All of my clients know I refuse to see them as problems. That is not to say there are not problems in their lives, but that they are not one of those problems. I sometimes have to hold back a small smirk in my first sessions when I explain this concept to new clients and I see them nodding their heads in agreement because I know down the line the real problem will try to convince them that there is something wrong with them. It is an uphill journey in believing that we are not the problems in our lives, and unfortunately many people never take the first step.
So if I am not the problem in my life, what is?
I'm glad you asked. The real problems, such as Anxiety, Depression, Post Traumatic Stress, Shame, and Expectations, like to trick us into thinking they are not even there or that they ARE us. I like to use the analogy of the Wizard hiding behind the curtain when Dorothy meets the giant head.
The first thing we do in sessions is exactly what Toto does in this clip: pull back the curtain and expose the Problem for what it is.
I have a lot of current clients who are experiencing the problem of Anxiety. We call it different names, Expectations, Pressure, Shame, Panic, and Perfectionism. Regardless of what we call it Anxiety tends to influence our sense of self, our relationships with loved ones, work performance, and physical functioning.
There are several tells that help me identify when Anxiety is present, even when my client doesn't use the word Anxiety. One of the most common is the use of the word "should." As a culture we use this word a lot, and I often assign a weekly challenge to clients to practice not using the word "should" for the week. The word "should" tells us that there is a level of performance or ability that we have every opportunity to meet, but have failed to do. The underlying message here is that the reason we are not successful is because there is something wrong with us (see the man behind the curtain idea coming into play here). When we inevitably fail to meet the expectation that Anxiety has set for us we have different responses. Some people experience panic attacks, others recluse and push others away, and some push themselves past healthy levels of action until they break down.
In 2013 artist Toby Allen created visual depictions of mental illnesses, including Anxiety and its friend, Depression. I love these visualizations because they help us separate the problem from ourselves, a process called externalization, and see what the problem is doing to us from a 3rd person perspective.
“Anxiety is small enough to sit on its victim’s shoulder and whisper things in to their unconscious, eliciting fearful thoughts and irrational worries. The anxiety monster is often seen as weak in comparison to others, but it is one of the most common and is very hard to get rid of. They often carry small objects linked to their victim’s anxieties such as clocks which represent a common but irrational fear of things that might never happen. No one has ever seen the face of the anxiety monster for it always wears a skull as a mask.”
After pulling back the curtain and identifying the problem as Anxiety, Expectations, or any other name for the same problem, the next step is standing up to it. We often stand up to our problems without even knowing it, because problems want us to forget how powerful we are. One example of standing up to Anxiety could be setting your clocks 10 minutes early so you don't have to be anxious about being late. Or maybe you have decided to pass on an extra project at work because you knew Anxiety would try to take over.
Once you begin to see how you have already been standing up, you can begin to create new strategies of your own to keep the Anxiety Monster off your shoulder, and only invite it at times when you could use a little Anxiety to keep you alert, prepared, and on time.
What does your Monster look like? Maybe it isn't Anxiety but Depression, Lack of Motivation, Grief, Anger, or Insecurity. Maybe it's multiple Monsters who like to team up on you?
Take back control over the Problems instead of them having control over you.
For more information on taking back control, connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 720-507-4234.
The posts provided here are intended to provide psychoeducation, resources, and support for current clients, potential clients, or anyone seeking information about mental health. These posts are not a suitable replacement for mental health services including medication, therapy, counseling, or crisis managment. If you are seeking help for any mental health or relationship struggle, please contact a mental health professional you trust.