Knowing Me, Knowing You

Mid-Life Can Be A Time Of Uncertainty And Anxiousness

I thought that once I got past my 40s I’d have it all figured out. I’d feel centered, grounded; I’d be living my life with purpose and intent. For some women that might be true. For others, myself included, not so much. Instead of being a period when you feel like you have it all figured out, mid-life can be a time of uncertainty and anxiousness. 

Not Knowing Yourself Can Make You Anxious

Not knowing  you  can leave you feeling anxious.

I found that once most of my kids left the nest, I was thinking more about me — where I was, who I was and where I wanted to be. The realization that I wasn’t sure of the answers to those questions left me feeling shaken, anxious and without a clear picture of my true self.  I’d played so many roles (daughter, partner, mother, friend, student, coworker, colleague) throughout my life that when the time came to just be me I wasn’t sure who I was. 

When you no longer identify with the various roles that you play, or you feel as though they no longer hold true for where you are in your life, it can be unsettling. You’ve got to figure out what you want and need and you’re not sure what that is. You might be asking yourself, “How did I get to this point in my life and not know what I need?”

Not Knowing How You Feel Can Drive Anxiety

When I was growing up, my family didn’t talk a lot about feelings. If your caregivers didn’t demonstrate how to express and process emotions, it makes it really hard to know how you’re feeling when you’re an adult. The same is true if your family didn’t support your having feelings, or if you were punished for expressing strong, difficult emotions, When I felt vulnerable, or when there was a lot of unpredictability in my life, I got really anxious because I didn’t know how to identify and share those feelings. So when it was time to figure out what I wanted, my anxiety peaked and I was left and wondering why I didn’t have a clearer picture of me. 

I’ve written about the impact of your childhood experiences and your attachment to your parents on how you interact with yourself and others. If you’ve experienced childhood abuse or emotional neglect, or if your emotional, spiritual and physical needs weren’t met as a child, it can leave you feeling:

  • Anxious
  • Disconnected from yourself
  • Untethered
  • Not feeling truly connected in your intimate relationships
  • Wanting more, but unsure how to make it happen

How Therapy Can Help

If this sounds familiar to you, I’d like to share how therapy can help. 

Therapy gives you the time and place to look inward, to explore and process your past in a supportive non-judgmental space. That last sentence might put some people on the defensive: “My parents loved me!” “I’m not going to therapy to tear apart my relationship with my caregivers!” “You can’t make me hate my parents.” 

But therapy isn’t about telling you how to feel about your parents, and it isn’t about painting your parents in an unflattering light. It’s not about laying blame. Therapy is about knowing your true self and how you got there, pimples and all.

When you connect with yourself it's easier to connect with others

When you connect with yourself it's easier to connect with others

Therapy gives you the space to identify your feelings, as they happen, in the moment. You can explore all the parts of you — including the critical, judgmental part; the child parts that get scared easily; the parts that want to withdraw, isolate or disconnect; and the parts that want to fight. When you learn to feel and express your own feelings with compassion, it’s a lot easier to figure out how others are feeling. And that makes you feel more connected to yourself and to those close to you.

If you’re interested in exploring YOU, I would love to talk to you.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photo by Devan Freeman and Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Symptoms Of Anxiety You Might Not Recognize

Some Not So Obvious Symptoms of Anxiety

Part 1 in a two-part series.

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Anxiety causes many physical and emotional symptoms. Some are more obvious and you can read more about them here. Others are subtle, so you might not recognize them. Maybe anxiety leaves you feeling disconnected from the people you care most about and wondering if there’s something “different” about you that keeps you from making deeper connections. Or maybe you believe that other people have some “thing” that enables them to pursue and maintain relationships with ease, and that you lack whatever that “thing” is.

That deep-down sense of difference can keep you stuck in the same patterns and justifying your isolating behaviors. You might tell yourself:

·      “I’m too busy to hang out.”

·      “I don’t want to be a burden.”

·      “I’m just not feeling social.”

·      “I prefer to stay home.”

·      “I’m not a ‘people person.’”

