Many of the people that I work with experience distressing levels of worry and anxiety. In this blog post I want to write less about the anxiety and worry itself, and instead about what can be even more debilitating: feelings of shame about having these problems with anxiety.
It is very common that my clients tell me that the hardest part about their anxiety or worry is the feeling that, because they're smart and they logically know that the things that they worry about are unlikely to ever actually happen, the fact that they continue worrying anyway must mean that there is something essentially crazy or broken about them.
In my experience this sense of feeling “crazy” for getting so worried and anxious is as much a barrier to positive change as the anxiety itself. Why is this the case? I think that there are two key reasons.
The first is that this kind of shame can stop us from reaching out for help. If we live with a fear that tackling our anxiety head on could lead to the terrifying and hopeless confirmation that we are indeed essentially broken after all, then it makes sense that we would want to avoid this possibility by tackling our “irrational” anxiety with a therapist.
A second reason is that these kinds of feelings of shame for having an anxiety problem can lessen our ability to recover in a patient, self compassionate way. If we feel that we are weak,defective, or self indulgent for “allowing” anxiety get the best or us (rather than simply living with form of suffering that tens of millions of other people around the world also live with, a problem that has nothing to do with how smart or strong we are) then this can really lessen our sense that we actually deserve to work on these problems. Most people in this situation would never have these kinds of doubts or internal barriers if they we were working to overcome some some kind of medical condition, a condition that they didn't blame themselves for having.
So I hope that this blog post will help you to understand why I believe that developing self compassion (the ultimate antidote to shame) for having an anxiety challenge is often one of the most important steps in the road to recovery for my clients who struggle with anxiety and worry.