Anxiety, Shoulds, Duty & Exaggerated Obligation

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Anxiety is the biggest problem I work with. Anxiety is a huge issue for tons of people. Anxiety means that fear drives your choices. Fear based choices make your world too small & tight which offers a false sense of safety.

Often anxious people solve their fears with planning, controlling behavior, a strong belief in duty, being wrapped up in shoulds or preferring a clear sense of right/wrong which avoids complicatedness. Anxious people love the certainty of shoulds, control, obligation & plans. They abhor uncertainty because fear breeds & grows there.

I’ve written before about anxious people as people pleasers. People pleasers want the certainty of being liked. They want to avoid the messiness of disagreement or rocking the boat. People pleasing is all about making decisions based on what will make others happy. Often this includes an exaggerated sense of obligation.

Anxious people often are motivated by fears of how other people will see you.

Worrying about everyone else & what they want (which is often disguised as care taking) is about reacting to others. The anchor of your ego is based outside of yourself & on what you do for others. This is often way too lopsided.

While you may never be excellent at trusting your own anchors within yourself, it’s a real good idea to experiment with this in order to be less lopsided. Therapy is about having greater balance & more choices.

So ask yourself what is the opposite of Shoulds, Duty, Plans, Control, Obligation & Certainty?

I would suggest Playful, Imaginative, Openness, Spontaneity & accepting uncertainty as ordinary in life. These all can percolate from within yourself.

Toddlers & infants are a joy to watch because they naturally have all of these qualities. I loved watching my grandson just pushing everything he could find thru the cat door. He adores the power of making the disappearance happen for huge amounts of time. He has discovered this activity & delights in it from within himself. It has nothing to do with anybody else. That’s exactly the kind of energy you must find within & act upon.

The secret to a healthy ego is balancing both a good sense of other’s wants & concerns, along with a clarity of knowing who you are & what you want from within.


OCD & learning more about it leads to Control

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OCD isn’t just about washing your hands like Lady Macbeth. OCD is the disease of anxiety on steroids. Fear is in charge & by thinking obsessively or following compulsive rituals you create a sense of “safety” which is stolen from fear. The French once called OCD ‘la folie de doute’ which translates to ‘the doubting disease’.

When getting ready for a party or packing for a trip we may describe ourselves as “a little OCD”. Having the disease means your OCD interferes with functioning in your life.

We all want an OCD surgeon or an OCD wallpaper hanger because they will be hyper-careful & most likely be excellent. We want all doubt extinguished in these activities. An OCD employee will most likely be organized & very on top of things.

OCD often means missing out on fun & pleasure just like the perfectionist. Enjoying themselves is not easily done. Correcting, fixing & constantly being productive are often hallmarks of OCD. Accepting things as they are, not their strong suit.

OCD people are addicted to shoulds. Things should be a certain way. I called him & I wouldn’t wait two days to call back so how can he?!?! Rolling with things as they happen, not really on their radar. Flexible is not their best thing, so they can be hard to work for.

There is an abundance of help. Consider exploring this first book, even if you are massively obsessive without the compulsive component. Brain Lock by Jeffrey Schwartz, includes diagrams of the brain to help you understand what is happening. He also has a 32 minute video of four steps that can help you be in control:

Another book is Freedom From OCD by John Grayson. There is an online OCD support group in the yahoo self-help groups.

Dr. Phillipson has written an excellent online article saying that two places OCD people can get stuck are 1. sexual orientation & 2. whether or not a relationship is the “right” one. He offers a lot of insight on his website: ocdonline

In conclusion, it is crucial to learn to accept that ambiguity, being uncomfortable emotionally & embracing uncertainty is a normal part of living life well. Soothing your brain to cope with confusion instead of trying to falsely shove yourself into delicious black & white certainty.

Everything has tradeoffs. It’s the goods & bads intermingled that make us all human. Every city, person, relationship, career, decision is a mixture of strengths & weaknesses. There are only answers that you have to decide are right for you, accept that all answers are not perfect. We must learn to live with the pain of not knowing we are absolutely right.