These statements keep you from reaching out and asking for help, or getting involved in things that might make you feel closer or connected to others in a deeper way. These thoughts reinforce your belief that you don’t have whatever that “thing” that others seem to have and can lead to feelings of difference and unease, loneliness, sadness or desperation.

What Makes It So Hard To Connect?

We all were born with the need to feel connected to others but, for some people, making or keeping close relationships can feel threatening or unsafe. You might read that last sentence and think it’s ridiculous. “I don’t feel unsafe! No one is going to hurt me!” But if you were emotionally neglected or abused in childhood, opening up and showing your true self can be a frightening experience. A deeply held sense that you can’t trust the people in your life, even those closest to you, to support and be there for you can keep your true self from showing up. When we hold back, other people sense our reserve; they feel our reluctance to bring them in close. This keeps them at a distance, leaving you feeling unsatisfied with your relationships, and reinforces your belief that there’s something wrong or different about you.

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When we are children, our needs are met when we're taken care of emotionally, physically and spiritually. If some of those needs are neglected, punishment is severe, or nurturing is intentionally withheld, you wind up feeling disconnected from yourself. If your parents didn't model how to manage difficult feelings, if they ignored your feelings or punished you for expressing them, you learned that feelings are bad and should be disguised or hidden. When you don’t learn how to manage emotions, you wind up as an adult without the ability to recognize what you’re feeling and you don't know how to regulate your emotions or soothe yourself.

We Blame Ourselves

As children, we often blame ourselves and feel shame when the caregivers who are supposed to love us aren’t able to meet our needs. Those feelings shame and the inability to understand what we’re feeling in the moment can lead to an underlying notion that you’re flawed or damaged, believing that there is a “thing” about you that’s different from everyone else. Dr. Jonice Webb calls this “The Fatal Flaw,” and describes it this way:

“A deep-seated feeling that something is wrong with you. You are missing something that other people have. You are living life on the outside, looking in. You don’t quite fit in anywhere.”

You can read more about this in her book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Feeling inherently different from others can make it incredibly difficult to feel connected. If you think you’re flawed, then you might think that you’ll never change, that you’ll never have what others do. This can lead to feeling isolated, unsatisfied and anxious or depressed.

But there’s hope! Feeling disconnected or flawed isn’t a life sentence. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss ways to help you begin to recognize your feelings in the moment, and how to self-soothe when you’re feeling difficult emotions.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Daria Nepriakhina and Kevin Gent for Unsplash





How To Start Connecting When You’re Anxious

In my last post, I told the story of a friend who’s been struggling with anxiety and depression, and who found that connecting with others had a meaningful positive impact on her mood. Humans are social beings, so connecting with others is vital to positive mental health. The problem is, when you feel down or anxious, it’s hard to get motivated or to make yourself reach out.

Some Reasons Anxiety Keeps Us Disconnected

When we feel anxious or depressed, negative thoughts can get in the way of making connections. We might tell ourselves:

Anxiety can disconnect us from others
  • “I don’t want to be a burden to others.”
  • “I should be able to handle my problems on my own.”
  • “Asking for help is a sign of weakness.”
  • “I might get rejected.”
  • “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

The problem is that the longer we stay disconnected, the longer we feel isolated, lonely and sad. It becomes a negative cycle: “I’m not reaching out because I’m sad and anxious, and I’m sad and anxious because I’m not reaching out.” Like the chicken and the egg, it’s hard to say which comes first. Either way, it becomes a negative loop.

When Anxious, Start Small: 3 Tips for Making Connections

My clients will often say that they’re introverts, so connecting with others doesn’t come easily. I usually suggest that they start small and in ways that feel most comfortable and natural for them.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

