and I hope this discussion helps you lessens your own tendencies to get lost in less-than-useful thinking.

We are strong – stronger than we know, even with as hard as this work can feel. We are not freaks living with weird problems. Yes, it’s lonely work – but we’re not really alone. Yes, we are dealing with an unfair burden – but we can deal with it and get RID of that burden.

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