Feel Overwhelmed by Emotions? You are Not Alone!

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Feeling overwhelmed by feelings with no clue how to manage them is at the core of addiction problems. A central problem of anxiety is being to easily swamped by fears. In depression it is feeling devastated by despair & hopelessness.

Many people are overpowered by their anger as evidenced by the news reports of Alec Baldwin. The intrusiveness of obsessiveness can wreck many people’s lives as evidenced by women who compare themselves unfavorably to everyone else. Perfectionists suffer from a persistent feeling that they are never enough and torture themselves needlessly.

There are soooo many ways to be confused & overwhelmed by feelings, how do you cope or control them?

*The first step is to accept it is totally possible to think & feel at the same time. This would mean deciding not to let feelings take up all the space.
*The second step is to become suspicious of feelings; they are not an inner compass but often, exaggerated & very manipulative.
*The third step is to make a choice to think through your feelings. This means taking time out of your jam-packed life to develop a new habit.

An example: You feel like you are not good enough for your partner. You’ve been dating for 3 years & you want commitment, they seem happy the way it is. This feeling leads you to despair because your Mom left the family home & you behind when you were 12. So when you are with your partner, you start putting up walls & seem easily irritated because they are not choosing you. When you are alone you feel hopeless & in despair.

So thinking all this through it seems clear you need to take some action & not do a big emotional dump that only leads to a dead-end. “OK 1. I’m feeling sensitive due to my past & it’s not their job to make that up to me. 2. 3 years is a good amount of time. Do I want to ask them to decide or free me up to find someone else, not as a threat but as a reasonable conclusion to spending all this time together. 3. Is commitment really important to me, after all?”

THINK THROUGH YOUR FEELINGS is how you control your emotions instead of letting them run rough shod all over you.

Learn about feelings and think of them as tools available to you in the emotional tool box. Even anger when you are in control can be constructive. Consider the opposite of each feeling as a way to get a grip. The opposite of anger is being vulnerable. Anger is self protective which is the opposite of vulnerability.

Another example: the opposite of FEAR is ????? Fear & excitement always travel together. So push & shove your mind to potential excitement in whatever you are afraid of because they are both present, whether or not it feels that way.

Guilt is one emotion that, similar to fear, people allow to run amuck. I am amazed at how people can feel guilty about trying to set reasonable boundaries with an intrusive parent or saying no instead of their usual knee-jerk yes. Here is one way to think more clearly about guilt: When guilt is reasonable it is accurate about an obligation. When someone wants too much from you then it is really unreasonable and the truth is you feel resentful but being nice is too important so you swallow your guilt and then it eats at you from within.

There is a lot of information about emotions on the emotion page of my website.

Relationships in Addictions (Understanding Codependency Works Both Ways)

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Relationships with an addictive partner often have a pattern that both partners create together. The non-addict has an enormous number of expectations with so many ideas of how life is supposed to be lived. The addict is often buried in Silence and slinks around to get their needs met through the back door.

Too demanding + Silent maneuvering = No Trust or
Controlling + Lying, avoiding the truth = No Trust

You can see how these work in tandem to create massive problems. While it is easy to point the finger at the addict, it is more of a struggle for the non-addict to recognize their part in things because they are filled with self righteous anger. The truth is both people have to change to make a relationship work over the long haul (or both people have to stay stuck with less anger & deceit).

This pattern is why so many marriages crash in recovery. Both people have to be willing to look at themselves & change. It is so much easier to blame everything on the addict.

I’ve listened to a lot of addicts struggle to be authentic and say “I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d be mad”. They swallow the disagreement or the more genuine response to make the other person happy. This strategy only works for the short haul.

Over time the lack of truth erodes the infrastructure. Most addicts have a hard time telling themselves the truth, much less anybody else. Often the burden of their own self hatred makes it impossible for them to believe anybody else really could love them. So they work hard to please others by deflecting the truth.

