Anxiety is one of the most common responses to trauma. Unfortunately, it is not widely recognized as a trauma related. It is not always recognized in our systems because there can be many diverse symptoms. And most symptoms can be seen as other physical and psychological issues. Even when we do recognize our anxiety, we are often at a loss for how to address it. It feels impossible to understand and alleviate. When anxiety gets bad, it can feel like medication is the only option we have. But we have other choices too. There are ways to understand anxiety and the messages it is trying to send. Over these years in recovery, I have learned some of the messages behind my own anxiety. Maybe they will help you shift your anxiety too. So let’s look at what is happening when anxiety takes hold.
Our inner parts are fighting with each other. At the most basic level, anxiety is here to tell us that we have a disagreement in our system of inner parts. It is very normal for us to hold two dissonant views about a topic or situation. It is one of the reasons we develop inner parts in the first place. When we are children, we cannot resolve the confusion about what is happening, so we create two parts with two extreme views. Both are too extreme, but it helps us get through the trauma we cannot process yet. As adults, these parts are triggered in familiar situations and they start to fight. This creates anxiety. So when anxiety is present, look for the messages our parts are trying to scream over each other as they work to suppress the opposite view. If you can hear one clearly, the opposite view is not far away.
We are doing something that goes against our defenders’ attempts to keep us safe. We often hear that fear is our intuitive understanding that something is not safe. We are taught that our fear should work as a stop sign. But in reality, fear is often not tied to our intuition at all. Our intuition is pretty fearless. The fear often shows up as resistance to the thing we should be doing. And that fear often manifests as anxiety. When we feel anxiety, it is a good idea to connect with and write from what the fear says. “I will get in trouble.” “I am not allowed.” “Bad things will happen if I try that.” “I am not good enough for that.” When we write from it, we can recognize it as traumatic fear. We can see how it may be operating under childhood rules that need not apply anymore.
We are suppressing an emotion. One of the most common manifestations of anxiety is the suppression of emotion. Anxiety is often an attempt to block our anger with the fear of our anger. But it can work with almost any emotion. Anger just tends to pack the biggest anxiety punch. When it comes to suppression of emotion, there is almost always a controller involved. So it can be helpful to write from messages about the dangers in emotional expression. “This emotion will overwhelm the system.” “I will never be normal again if I let this through.” “I will lose all my productivity if I feel this.” “I don’t have time to feel this.” These are important messages to write from when the anxiety gets intense.
We are about to step into a new understanding. Anxiety can also mean our inner world is going through a significant shift. Maybe an inner part is adjusting their position in the inner parts system. Maybe an inner part is changing the way they see the world around them. Maybe a new memory is coming to the surface which will change how we interact with other people. There are many fears associated with these changes. The unknown is a scary place to our defenders. They don’t have the faith that things can work out because they spent most of their time living in a world where things never did work out. Internal and external change will be terrifying for them. Writing from messages about their fears can help. “Why can’t things just stay the way they are?” “There is nothing wrong with what I have always done.” “I am fine. Why do I need to change?” Let those fears come to the surface in your writing.
Listen in to what your anxiety has to say. It doesn’t have to be a nebulous cloud of dysfunction with no solution. There are reasons your anxiety is stepping forward. There is purpose behind its seemingly random appearances. Your awareness of your inner parts and their interactions can help you find the answers. As you connect with the messages, you can start to move it out and stop the paralysis along with other symptoms the anxiety brings on. Start by asking, “Why are you here?” Write the answers. Open up the conversation with yourself. You can get the answers you are looking for. Believe it or not, you already have them.