Does Anxiety Make You Too Passive? Stop Being a Doormat
Anxiety has many nasty effects, one of which can be making us too nice or too passive. I'm guilty of this. While I do consider myself to be genuinely kind and considerate, I often take this characteristic a bit too far, putting my own thoughts and emotions aside and even altering my actions for the sake of others. If you find yourself doing much more giving and very little "taking," read on for a look at how anxiety can make us too passive and a few tips on how to begin the process of picking yourself up off the doorstep of life.
To be sure, compromise is good and to live among others requires a give-and-take approach to life. Being forceful, bossy, and confrontational isn't the key to healthy relationships and a happy life; however, nor is being a passive doormat and habitually refraining from speaking up for yourself to avoid confrontation. Many different factors contribute to a tendency to be passive in relationships and life in general. Anxiety is one such cause of submissiveness.
Why Anxiety Can Make Us Too Passive
Anxious thoughts and emotions interfere in how we experience ourselves, others, and the world around us. Many aspects of anxiety that can make you hesitant to speak up for yourself (whether that's expressing a desire, an opinion, or displeasure in the way someone is treating you), including:
- Concern about what others think about you
- Worry about saying the wrong thing
- Fear of rejection, humiliation, etc.
- Imagining disastrous consequences of asserting yourself (such as losing a job or relationship)
- A heightened sense of responsibility for others' happiness
- Feelings of guilt for almost everything, including putting yourself first
The effects of anxiety-induced passivity can have negative consequences. Always deferring to everyone else and refraining from standing up for yourself when being mistreated can mean that your own needs go unmet. It can also make you feel as though others either don't care about you or don't respect you (or both). These feelings can lead to resentment, unhappiness, increased anxiety, and other mental health challenges such as depression.
Being passive is often a deep-seated trait that develops over time. It's difficult to begin to assert yourself--especially when anxiety is at work behind the scenes--but you can learn to stop being a doormat.
How to Be Less Passive and More Assertive Despite Anxiety
You might not want to completely change the way you interact in the world--and that's perfectly okay. You don't have to change who you are in order to start voicing your thoughts when you want or need to do so. Becoming assertive when you live with anxiety is a gradual process that takes you out of your comfort zone (something that people with anxiety tend to hate), so be patient with yourself. Some tips for speaking up for yourself include:
- Develop awareness--begin to notice your reactions (thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations like tension) when you defer to others; what situations cause the strongest reactions?
- Notice patterns--identify the situations or people that, when you stay passive, cause you the most negative reactions.
- Start small--choose a situation in which you're ordinarily pretty passive (maybe selecting a place to eat) and practice asserting yourself (pipe up and suggest a place to go for dinner).
- Stay with it--Continue to practice assertiveness by speaking up; perhaps commit to voicing your opinion at least three times a week at first.
- Work toward bigger issues--as you experience some success and gain confidence, you can begin to speak up in matters that mean the most to you (the ones you identified when you were developing awareness and noticing patterns).
Think of the process of becoming more assertive, less passive, as personal growth that will ultimately decrease anxiety as you become more comfortable with yourself and others. You can still be the kind and considerate person you are. You'll simply be standing beside others rather than under their feet.
What have you noticed about anxiety and passivity in your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Peterson, T. (2020, July 2). Does Anxiety Make You Too Passive? Stop Being a Doormat, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 29 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2020/7/does-anxiety-make-you-too-passive-stop-being-a-doormat
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
I think this is such a wonderful read and one that I actually don't see addressed often in connection to anxiety. This is so true though, for many reasons, including the ones you listed. I think the fear of rejection, and a heightened sense of responsibility are particularly interesting ones to look at. Thank you for sharing!
I completely agree with you that fear of rejection and sense of responsibility are huge. These are concepts worth exploring!