When the non-addict gets angry about all the lies they’ve discovered, then the addict crawls into their internal pile of shame & says “of course, this is what I deserve”. You can see the relentless pattern of misery that is created. Now the non-addict is more entitled to know what’s right for both of them and respect continues to erode.

The addict is often resentful & feels disrespected because they feel invisible (even though they have had a part in swallowing their own beliefs). The non-addict has lost their respect because of the lying & secrets they have stumbled upon. The future of the relationship depends on whether the respect can be restored to both parties in the process of recovery.

Relationships die because of a lack of respect. Codependent relationships (relationships where people are fused together or are too mushy) by their very nature, lack respect for the differences.

Marijuana Use Daily; A Problem?

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Marijuana is a problem because you feel good without doing anything. Love of marijuana often goes along with a lot of coasting in life; sidestepping goals & not working too hard on studying because you are satisfied with just getting by. Life is a lot of hard work and we adore avoiding the struggle.

People that I know who smoke pot don’t smoke it once in a while. Choice is what makes you mentally healthy. Smoking marijuana every day is not about making choices.

Someone I know is grateful he got in legal trouble which motivated him to finally stop smoking marijuana. He is glad that this happened because he realizes he was using pot to treat his anxiety, by self medicating. I asked him to share his experience:

“When I first quit smoking pot, I felt so bored. I’d get sweaty and clammy for no reason. I was so impatient about everything, like I was constantly on edge. I had no appetite or desire to eat. It was a battle falling asleep at night. Whenever I would notice these things, my first instinct was to smoke a bowl. I wondered when I was going to calm down and became very impatient about that too. This lasted for roughly three days.

I smoked a lot of pot; every opportunity I’d get I’d be smoking a bowl from the minute I’d wake up until the minute I planned to go to sleep. I knew it wasn’t the best thing for me but I also knew I could be doing a lot worse. Something about the way it relaxed me, it was like no other. It made it easier for things to just roll off my back.

I started going to NA meetings. Addiction is something I can easily relate to. It didn’t take long for me to feel comfortable at the meetings. I remember my third or fourth a meeting a guy said, “We need each other in these rooms, to tell us what we’re doing is wrong. As addicts, we can’t see it or simply don’t want to see it. Therefore, we can help each other.” It made so much sense to me.

The next day, I began applying these gems of wisdom in my everyday life. I would share these things with my girlfriend. We started reading the “Just for Today” daily mediations every morning together and we would talk about it. Before long, our relationship started getting better.

Today without marijuana, I can see myself becoming more patient. I am more motivated and do not procrastinate nearly as much as I used to. I remember things, like what I need to do that day or where I left my keys. My girlfriend tells me she can see the clarity in my eyes. She also tells me my mood swings aren’t so severe. And, I am much easier to talk to.

Some of the regulars at the meetings have started to recognize me. They hug me when I walk in and ask how I’m doing. I can honestly say people are genuine to me, and it really feels good. I look forward to going to these meetings and seeing certain people. They, the meetings and the people, make me feel better about myself. They help take the shame away. There is always at least one person that can relate to whatever I say within those rooms.”

A twist of fate helped him recognize marijuana was a real problem. Stop & ask yourself whether or not you might be more alert in your life without the daily use of marijuana….

Read more on my website: Listen to my podcast “What Healthy Couples Know that You Don’t” on website, iTunes or download with your favorite podcast app.


Two Stressful Paths that Anxiety Travels Upon

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One path is to be the kind, thoughtful people pleasing person who wants to be liked so they often have a hard time being genuine. The other path is to be irritable, impatient & cranky in order to be impervious. Both paths have piles of fear & insecurities underneath.

The people pleasing path is controlling by being so likable. If everybody likes me I can avoid the uncertainty of not being liked. Control is all about creating certainty. The grumpy path is control by pushing everyone away, to avoid the uncertainty of what can happen in the messiness of dealing with others.

