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The Anxious Client Reconsidered - Page 8

 

Depressed people are sometimes helped by supportive comments. They are like a sponge absorbing what is sent their way. But anxious clients wear a Teflon coating and supportive comments just slide off. Depressed people tend to feel guilty and inadequate. Consequently, they feel they must change. Anxious people also feel guilty and inadequate, but they are more likely to feel that something else has to change. They objectify what depressed people personalize.

The handiest object onto which an anxious person can project his internal turmoil is his body. Anxious individuals often view their bodies as failed machines with specific yet undetected flaws that need to be corrected. It never ceases to amaze me that many people with anxiety disorders are somewhat disappointed when tests come back negative. They would rather have a "real" physical problem than a psychological one.

This desire is sometimes fulfilled due to a second trait common to anxious people--their tendency to neglect or even ignore their own needs for the sake of communal tranquility, and compliance with authority figures.

Statements such as "I am a people pleaser," "I come last" and "I have three kids, that doesn't leave much time for me" are very common among anxious people. They are devoted to keeping their environment conflict free, and are more than willing to repress their own desires to do so. Anything that threatens the fragile peace they are trying to maintain is cause for alarm. Since there is little peace in the external world, alarms--in the form of anxiety attacks--go off all the time.

These attacks would be disturbing to anyone, but they are especially disturbing to anxious clients who expect their bodies to be as acquiescent as their emotions. Eventually, however, living in an almost constant state of alert takes a physical toll, and long-ignored needs eventually manifest themselves in physical symptoms. In this way, the desire for a "real" physical problem becomes self-fulfilling.

In therapy I attempt to break this cycle and help clients come to terms with both their internal and external worlds. I try to help them understand that the tranquility they are seeking through repression can only be found by accepting the legitimacy of their own needs. When they grasp this, their Teflon coating begins to dissolve. They can assimilate new information and develop new ways of living. The body can then be seen not so much as something to be controlled but as something to be respected.

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