Relationships, we all have them so we know how tricky it can feel sometimes. By paying attention to my story as well as my clients’ stories, I’ve been noticing that anxiety, with its impact on interpersonal relationships, is a growing concern. Many of my clients seek counseling due to symptoms of anxiety once it begins to spill unto their relationship dynamics. How about you? Are you familiar with anxiety? with intimacy blocks? Can you think of how they are connected?
Per the DSM, fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat. If you have experienced any, then you know that it becomes a chatter that doesn’t let you be. It disturbs your peace, therefore, it disturbs everything. Anxiety has the ability to deter you from your path, yourself and from others. Anxiety has a silent way to disrupt relationships, impacting intimacy.
In this post, I’ll share, in simple terms, how anxiety activates defense mechanisms which impact intimacy and/or relationships. Let me know if you relate to any of these. Note however, these are just simple scenarios to inspire a reflection since anxiety can show itself in many different ways.
1- Anxiety, love and expectations
Society has been known to condition us into thinking/believing that by a certain age we have to be married, with kids, a career and a house, with a great car and a savings account. For some of us, things haven’t happened in that order or just not happened at all. Our expectations about our ability to attain these goals or “live up to” societal/personal assumptions creates anxiety. We begin to fear being unable to carry out our plans. If we tell ourselves we haven’t accomplished this or that, anxiety strikes with its poor future forecast. We begin to belittle present efforts, blame, judge, shame and even punish ourselves. Whether you are doing this to yourself or to a partner, anxiety will begin to alienate you from a healthy emotional connection. Once our connection is disturbed, what follows is usually a weaker sense of commitment.
For instance, many single people out there question if they’ll stay single forever since their anxiety has front row seats and whispers “Yes, you will…this is not happening, that is not happening, you are not happening.” Singles then resort to memories of “failed” relationships, recurrent one night stands or mediocre dates to validate their negative thinking. By focusing on the past we then invite that same past into our future. If we are not choosing to consciously filter such thoughts then we tend to recycle them throughout the week, month, year. Your thoughts either send you into a spiral which either propels you into confronting the threatening voice in your head or surrendering to it by creating walls, separation and defensiveness expressed through an aloof sense of intimacy. You then claim, “Love is not for me…I don’t believe in Love,” or better yet, “I ain’t ready for love, I just want to have fun.” Such statements actually assist in creating and maintaining a self-fulfilling prophecy through your actions where love has not been invited at all, just your anxiety and fears.
Poor communication hinders intimacy which wounds relationships, including your relationship with yourself. Relationships end when its characters constantly create separation. Keep in mind, intimacy does not mean sex, yet sex will also be impacted.
2- Shit happens in Marriages too
Married couples are seen by some as being in a “different level;” yet that level also comes with junk. Whether you are legally married or co-habitating, you are not free from anxiety and its iron fist. Financial concerns, unexpected familial issues, affairs, children, work frustrations, social influences or personal changes impact your dynamic. Depending on how many of those categories are being challenged, anxiety flourishes parallel to them. Partners often “don’t want to worry” the other with their troubles, which immediately creates separation. You begin to hear statements as “We don’t talk anymore…he/she is going to think I’m crazy if I…I stopped doing this because…we’re just not having as much fun or sex anymore.” I work with individuals/couples who are processing an affair; an addiction; a divorce; an abusive situation. I’ve learned that if we let situations, thoughts, feelings accumulate while also hiding or protecting those issues, intimacy will suffer. As intimacy decreases, anxiety increases. It becomes a cycle.
3- Intrusive thoughts, trauma and relationships
Trauma, we’ve all experienced it. Some through divorce, some through loss, some through accidents, others through safety concerns. You name it, it’s valid. I work with clients who experience intrusive thoughts- thoughts of harm to self or others. Intrusive thinking can become debilitating, activating, for the person experiencing them, constant fear, constant battles. They all have a theme and from my experience, their source stems from past trauma. They instigate shame, while supporting self-labels such as “crazy…not normal…bad for thinking this…always afraid of what I could do.” It’s a constant trick. The more you hide this experience, the more you feel misunderstood, which feeds your sense of separation allowing you to continuously isolate. Anxiety then remains lurking around; Haunting, activating the trauma yet expressing it differently.
If you find yourself experiencing anxiety, begin by observing how it expresses itself. Ask yourself, “When did I start noticing changes…any changes?” Your symptoms might innovate with time as you might find that different ‘unrelated’ triggers set you off. Invite the anxiety in as it happens. Talk yourself through it, yet be mindful of your self talk during it. The way you respond either adds or reduces power from the anxiety. Observe how it has begun to impact your relationship(s). Reframe from judging and shaming. Assess. Have you been isolating in any way- physically, emotionally? If so, do you want to continue that way? That’s when you introduce choices, options to allow a disruption of your fears and symptoms. Anxiety is an alarm system. Pay attention to it. If you keep snoozing, it will keep going off, recurrently alarming you.
If you experience anxiety, in any type of way, seek support, seek healing, nourish yourself. Share your experience with loved ones so that they are aware of your experience. Understanding the source of your anxiety might work wonders. Remember, anxiety is the biggest trickster out there, but without supervision it can wound deeper than needed. Counseling can bring awareness into your current dynamic and precipitants. Some people experiencing anxiety can benefit from medication, consult with your physician and/or clinician. Talk about it. Anxiety loves isolation, but you are too damn special to hide your light.
With love and compassion,