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Many people get anxious around folks who don’t treat them well—a spouse, partner, friend, parent, child, neighbor, boss, or colleague. They’re anxious before seeing the person, while they’re with them, and after the fact. Well, there’s a better way than agita to respond to mistreatment! Some good, old-fashioned anger might just do the trick.
Does this sound familiar? You feel anxious when…your date is rude to you, your partner walks in the front door and immediately comes down on you for a mistake you made earlier in the day, your best friend breaks a movie date last minute and calls you oversensitive for getting upset, your father insists you fly out to see him when he knows you’re in the middle of finals, your brother shows up drunk at your birthday party, your colleague misses work repeatedly and you end up picking up her slack, your adult child refuses to move out of the house even though you’ve given him marching orders, your doctor makes unkind comments about your weight, your landlord unjustly accuses you of not taking care of your apartment, your boss chew you out in front of your office mates, your hair dresser divulges a confidence and is defensive when you confront her.
If your anxiety skyrockets in these kinds of situations, you’re having an inappropriate reaction. When people hurt you, the appropriate response is not anxiety, but anger. The fact that you feel anxious instead of angry may be because when you were mistreated as a child, you had a dilemma. When you felt hurt, you feared taking the risk of voicing your appropriately angry feelings. After all, if someone was already hurting you emotionally, it didn’t feel safe to share your authentic feelings. Instead you became anxious on two levels. First, you felt emotionally at risk being mistreated—you were frightened by having someone who is supposed to love you, consistently or even randomly, hurt you. Second, you were unsettled by the intensity of your anger, fearing what might happen if you couldn’t control it and it came flying out in a rage.
In similar situations now, you respond the way you did as a child, suppressing anger and, instead, becoming anxious. It should make you angry when people are regularly insensitive to you, ignore or trample your feelings, berate and put you down. Anger is a natural, life-enhancing, authentic response to feeling threatened. Next time you are anxious around someone or in a situation, ask yourself if anxiety is covering underlying anger. If so, accept your anger as appropriate for the circumstances. Don’t let it scare you. Don’t shoo it away or try to ignore or stifle it. Stay with the anger until you decide what to do with it. I promise, it will take you to a better place.
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