Why Me? Why You?
How is it that there are millions of people who go about the daily business of living without the slightest fear that they might be blind-sided by severe anxiety? How come there are so many people who never feel the need to avoid ordinary situations for fear that some embarrassing symptom – shaking, sweating and hyperventilating - might overtake them? Why is it that you and I suffer what others never experienced? As reassuring as if may be for someone who suffers from an anxiety condition to know that they are not alone, the question " Why me?" is natural.
Some of us think that we have "weak character". We believe that it is our destiny, our "cross to bear". Neither of these beliefs is true. The development of an anxiety condition is neither an indicator of character flaw nor of some cruel unchangeable fate. It is the product of a series of developmental factors that, in combination with stress, produce a massive physiological and psychological reaction. Developing a severe anxiety condition does not require the presence of these factors, but the more we identify with these factors, the more likely it is that we will experience severe anxiety at some time in our life. While it is true that some of these factors cannot be changed, the good news is that there are many changes you can make in the ways you think and the ways you behave now, that will allow you to better deal with the stress and anxiety you're feeling. When you make those changes the symptoms, and therefore the suffering disappear.
However, before we look at what can be done to help alleviate the fear and panic, it is necessary to understand the factors that create anxiety.
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LifeSkills - The Anxiety Program for Children and Teens
Childhood Experience Factors
In addition to genetic endowment, there are childhood experience factors that are also common among individuals with severe anxiety condition. Although some counselees find, like Kevin, that they "bat a thousand", not every anxiety and panic sufferer has experienced all of these factors in their childhood. But even a few of these experiences can start someone on the road to developing severe anxiety condition.
These are 11 predictive Childhood Experience Factors:
Once again we at CHAANGE/Lifeskills are being asked by a surprising number of readers about how it is they developed into severely anxious people. "What was different about me compared to those who didn't develop the condition?" Fortunately CHAANGE has the answer.
For now, what we can do to present the interesting answers to the question is create a short series in the CHAANGE/Lifeskills exchange newsletter monthly publication. The aim will be to present clearly the different aspects of this complex topic in a truly easily read way. Let's begin with a listing of some things we know about many of us who became severely anxious, inherited or learned factors. To begin we'll list the predictive childhood experience factors, 11 in all.
Separation Anxiety: Experienced professionals know that he loss of significant loved ones is one of the most problematic and painful experiences for the young child. In his pioneering work on separation anxiety, John Bowlby demonstrate that extended separation from or loss of a parent or parenting figure has lasting impact on the individual. However, other types of loses can trigger separation anxiety as well. The loss of employment or home , divorce, or even the emotional absence of a sibling, or perhaps a father or mother with whom the child has never been able to get close, can be the source of separation anxiety.
Alcoholism: While not every anxiety sufferer is the child of an alcoholic, having an alcoholic parent contributes to and intensifies other childhood experience factors. Typically, an alcoholic adult introduces an element of chaos into a household, which is particularly difficult for the sensitive child to endure. I have no doubt that my own childhood experience of growing up with an alcoholic parent, who I suspect was self-medicating to reduce her own anxiety pain, significantly contributed to my anxiety condition.
Critical Rearing: Mental health professionals understand the importance of instilling self-esteem in the young child through positive reinforcement and unconditional acceptance. Growing up with constant criticism makes it impossible for the young person to face new tasks with confidence. It is important for children to hear "good job!" and receive plenty of hugs.
Messages about Being Crazy: Children have many perfectly normal fears and fantasies. When adults in their lives misinterpret these fears and fantasies as "crazy", young ones begin to learn to discount their own normal processes. Various circumstances and recurrences can cause an overriding self-doubt regarding stability. In such an environment, children and adolescents begin to label themselves as "crazy" and these messages stay with them into adulthood.
Many Rules: In order for a child to move into the world with confidence, he/she must feel permission to explore and discover. Many rules that serve to restrict this process creates a person who finds new experiences threatening rather than challenging.
