One area of my expertise is working with anxiety and stress. 85% of my client base is formed of people who are experiencing stress or anxiety in one or more areas of their lives, which is no surprise when you look at what we've come to accept as 'everyday life'. Why, you ask, would I choose to spend all day dealing with other people's stresses and vexations when I could have a job riding unicorns around Saturn or something? Because I've been there, done that and got the full set of 'Now Anxiety' albums. I get it. I know how these particular creatures work and what you can do to outwit them and - most importantly - I know there's a better life on the other side. In today's post, I hope to share with you one tip that really kicks anxiety's butt from here to Mars!
It's no surprise to me that a lot of my anxiety clients are people who fall into the 'rescuer' category on the Karpman Drama Triangle. They are the people who would describe themsleves as 'people pleasers', 'mediators', the family 'rock'. Now, to some extent, this is an admirable stance to take in life: rescuers are loving and compassionate people. However, they are also people who prefer to deal with other people's problems rather than addressing their own, as well as pushing their own needs to one side time and time again to fulfil the needs of others.
These rescuers eventually graduate into what Susan David decsribes in her book, 'Emotional Agility', as 'bottlers' and 'brooders'. David writes about bottlers:
'bottling is usually done with the best intentions, and to the practical person it does feel productive. 'Think positive,' 'forge forward' and 'get on with it', we tell ourselves. And poof, just like that the unwanted (negative) emotions seem to vanish. But really they've just gone underground, ready to pop back up at any time, and usually with surprising and inappropriate intensity created by the containment pressure they've been under.'
Of brooders, she writes:
'brooders stew in their misery, endlessly stirring the pot around. Brooders can't let go, and they struggle to compartmentalise as they obsess over a hurt, perceived failure, shortcoming or anxiety.'
Karpman's rescuers and David's brooders and bottlers have one thing in common: they don't listen to their negative emotions. By that, I mean that they often feel guity for feeling angry or irritated; instead of giving a voice to those more potent emotions, they push them to one side and ignore them, often feeling fearful of acknowledging their own needs. And what becomes of these over-kind and over-compassionate people? They turn up to their therapy session feeling angry or irritated and convinced it's a great unsolvable mystery as to why they are feeling so pissed off. In reality, it's no mystery: it's the result of their own lack of self-compassion.
So many of us are ashamed of our 'negative' emotions, often because our parents taught us not to express our anger or upset, but to 'get a grip', 'man up' or 'be polite'. The link between our attitude towards our 'negative' emotions and what Marshall B Rosenberg refers to as our 'unmet needs' explains why so many of us end up feeling stressed and anxious.
In her book, Susan David urges us to 'show up' to our negative emotions and accept them rather than fear them or feel as though they are a weakness in us. Instead, we need to treat feelings, such as anger and sadness, as signposts - but signposts to what? This is where Rosenberg's work comes in: in his book, 'Non-Violent Communication', Rosenberg shares an anecdote about a new suit, a workshop and an incident involving an ink pen. In a nutshell, Rosenberg, knowing he had another appointment to make, fulfils the requests of a swarm of grateful fans, only to make himself late, make himself rush, and end up ruining a new suit. The moral of the story? To be compassionate and forgiving to yourself and to ask yourself what the umet need is that lies behind your irritation and anger.
Now, here's the magic word: NEED.
Nine out of ten people I work with on stress and anxiety issues struggle to explain their own needs, mainly because, whilst in the role of rescuer, they've spent so long thinking about or pussy-footing around the needs of others that their own needs are buried beneath a thick layer of dust and cobwebs!
So: here's a simple process to help you brush off that dust, reduce your anxiety and get your anger heard...
1. ACCEPT the negative emotion you are feeling and align yourself to it; that emotion is a part of you trying to be heard, so listen to what it has to say.
2. SHOW GRATITUDE for that emotion and what it is signposting you to; mentally thank it for drawing your attention to something you need that you haven't got.
3. REFLECT upon what it is signposting you to: what is the unmet need?
4. ACT upon what you discover; if that need is to have some space to yourself, meet that need through one concrete action within the next 24 hours.
If you're feeling angry, stressed, disappointed or sad, drop me a line and we can work together to find out what those needs are that you're not meeting. Alternatively, read more about the usefulness of negative emotions or the importance of connecting to our needs in David and Rosenberg's books - details are below.
'Emotional Agility' - by Susan David. Published by Penguin - see her TED talk here:
'Non-Violent Communication' - by Marshall B Rosenberg. Published by PuddleDancer Press - listen to a brief overview of NVC here: