Today I was talking with a colleague about my anxiety. I’m anxious at baseline, but of late, I have been even more anxious than normal. A large part of that is T-Rump. Some of it is the vagaries of academia (publish! get funding! work all the time! why aren’t you writing?!).
My colleague asked me, “Why are you an anxious person?” I laughed and said that was a pretty big question. She gave me till friday to come up with a response. I doubt I’ll share my thoughts with her, but it’s been interesting to think about.
A whole lot of my anxiety is social anxiety - deep worries about how people perceive me, what they are thinking about me, how I measure up, etc. When I watched the first episode of Westworld, I wondered what it would be like to (like the guests in their interactions with the hosts/androids) to not have to worry at all what people thought of you - if people acted like you were the best/prettiest/smartest - irrespective of what you did or what you looked like. It’s hard for me to imagine how my life would be different - but it would be. Probably pretty dramatically.
My sense as to why I am like that is related to my parents constantly seeing me as a reflection of them. Whatever I did reflected well, or poorly, on them. So I adopted this constant need to monitor myself and worry about how I affect others.
As an example of how that was reinforced - I was/am an only child. My parents mostly had friends who had no kids, so when we went to their houses for dinner or did things with them on weekends, it was me and a lot of adults. And I was expected to behave like a little adult. On the drive home, every single time, my mom would tell me how disappointed she was in how I acted - I don’t remember specifics, I just remember her saying that and the sense of deep shame - and deep confusions - about who I was an how I behaved.
This happened when I saw her recently -she lit into me about how I was interacting with some people (I was too reserved).
I worry constantly about what I say, how I say it, how I look, how to be. Sometimes, I am so worried about it, I forget who I am and how I actually am and lose myself. It’s far less exhausting and anxiety provoking to be alone. Notably, this anxiety lessens when I feel like I have power in a relationship (like equal power with the other).
On the upside, this makes me very observant of other people and very good at reading people and what is going on below their surfaces - which is part of why I am good at what I do.
At some point, I need to tackle this. Not now - I have too many giant transitions coming up in my life (also adding to my general anxiety), and my life is actually changing and opening up in some nice ways, so some of this is becoming easier with a couple of people in my life - which is really nice.
I’m curious if any of the rest of you would be interested in dissecting why you are some specific way that you are? I’m interested in learning your whys.