Big Secret: When a child grows up in a home where there is something important to the family and cannot discussed, the development of t trust both of self and others is compromised. This sends the message that the world is unsafe. A family that keeps an important matter secret teaches a child that it is not OK to ask about things that trouble them.
Parental Reversal: In recent years, both professional and popular literatures has spoken a great deal the "parentalized" or "prettified" child. It is understood that while appropriate chores and responsibilities are important for the normal maturation of a child, adult tasks and responsibilities have a profoundly negative effect on the young person. Certainly, it is constructive for older children to be expected to look out for the welfare of younger siblings. Helping prepare meals, set the table, clean up after meals and empty the trash are tasks that children can perform which contribute to normal maturation. However, a child who is given total responsibility to supervise younger siblings, plan and prepare meals, or maintain a family home is subject to almost constant anxiety and stress, as anyone would be who is required to perform a task beyond their ability. Furthermore, while they are trying to be adults, parentalized children loose valuable childhood experiences necessary for growing into confident adults.
Experiencing parental reversal is very common in the history of anxiety disorder counselees. Kevin has vivid memories or organizing the care of a severely handicapped younger sister between himself and his other siblings. When Ellaine was but 12 years old, she was placed in charge of her five younger siblings, one infant, and was expected to see that the house was cleaned, laundry washed and dried, and meals prepared. Her story is told in Part Two. When Elaine was 8 years old, she was given the total care of her newborn brother. She made the formula, changed and washed hid diapers, fed and looked after him morning and night. Even as adults new parents frequently feel overwhelmed by these responsibilities. Imagine the fear and anxiety they invoke in a child.
Naivete Regarding Body and Feelings: Many sufferers of anxiety conditions report that they not receive basic information about their normal bodily functions and their emotions. Eleanor's mother never discussed the facts of the human reproduction with her. Nor did she prepare her for the onset of menstruation. Such matters were also ignored in Claire's family. Crying, expressing anger or frustrations are normal human functions. Learning that these behaviors are forbidden can make a child feel fearful of normal physical reactions.
Performance Related Approval: All people, but particularly children, need unconditional positive regard in order to thrive. Dr. Carl Rogers suggested this idea in his writing and has been repeatedly confirmed in his studies and clinical observations. Unfortunately, many children rarely experience this nurturing and made to feel that they must earn their parents love. Claire's upbringing is prime example of performance related approval. In addition to being at the top of her class in school, she was also expected to be successful socially and excel in sports, art, drama and ballet.
"Perfect people" Concept: It has been said that an insistence on perfection will drive out the good. In no endeavor is that true than in child rearing. Perfection is simpy not a human trait. To require it of a child is to compromise the child's ability to cope with life confidently. The emphasis on perfection leads the child to believe that the solution to feeling put on control is to "know everything". This drives them to either give up, or to work, work, work, and believe that they should make no mistakes. I vividly remember how the mistaken idea contributed to my first panic attack. An "A" was no sufficient. I had to write a perfect examinations.
Better than Thou: A child growing up in a judgmental home learn two things: that they are significantly different from their peers, and that it is important to constantly compare themselves with others. Believing in no one's delightful uniqueness, but rather in one's moral, social, or intellectual superiority leads to a sense of isolation. Constantly comparing oneself to others focuses attention outside oneself and can serve as a substitute for introspection that helps one to achieve self-understanding. If a child is taught, either implicitly or explicitly, that "we just have to try a little harder". "Our house has to look s little better". We have to dress a little better". We have to perform a little better in the classroom, be better in sports". They feel that they are under constant pressure.
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The progress the last few weeks has been remarkable. There are times before I do things that I feel anxious, but once I am in the situation I can feel the impact of my CHAANGE work. I have extended my driving to much longer distances on highways with the CD "Driving without Anxioty" This is a great program!
- T.L. Maine
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