Anxiety disorders are selfish disorders.  Anxiety and fear are self-centered and will push their way to the front of the line at all times.  When struggling with an anxiety disorder, the selfish nature of the disorder often makes you look selfish and self-centered.  The disorder is selfish.  You are not.

Anxiety and fear drive self-centered behaviors in three ways:

Disruption Based on Avoidance

Anxiety causes you to spend your time scanning for threats. Every situation is evaluated based on how it may make you feel.  Decisions are made based on the drive to avoid the feelings and thoughts that you hate and fear.  When your anxiety drives you to cancel engagements, avoid places and situations, and flee from discomfort, the change in your lifestyle impacts the people around you.  Over time those people may begin to feel frustrated.  They may see you as selfish or self-centered.  The DISORDER is selfish.  You are not.

Becoming The Center of The Universe

Anxiety and fear will drive you focus on yourself continuously.  In any given situation, anxiety will demand the lion’s share of your attention. While those around you are focused on solving a problem, resolving a conflict, or enjoying a social gathering, you likely found yourself occupied primarily with how you are feeling.  While the world asks, “What shall we do now?”, you will ask, “How will this impact ME?!”.  This often leads to being viewed as self-centered or even narcissistic. The people around you may ask why everything is always about you.  Again, the disorder is selfish and self-centered.  This does not mean that you are selfish or self-centered.

Feeding The Beast On Down Low

When anxiety and fear have the door slammed on them, then get creative.  You may have been told by friends and family  – or even your therapist – that talking about how you feel and seeking constant soothing and reassurance is no longer going to be tolerated.  Your anxiety disorder does not like that news.  Often it will compel you to find “sneaky” ways of making itself seen and heard.  Do you really want to talk to that friend of yours, or are you just uncomfortable and looking for someone to help soothe that again?  Is the conversation about a hockey game, or in your head is it really about the fact that you just want to say how you’re feeling, can’t so you’ll take this instead.  This is subtle for sure.  It takes a keen level of awareness to know when you’re accidentally feeling the selfish beast “on the down low”.  When this becomes a habit, the people around you will see it, and may call you on it. Again, you will be accused of being selfish or self-centered.  The disorder is. You are not.

What Can I Do About This?

First, work on being aware of when anxiety is driving self-centered behavior.  Then, get to work.  You can’t really fix the self-centered stuff without working on full recovery anyway, so this could be the spark you need to start moving forward!  When you’re doing the work that needs to be done to solve the bigger problem, change the narrative with your friends and family.  Try this:

“I know I sometimes appear selfish or self-centered.  I don’t mean to do that.  I recognize it and I’m working on solving this problem so that I don’t make mistakes like that.  Please do me a favor.  Stop calling me selfish and instead simply point out when I’m focusing on myself and my fear.  It will really help me keep moving forward.”

The people in your life that care about you will probably really appreciate that conversation, and it will matter.

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Founder and host of The Anxious Truth podcast. Graduate student and therapist-in-training. Author and educator on the topic of anxiety disorders and anxiety recovery. Former anxious and depressed person.