Friday, August 1, 2014

Anxiety in Others

Question: How can I enjoy my visit with my friend, who is often plagued by anxiety so badly that he makes plans, but then can't or won't leave the house? On past trips, I've been so frustrated by his seeming ambivalence to go out with me that I've wanted to leave early. I've gotten angry and upset and it ruined my visit. I want to have a different experience this time, but don't know if things will be any different on his part.

Answer: Reframe the situation. Your friend likely has social anxiety, generalized anxiety, or agoraphobia. All of these are treatable conditions. However, you simply want to work within his parameters while still enjoying his company and controlling the feelings within yourself.

Imagine your friend is the emcee of a play. His job is to announce the play, thank you for coming, do the introduction. He is on stage, holding a microphone, with a velvet curtain behind him, hiding the actors. You are sitting in the audience with the other theater goers. The theater lights come up and he says "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm very sorry, but there is a delay. Please bear with us." There is a rumble in the crowd as people murmur to one another. He leaves the stage and comes back 5 minutes later stating the lights are having a problem and it will be about 10 more minutes before they are fixed, to please excuse the further delay. Another rumble and some groaning as people express their upset to one another. 10 minutes more and he reappears. He says, "the lighting problem is more complicated then we initially thought and it doesn't look like we can solve it in just a few minutes. We will be happy to refund you or give you tickets to a later performance, if you will be a little patient as you leave, we'll get everyone satisfied as you file out."

People in the audience are visibly upset now. They are complaining about the wait and the inconvenience. They shout things like "just do the play, we can see," and "who cares about the lighting," and "the show must go on," and "we got all dressed up for this." The man on stage, your friend, looks off to the side where the director is shaking his head, though you can't see him, and says "I'm sorry, but we have to cancel this performance. Everything must be just right."

Your friend's job is simply to introduce the play, and to stall when needed, but not to determine if the play will or will not be seen. The director, unseen, un-blamed, makes those decisions. If everything is not just so, the director says "stall" or "cancel", not the emcee.

So it has been with your friend. He desires to be with you, to keep the plans you have made together, but the director, behind the curtain, is saying that it will not be possible at this time as things are not perfect, and must be made so before further action can take place.

Imagine, now, another ending to the same scene. Your friend has stalled the audience twice at the director's insistence. He goes back out to tell the audience that the play is cancelled and refunds or later tickets are going to be issued immediately. The audience, this time, reacts with disappointment, but understanding. They still murmur to each other and are saying "that's a bummer," and "I was really looking forward to this, but I guess we can come back tomorrow night," and "aw, man," and "I get it; the lights play a part in the feel of the play." How, now, does the emcee feel? Still torn, but not persecuted.

The answer, then, in how to work with someone who is responding to an unseen director, is to be a good audience member. Practice patience and empathy. And your friend, he'll feel much better, too, which will cause him to rebound faster than if you were angry and upset with him. Remake plans and notice the change in yourself. You won't feel like your visit is a loss as you won't be so angry and upset. Reframe and regroup.

Autumn Hahn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist practicing at Clear Mind Group in Weston, Florida. Call 954-612-9553 for a consultation. Follow Autumn on TwitterFacebook, and Google+. Sign up for the e-newsletter HERE.

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