Experiencing a level of anxiety when we embark on dating again after previous setbacks is entirely normal. We tend to be quite hard on ourselves when we experience it though, exacerbating the anxiety, and making it difficult to get grounded and trust ourselves.
People often say to me that logically they know what’s up but that emotionally, they’re in a different place. They experience confusion, overwhelm and even feeling triggered, which leads to a vicious cycle. Think anxiety, stress about being anxious and stress over whether we’re right to be anxious or wrong and messing things up. That’s a lot to contend with. And that’s before throwing in worry, which is like praying for what we don’t want to happen, or self-criticism and feeding the thoughts with judgements, ridicule and contempt.
We are afraid.
We’re afraid of trusting the process.
It’s as if the suspense of going through the discovery phase and showing up to the relationship and deciphering things as we go is too much.
Just tell me right now! Can I relax because this is a forever deal? Or, should I brace myself for disappointment?
Of course, no one can give us those guarantees or a crystal ball into the future.
We might be afraid of the past happening again and so have a wall up to defend against it. Or, maybe we fear being trapped or losing everything we’ve worked hard to rebuild.
It might be that we have underlying beliefs that we’re not ‘good enough’ or that all men/women cheat.
We might be half and half about having our back because we’re unaccepting of uncertain about who we are. On some level, we’re convinced that any misstep and a flaw we love to magnify might screw things up. This makes us insecure and afraid of uncertainty because we’re not certain of who we are and might be in future.
But here’s something that we need to ask ourselves when we’re anxious or playing the situation back after the fact:
Which me was afraid in that moment?
In our anxious moments, our younger self turns up. We’re like matryoshka dolls with a version of us for every age and moment in our lives.
Was it our current self that was afraid or was it a younger version of us?
Odds are, when we’re anxious, it’s one or several of our younger selves feeling threatened and anxious due to uncertainty about whether our present self has their back. When we acknowledge that, for example, our 25 to 29-year-old self is who’s with us in those anxious moments, we can compassionately acknowledge why.
Our younger self worries about being ignored/rejected/abandoned/hurt/screwed over or something. It still thinks that we’re ‘back there’ and is not yet aware of how we’ve grown. It’s afraid to trust us.
Our younger self needs reassurance that we are looking out for it instead of repeating the past.
Without that reassurance and the growth that comes with learning from the past and evolving beyond it, it/they act out. This might help our present self confront an old wound and respond differently (breaks the pattern). Or, left unattended, it will deepen the wound and expose us to further painful situations in more attempts to heal it.
We often try to counteract anxiety by trying to gain more control over what we can’t or focusing excessively on one thing/area/person to overcompensate. All this does is ramp up the anxiety.
Until we consciously and consistently communicate that things are different now, those younger aspects will keep acting up.
If we keep responding as we did in the past, it sends an internal message that our responses to certain emotions and situations are ‘correct’. In turn, this reinforces something that isn’t working for us and that’s in effect keeping us small.
We can break this pattern and begin healing by talking back to those anxiety feelings. We can also send a message to our younger selves by saying, “I am safe. I am secure”. This gives us the space to get grounded and discern what’s going on. We can take command of us. We take responsibility for how we feel and want to continue feeling by choosing our next actions more consciously so that we support us. For example, it’s better for us to pick up the phone or send a querying text than it is to blow hours, days or even weeks stressing us out over what might be going on in the other person’s head. It also helps if we don’t just latch on to our worst-case imaginings and we interrogate whether there are other possibilities.
Putting up a wall, being hard on us, might guard against being hurt in other ways, but it doesn’t get rid of fear and anxiety. If we take care of us, we learn that we are safe and secure regardless of what the other party does or doesn’t do, because we trust ourselves to respond in the present as things unfold.
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