Anxiety in Relationships: Don’t Take Anxiety Out on Others
Anxiety in relationships can cause problems because it’s very easy to take out your anxiety on others. Consider this hypothetical: you’re anxious about something – the cause isn’t important, and perhaps there is no cause. Regardless, it’s to the point where it’s actively affecting your day. Someone asks you a harmless question – for whatever reason, it sets you off and you snap at them. Clearly, anxiety in relationships is detrimental to you and those you care about, and if it happens, steps should be taken to prevent it.
Anxiety in Relationships Can Make Us Seem Self-Absorbed
People with anxiety are often framed as self-absorbed – this is both accurate and wildly misleading. It’s misleading because self-absorption is, with good reason, connoted negatively – when we think “self-absorbed,” we think of a Kardashian or a Martin Shkreli. But in its most basic, denotative sense, “self-absorbed” simply means to be more focused on oneself.
In that respect, I would agree that anxious people are more self-absorbed. We spend so much time micro-analyzing our own actions at the expense of nearly everything else. But unlike a Kardashian, we aren’t doing this for any sort of selfish gain. Our reasons are almost primitive: by hyper-focusing and worrying about all the little details, we can, best case scenario, save ourselves from becoming crippled by challenges or uncertainties. Indeed, from a biological perspective, anxiety is literally a defense mechanism triggered to save our lives.1
When framed in this way, is it any wonder why anxious people take out their anxiety on others? Our brain is interpreting an anxious situation with the same fight-or-flight mechanisms it would when our lives are in danger – in those situations, maintaining social decorum is often not our first priority ("Anxiety Can Make You Say Mean Things").
How to Stop Letting Your Anxiety Hurt Relationships
You can control the anxiety in relationships and the damage it causes. The first step is to remember that most anxious situations are not life-threatening; therefore, we need to try and stop acting as though they are. I think that’s a good first step – telling yourself that regardless of what your brain is telling you, you are not in danger. Anxiety will pass, and you will be okay. It takes time – after all, you’re retraining the most primitive parts of your brain – but it will get better.
A second step is to keep your loved ones constantly in your mind. Imagine the thought of your relationships with those people being ruined – would you want that? Of course not. I suppose I’m lucky in this respect – the thought of losing my loved ones upsets me more than just about anything else in the world, and so I’m always doing whatever I can to make sure those relationships are healthy.
At the risk of sounding “self-absorbed,” I sincerely believe that if more people thought like me, they would not take out their anxiety on others and the negative effects of anxiety in relationships would almost disappear. Our relationships – be they with friends, family, what have you – are irreplaceable. Nothing on Earth is more important than making sure they last as long as they can. Nothing – not even anxiety – should ever get in the way of that.
- Steimer, Thierry Ph.D., "The Biology of Fear- and Anxiety-Related Behaviors". Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. September 2002.
DeSalvo, T. (2018, October 24). Anxiety in Relationships: Don’t Take Anxiety Out on Others, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2018/10/anxiety-in-relationships-dont-take-anxiety-out-on-others