“A friend of mine was learning how to swim, when he suddenly felt he was starting to drown. He began splashing wildly about when his instructor told him to stand up. Much to my friend’s relief and embarrassment, he discovered he was okay.”
Anxiety is based on primal fear, and primal fear is based on the idea of not having enough. Not having enough of your basic needs met and perishing before you reach a ripe age, not having not enough social support and being vulnerable, and the list could go on. The point is that when we are struggling with anxiety our mindset operates on the idea of scarcity. When we think from a place of scarcity, we are fearful, we are timid, we are excessively selfish, we are desperate and hurried in our decision making. The mind of the anxious person is irrational, like the story of my friend learning how to swim and pessimistic, picture yourself at noon in the middle of any desert during the summer months with less than a quarter of warm water left in your canteen.
The anxious person does not take any risk, because he operates from a place of what he might lose as opposed to what he might gain. This leads to a self fulfilling prophesy, where like the unfortunate hiker in the middle of the desert, the anxious person is careful about not exerting too much energy, least they might end up losing the little they have left.
By now the answer may have become obvious to you, to rid anxiety visualize yourself having enough of what you need. So once my friend learned that he was in the shallow end, he exercised more courage in his swimming lessons. So in essence, his level of safety was enough. Or you can also practice imaging yourself as a hiker with enough water to last you to the next well or tap.
How the mental practice of visualizing yourself easily getting your needs met, is not enough. This is because people who struggle with anxiety, have experienced anxiety for most of their lives. This means that for most of their lives, their brains have become wired to think in regards to scarcity. So they have become habituated to thinking in regards to timidity, desperation and primitive survival instincts. The good news is that our brains are malleable, meaning that it is never too late to learn new ways of thinking and doing.
There are cognitive behavioral strategies you can learn and implement which would make your practice of visual exercises fruitful. Here’s one, start small. Visualize yourself engaging in a small challenge, which you have passively dreaded due, to your perception of the risk to reward ratio, or your lack of confidence in yourself. Create a plan to follow through with this small challenge in which you create a narrative which consists of the best possible scenario and outcome for this challenge. Then when you are done engage in the challenge.
The mere process of your creating a plan for the challenge, rewires your brain to how you see the situation and increases your motivation to make you overcoming this challenge a reality. It is not uncommon for people to experience some emotional difficulty when practicing this exercise. These are usually due to past traumas. If you are experience difficulty completing this exercise due to difficult feelings you can’t get past, a therapist can help you process these difficult feelings and get you back on track.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and a professional life coach.
A young client relayed to me an experience with bullying. The bully accompanied by a few other peers with one of them armed with a cell phone camera, began poking fun at my client. At first my client tried to ignore him, but then he allowed his anger to get the best of him. This was when he lunged at his tormentor, the fight ended quickly with the bully being the victor. What made matters worse was that everyone who witnessed the incident stated that he (my client) started the fight, which was true.
By the time my client had been brought in by his parents to see me, he was knee deep in a state of helplessness. From his perspective, even when he was most angry he was still helpless in response to being bullied. Even in the adult world, I learn about adult versions of what my client went through. One person being on the receiving end of unfair treatment from others, and decides he is not going to take it anymore and lashes out. The result being a series of natural and logical consequences the person cannot manage.
You see, the real culprit is the belief that anger is somehow a motivator for overcoming unfair treatment from others or life challenges. I have read about this myth of anger in blogs, magazine articles and witnessed it being said in video logs. Anger does not inspire courage, anger is a natural occurring emotion that arises when we have come to believe that our humanity is being disregarded by someone or others. The process of using courage to stand up for one’s self actually comes the belief that you are confidence in practicing necessary acquired skills to stand up for yourself. Such a belief comes from the evidence of you practicing those acquired skills in similar situations.
So when the bully got the best of my client, it was because he was in better shape to do so. Or in the second example, where the person is unable to use his words to state his boundaries, it’s because he lacks the practice of having to assert himself in situations with high conflict.
Anger is a natural occurring emotion, that is most useful for infants and children. This is because all infants and children know are their needs and that their parents and guardians are responsible for getting those needs met. As the child matures, the parents teach him that he is responsible for getting his needs met and managing his emotions. This is where the traits of competency, confidence and courage from acquiring and practicing skills start to emerge.
In this video I discuss my professional opinion on the subject of anger and courage.