On anxiety and compassion

Anxiety sometimes rips you apart. This is not the type of pain that is curable with a pill, and this is not a form of anguish that can be relieved by a simple 'there-there', or by adopting a 'stiff upper lip' attitude. Neither does it help when you are advised to 'get yourself sorted' or to 'pull yourself together'. Moreover, sentiments like that diminish your adult-self, making way for your inner parent - the one with the mission to take care of things. The parent wants to take over the scared inner child, but the paradox is that the parent brings out your inner child even more - exposing its weaknesses and shortcomings, shaming and persecuting it, making sure that the previous 'mistakes' are not repeated. As a result, the child hides and the parent has won.


Supposedly, relief should follow, but why do you still feel that your reality is crumbling? There’s no certainty and no stability. You have difficulty sleeping, you lose interest in the things you used to enjoy, you often feel tearful, and sometimes you just want to curl into a ball and disappear. The thing is that with your inner child goes away a vital part of you - your playfulness, the ability to look at the world creatively, and your belief that things will get better.

The situation is this: you are back in a time when you were a young person who couldn’t please your parents, never mind how hard you’d tried. Perhaps your parents controlled you; they didn’t believe that you could do anything constructive yourself. Instead, they checked and re-checked after you; often they took over or even replaced you altogether. Now, they live inside you as internalised critics, and you believe them. On the outside, there’s a person who is always in doubt, and making every decision becomes torture. In the case of a mistake, there’s a reason for punishment: berating yourself, isolating yourself from others, feelings of purposelessness. Every single mistake becomes the confirmation of one’s 'uselessness'. You forget to remember that others also make mistakes. You are on your own with your suffering. Depression might follow as a result.

Anxiety is a state of tension, while depression comes as an absence of desire and drive; it slows you down. Your vitality drops to a minimum. Of course, no one consciously wants to get depressed. It is argued that depression can be looked upon as a logical consequence of a prolonged and heightened state of anxiety, as a defence mechanism. It is not easy to deal with depression, but it is possible.

What if you were to try and unravel the knot of your problems, beginning from the present moment back to the past, where it all started? It will be a hard journey. You will have to adopt some new habits, like paying attention to your feelings, trying to understand what could have triggered them, and the most important of all - self-compassion. It is paramount that you try and remember what it felt like to be a child, a teenager, an adolescent, and what it was like to be desperate for someone’s understanding, a word of kindness, and help. That child is still in you, waiting, and you are the first person whose help he or she needs. When you feel tearful, you might stop and think, what is your inner child crying about now? When you are angry, what are you protesting against, and what does this situation remind you of?

Even a few minutes of paying attention to how you feel is crucially important for your well-being. Listening to yourself means self-respect and care. How many times in your life have you been denied this 'luxury'? How many times have you wished that people would just stop for a second and listen to you?

Now you are an adult, you can begin to respect yourself. If you are in physical pain, stop and look at what it is. If you’ve cut your finger, you try to stop the bleeding. If you feel some pain inside your body, you see a doctor. The same goes for your emotions. If you feel anguished, you need to understand that the first helpful hand is yours. Just stop what you’re doing and look inside yourself. Try to feel compassion.

There’s no weakness in self-sympathy. The help of others is the next vital step on the way to healing yourself. People are gregarious beings, and for thousands of years, we found solace and hope in each other. People are like mirrors: we see our reflections in others. But, like in some mirrors made out of glass, the reflections sometimes are distorted. Perhaps you can remember yourself as a child when you looked at your mother’s face and saw yourself much loved, pretty, and clever. You might also remember seeing the opposite: yourself as good for nothing, ugly, and stupid. Both times you were the same child. So, where’s the truth?

Depending on what kind of mirror we look at, we might see a different reflection. Depending on how we feel at this precise moment, we can believe in the goodness that we see in ourselves, or deny it. If our inner critic is strong, we usually don’t give ourselves credit for anything. No amount of praise from our friends or colleges might make us feel any better: we still feel that we are 'faking it'; that we are empty inside. "Nothing makes sense". If this sounds familiar, you might consider seeking other forms of help.

The help of a professional can’t be overestimated. More often than not people are reluctant to go to see a counsellor. One argument I’ve heard a lot is that "they don’t care, they are paid to do it". But if you think about someone who’s dedicated their life to a helping profession, you might ask yourself, why? Perhaps because these people had similar experiences to your own? Or maybe they are good at it? What if they can help you to help yourself?

Life is a complicated and wonderful thing. The choices we make pave the paths we walk. Often it is difficult to avoid mistakes, but this is what life is about - feeling our way forward, sometimes almost in the dark. It’s worth remembering that every 'mistake' is an attempt to find the way, and that we’ll make another 'take'. Maybe, this time, it’ll be the right one.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Chichester, West Sussex, PO19
Written by Sofia Kolesnikova, MBACP
Chichester, West Sussex, PO19

Sofia Kolesnikova is a Psychotherapeutic Counsellor in private practice. She also works as a volunteer counsellor at Chichester Counselling Services. She specializes in working with anxiety, depression, trauma and relational difficulties.

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