Emotional safety has long been something with which I have struggled, as anxiety runs in my family. My youngest, who struggles with it, asked me to define anxiety simply for him the other day and so I came up with this definition:
“Anxiety is when you don’t quite feel safe in your life and you’re constantly trying to find ways to feel safer.”
When that is your default setting, anything that you face in life, particularly when you are a child, has the potential to drop you into a whirlpool of fear because you already don’t feel safe, so your resilience is almost nil.
A good deal of therapy – counselling, CBT, psychiatry and NLP coaching – has got me to a place where I have a really good understanding of what goes on in my brain. I also take anti-anxiety medication so that my daily baseline is a feeling of some safety rather than constant fear. It still takes me a few days to recognise a new problem though, and I had an experience of that a couple of weeks back. I am going to share my experience with you because I think it’s a useful look at the paths our unconscious minds can take us down.
After 14 months kept apart by the pandemic, my man Alex came over to the UK from the States and stayed with me for a week in early May. Ours has always been a long distance relationship, so periods of togetherness followed by goodbyes and periods apart are the norm. We had been apart for so long though, and nothing about travel is certain even now, that when he left my brain decided to head down its most familiar and habitual path: fear of abandonment.
I knew exactly what was happening, because fear of abandonment is a theme for my anxiety so I spotted the issue straight away. I knew I couldn’t logic my way out of it (I had definitely not been abandoned), I knew I just needed to give myself some time.
What I hadn’t expected though was the next step that my unconscious mind took, which left me with a couple of days of panic and overwhelm where suddenly everything I was doing in my life felt wrong. I knew this was some kind of reaction to big emotional circumstances but I didn’t understand what was happening so I couldn’t make it stop. I was panicked about everything, it all felt like I was failing.
Then suddenly it clicked and I could see what my unconscious mind was doing. My unconscious mind felt extremely unsafe because it was convinced we’d been abandoned, so it had been presenting me with ways I could find some safety. Unfortunately, it was doing that by looking at everything I could “improve”. Because according to some old unhelpful beliefs I suspect many of us share, being “better” makes us safer.
So it presented for my consideration these options:
I could do better with my diet
I could provide better service to my clients
I could have a better handle on my finances
I could be making more money
I could have a better work life balance
I could be marketing my business more effectively
My website could be better
All of these things have merit but my brain had decided they were all suddenly URGENT and essential for my safety. So because I couldn’t do much about any of them immediately I was panicking and overwhelmed, imagining that I was further threatening how safe I was.
As soon as I recognised that was what was happening I felt calmer. Knowledge and understanding really are half the battle. I could see straight away that none of those things really were urgent, that I was safe without making any “improvements” and that I have time to work on any or all of those things whenever I want to – there was no threat that meant I had to fix them all there and then.
Years ago I would not have been able to make those connections, and the panic would have lasted much longer, and my answers to it would have been less healthy. Gaining insights on what is going on in my head has meant that I can live my life the way I want to, even though my unconscious mind now and again becomes something of a circus!
Do you have patterns that you recognise, paths that your mind goes down as a matter of habit, beliefs that you have to work on whenever you don’t feel safe?
If you would like to work with me 1-2-1 to work through what is really happening to hold you back, please do get in touch to discuss how my coaching can get you over the overwhelm.
And remember: as my youngest explained to me “you are safe no matter what you do. Unless you try to get married on the side of an active volcano.” Such is the wisdom of a 7 year old.
Coach and Director of Clear Day