Both of these paths are lopsided. Achieving balance requires more range. So the grumpy one needs to be willing get along & the people pleaser needs to be more grumpy and say “No”.

While the exterior for both is very different the solution is the same; be more vulnerable & truthful.

Anxiety is powerful and easily robs people of their choices. Life is all about choices so it’s a shame to restrict practicing choices by deflecting uncertainty. Uncertainty is a huge part of life & learning to cope with it is about growing up.

Anxiety seduces people into avoiding mistakes. Mistakes are super important in order to learn & grow. How many kids avoid doing something because they won’t be a success? Mistakes are one way of learning how to make uncertainty more bearable.

It is deeply cultural to avoid & deflect instead of dealing with something difficult. Anxiety is pervasive because people fear uncertainty & define it as stressful instead of embracing it as a part of growth.

Someone’s feelings are hurt & instead of saying so they don’t answer the phone or texts. Avoidance is most often about anxiety. “If I answer the phone and let them know I’m hurt I don’t know what will happen. I do not want to deal with the uncertainty. Not answering the phone gives me the feeling of control. (& that’s how I pretend to reduce my stress)”

This same conclusion is reached by both the grumpy one & the people pleaser. Think about all the unanswered calls you’ve made or the calls you’ve avoided.

Brain science tells us that the brain loves novelty. Anxiety loves the certainty of the familiar. Often people go on vacation to the exact same spot because it’s comforting to know where to go & what to do. Try taking a risk & go somewhere new & your brain will be grateful to explore new territory.

Certainty is not all that glorious. Both the grumpy one & the people pleaser need to risk more uncertainty and their lives will be richer for it! Indeed since medieval times it has been said “Fortune Favors the Bold.”

When Control is Ugly & Evolves into Abuse Part 2

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Working at Pittsburgh Action Against Rape to develop the Incest Program in the early 80’s I learned a lot about ugly levels of power & control in a relationship. Abuse is a word I am careful with. There is physical, emotional & verbal abuse and also neglect.

There is a lot of certainty in the abuser and a lot of doubt & uncertainty within the victim. They question their own perceptions even while terrible things are going on. In the previous post it was clearly described that people with control issues have buckets of certainty.

Buckets of certainty insures the controller against his/her own insecurity. Sandusky is still claiming his innocence from prison. The power & certainty of feeling right, about something that is wrong is what got him in prison in the first place. Ultimately the certainty of certainty is hollow comfort & it’s entirely enough for an abuser.

Embracing uncertainty is part of being authentic. Becoming more secure within yourself is finding the courage to face painful truths within yourself instead of dumping ugliness on other people. Abuse is a detour to avoid the ugliness within.

Those who are abused are often so busy questioning their own judgement that they too, are drowning in insecurities. So seeking validation about your experience is a good way to begin the process of defining whether or not your reality is as awful as you suspect it is.

One thing that can be helpful is taking an online test as a way to both explore & confirm your  own experiences. There are 25 questions on this website: There is also a place where people write their own stories which might be helpful in not feeling so alone. Another test on emotional abuse that is composed of 13 questions can be found here: Beverly Engel has also written the book that is pictured with this post; The Emotionally Abusive Relationship.

The abused victim also has a part in what they are going through if they are too afraid to set boundaries. Boundaries require a sense of self & less insecurities. When you can say “I am mistreated (or abused )” to yourself then you are on the brink of beginning to change. It’s a boundary within yourself that begins by recognizing that the relationship is unhealthy because you are not respected.

You can see how powerful insecurities play a role in both the abusers rigid, “I know I’m right!” abuse & the victims codependent, masochistic, putting up with too much ugliness part of the equation. Insecurities can lead to desperateness which leads to a lot of horror.

The self righteous anger of the abuser is like the hurricane pelting the Northeast as I type…..there is no empathy or compassion for anything that stands in the way of what it demands.