Ease anxiety through connection
  • Connect with friends you’ve lost touch with, such as college roommates, old work buddies or family members you haven’t seen in a while. Give yourself a modest goal to call or meet up with a friend or family member once a week. Re-connecting with someone can be easier and more comfortable than trying to start up a conversation with someone you barely know.
  • Volunteer or get more involved in an activity that you enjoy. It’s easier to connect with people who have similar interests. If you love hiking, taking photos, playing soccer, running, supporting the homeless, working with the infirm or elderly, dogs, cats or all animals, you can get involved in a wide variety of related activities. You can go online to find Meet-up groups of people in your area who share your hobbies and interests. Pet shelters, hospitals, homeless shelters and elder care facilities are always looking for volunteers. The nice thing about all of these activities is that you only commit to what you have time to do.
  • When going to a large social event, remember that you only need to connect with one person at a time. You don’t have to talk to everyone. Connecting with an individual is a lot less stressful than thinking about all the people you don’t know. Practicing conversations and your responses before you go can help ease your anxious feelings. In an article called “The Introverts Guide to Connecting,” author Maribeth Kuzmeski suggests, “Anticipate how people might react to what you say. Rehearse conversations in advance. Develop a vision for yourself and how you’d like to change.”

Connect One-on-One With a Counselor

Sometimes even the steps above can be difficult when you’re struggling with anxiety and depression. This is where counseling can help. Working one-on one with a counselor can be a less threatening step toward connecting with others, understanding that you’re not alone and being heard with openness and empathy. If you’d like more information on how counseling can help you reconnect with your life, please call me at 410-340-8469.

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a counselor in Annapolis, Md. She owns and operates Progression Counseling.

How Connection Can Help Ease Anxiety

In a recent blog post, I shared my own struggle with anxiety. Afterward, people gave me a lot of great feedback, and a few shared their own personal stories about their struggles with anxiety. I got permission from a friend to share her story so that others might be able to gain some insight from her experience. Although her story is uniquely hers, I have experienced similar feelings, as have many of my clients.

Anxiety Can Leave You Feeling Disconnected

Anxiety can leave you feeling disconnected.

My friend has battled anxiety and depression for some time. She’s been doing all the right things — seeing her primary care doctor, using medication and going to counseling. She said she also tries things like “getting a massage, taking time to journal, reading self help books and listening to CDs about happiness, joy, guided imagery, affirmations, mindfulness etc.”

All of these things were helpful in the moment. She said she would be left with “fleeting moments of feeling uplifted and then fall right back to feeling overwhelmed by life, anxious and depressed.”

The thing about anxiety and depression is that they can take over your life on many levels. For example, when you’re feeling down or overly stressed, it’s hard to reach out for help; in turn, this can leave you feeling isolated, as if you’re alone with your struggle. Even though you might see co-workers, chat by text, or connect on Facebook, feeling disconnected can stop you from reaching out in meaningful ways to the people in your life who matter most — your partner, your best friend, your college roommate… You fill in the blank.

As for my friend, she had slowly lost touch with the people in her life she felt the most connected to. One of her friends was busy with her own issues, so she was no longer as available as she had been, leaving my friend feeling even more disconnected. “I was hit with the fact that my support system had become WAY too small, and her ‘disappearance’ really left me floundering.”

Reconnection Can Help Ease Anxious Feelings

Many studies have shown that a sense of being disconnected can lead to feelings of loneliness, alienation and a lack of purpose. The authors of a study published in the January 2015 issue of Psychology in the Schools found that that students with anxiety are at significant risk of loneliness, which can then lead to depression. The good news is that connectedness has been found to help protect against depression.

My friend sought counseling. When she continued to fall back into her anxious and depressive feelings, she and her counselor realized that she was missing the kind of human connection that allowed her to feel heard and supported.  Together, they came up with a plan and homework for her to reach out to people she’d lost touch with.

Reaching out to friends can lessen relieve anxious feelings

My friend said, “the reconnection has been a real lift” for her and the friends she reached out to. She decided to make more of an effort to talk to her friends more regularly. She plans to continue to reach out to old friends and work toward building new meaningful relationships. For the moment she is feeling optimistic. “I have been impressed with how much better I feel after a meaningful 15-minute conversation.”

Do you have a story to share about your journey with anxiety? Please share your comments below.

If you are feeling disconnected, anxious and in need of support, please call me at 410-340-8469 for a free 15-minute consultation.

Photos by Abi Lewis and Priscilla Westra for unsplash.com

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a counselor in Annapolis, Md. She owns and operates Progression Counseling.