Ask yourself a question. Is your anxiety your enemy, or is it your teacher? Most of you are going to immediately tell me that you see anxiety as an enemy. It lurks in the shadows, stalking you day and and day out, always ready to attack. Your anxiety drives you to do things you do not want to do. It drives you to eliminate and avoid parts of your life that desperately want back. Anxiety is clearly your enemy, right?
It is not. Anxiety – when dealing with the anxiety disorders I am always addressing – has never been your enemy regardless of how much you may hate and fear it. An enemy has the potential to do us real harm. Enemies are declared to be enemies because they present a real danger – a real threat. Enemies forcefully take from us, threaten our well being, and prevent us from doing by throwing obstacles that we cannot control into our path.
The anxiety you are dealing with meets none of these definitions. Just because it FEELS scary, doesn’t mean it’s ever actually been dangerous. Being afraid does not equal being damaged or harmed. You have been acting as if you are presented with a real threat simply because you do not like being afraid or uncomfortable, but there has been no real threat. Learning this – unmasking the true nature of the fear that comes with your anxiety disorder – is the way out of the dark and into the light.
How do we learn once and for all to “believe” that we are safe even when afraid? By allowing the fear and the anxiety themselves to be your teachers. That’s right. Anxiety and fear MUST be your teachers if you are to achieve true and lasting recovery. We must be willing to face our anxiety and the associated fear, building a new relationship with it based on dropping all the old fight or flight responses. When we face it fully and allow it to do the worst we can imagine, we learn through real experience that it cannot. When we do this, anxiety becomes our teacher. It teaches us clearly that he has no teeth. The lesson we must learn is that the dragon breathes no fire and cannot kill us. We can only learn this lesson by letting the dragon show us. The dragon – your anxiety – must teach you how to recover. You must embrace it as your teacher and stop declaring it your enemy.
- You’ve positioned fear as a threat that you need to run from or fight, but there is a third option–embracing it and learning from it.
- Your fear is real; the basis for it is not. This is why anxiety is NOT your enemy and never has been.
- Do not try to erase your fears. It is human to fear, and you will never succeed in erasing fear from your life! Our goal here is not to become fearless, but to learn that the fear you’ve been hiding from and fighting has been baseless.
Embracing anxiety as your teacher is difficult. It will stretch and challenge you mentally and emotionally. Even when you’ve embraced it this way, putting that embrace into a recovery action plan is also a challenge. Nobody enjoys intentionally doing hard and scary things, but this really is the way out, and you can do hard things. We all can.
The challenges and discomfort are temporary. The freedom you will gain through them is permanent. Choose wisely, grasshopper.
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