Hello, friends. This is a super interesting Q&A which answers two important listener questions. The first relates to never setting personal boundaries, putting everyone first before yourself, and the second tackles the difficult question, how much better is enough?
I’ve noticed that all descriptions of anxiety include the element of ‘rudeness’ – that people might seem rude, they might be irritable. I also get irritable and impatient, but a friend of mine who has also struggled with anxiety, has told me that I am probably one of the few people she knows who are in a very bad state, but still keep on thinking how to be nice to people because I am scared of hurting them and I constantly take care of others first, then of myself, if I get to that point at all. This, in turn, makes me even more anxious because I cannot physically take care of everybody and I don’t put any boundaries. But maybe it is just in my personality, instead of in my anxiety, to want to help and never say ‘no’. Maybe in this case only the pope can help.I don’t know if you have spoken about this in your podcast, but I rarely see anxiety pages mentioning the opposite of seeming rude – never putting boundaries and letting everybody too close, to the point where you can’t push them away if they require too much. So my suggestion could be interpreted as raising awareness to that type of people? But again – what do I know, maybe it is not part of struggling with anxiety.
Good question. Thanks for bringing this up. This is actually very common. Basically you are saying that when you hear descriptions of anxiety, it often involves things like irritation, agitation, anger, or rudeness. But you experience the opposite side as well where you become very preoccupied with pleasing and taking care of others, which causes problems of their own.
You can absolutely have both, but just know that the 2nd one that you described is very common as well. I think when people refer to meanness and rudeness in anxiety, it’s often a misinterpretation of the anxious person’s behaviors. For instance, if they are too nervous to engage in small talk, they may come off as cold. If they are having difficulties that cause them to skip out on events, that could definitely be construed as rude. When someone is worked up because they are on the verge or having a full-blown panic attack, they can definitely come off as a bit bristly or agitated. Having anxiety doesn’t magically turn you into a dick. It just makes it harder to operate in the world the way that people without anxiety do. But as I said, being overly concerned about NOT hurting other people is also a common feature in anxiety.
Many people with anxiety are also very perfectionistic and tend to be down on themselves for what they perceive are failures. Therefore, there is a lot of impression management that happens. In other words, since you’re so paranoid about doing something wrong and implicating someone else, you either freeze up or work so hard to try to be sure that doesn’t happen. Allowing boundary violations to happen is also quite common, as you mentioned for yourself. Anxiety causes you to have a heightened sense of risk and to underestimate your coping abilities if something negative were to happen. This leads to avoidance. Your anxiety convinces you that you shouldn’t do things because they are too risky and you have little confidence in your ability to handle the negative results that you are imagining. This avoidance can absolutely be in the form of avoiding conflict. I guess even more than avoiding direct conflict, it can make you avoid things that you fear might lead to a conflict and it can make you interpret things as conflict that in reality are just normal/necessary interactions.
I’m sure you can see how being so worried about coming across as mean and trying your hardest to avoid any type of conflict because it feels so threatening could lead you to develop some loose boundaries. You might let people get away with things or treat you in ways that you know you shouldn’t because you don’t want to be the bag guy and you don’t want to hurt anybody else. You just shrink back and let it happen. I won’t share details, but I’m actually working with someone in therapy with a situation like this. The person doesn’t have a long history of anxiety, but letting boundaries get out of hand in the workplace due to considering other people’s feelings too much has led them to a situation where they are now expected to do everything for everyone else and they are being mistreated by people in their workplace. This caused the person to develop full-on generalized anxiety and specific anxiety about going to work.
If you’re not on my email list, I definitely suggest that you get on there. I try to share something inspirational or interesting at the beginning of each week. In this week’s email, I talked about boundaries.
Boundaries can be tough to enforce, especially when you get to a place where the boundaries have already become super loose and the expectation is that you will do anything to make sure that people aren’t upset at you. I think that this is one area where enlisting the help of outside sources can be helpful. Since you have a distorted view of these social situations due to your anxiety, it can be very helpful to have someone on the outside to help you notice areas where you might no be treating yourself fairly. Interestingly, right as I was writing this outline, I checked my phone and Shira Lazar from What’s Trending etc. posted a reel on Instagram that said “Empathy without boundaries is self-destructive. Empathy with boundaries is compassionate.” Apparently, I’m not the only one that’s been thinking about this lately. But yeah, so enlisting the help of family or friends that you trust to keep you accountable is a good idea.
Obviously, therapy is a very good option here as well. They can help you to rein in the self-defeating and scary thoughts that you might have about social situations that feed the avoidance of conflict and ultimately result in poor boundaries. You may also try to do some internal work to recognize that by just trying to people please, avoid conflict, and say yes to everything that you are not actually being fair to other people. It is in an attempt to be nice, but you are giving them a less authentic version of yourself, and you are setting them up with unrealistic expectations. Trying to be perfect and help everyone is a good way to run yourself so ragged that you can’t give anyone the kind of care that you would actually like to give them.
It can be hard to pull yourself out of a situation like this because it often builds up gradually over time, but if you take it one step at a time, get some help where you need it, and practice having compassion with yourself, you can definitely improve your ability to stand up for yourself.
I am 25 years old. I was diagnosed with depression when I was young and dealt with it most of my life. In college, I became aware that I also have been dealing with anxiety most of my life as well. My mental health reached its lowest point in my senior year of college when life just happened to send me the deaths of 7 loved ones individually over the course of 9 months. After graduating I dealt with severe depression for 3 months before I was even able to talk to anyone about it. To be honest I barely got out of bed those 3 months. I am happy to say that with the help of my family and loved ones I am now much better. I have moved into my own place, I have a job I love, and I hope to be heading to grad school for my career.QuestionThe question I have been struggling with is “How much better is enough?” It feels like I have always had anxiety and depression and I have come to love the resilient parts of me that have grown around living life through that. I know I will never be neurotypical but it is hard to tell what feelings are concerning signs I am heading back to that dark place, what are just parts of me being me, and what are normal feelings of everyday life (or as every day as we can get in 2020).I would love to hear any thoughts you have. Once again thank you for all you do to make the world easier for people with mental health issues.
Wow what terrible circumstances you’ve had to endure. I don’t blame you at all for having such a difficult time after your senior year. I think anybody would and its a testament to your strength that you were able to make so much progress and accept help to get to where you are now. Proud of you.
This is a great question and one that a lot of people eventually think about. The awesome part about having this difficult question is that it is a sign that you’ve improved or grown so much. I’m sure the you from senior year would have never believed that in the future you would feel safe enough to be asking a question like this. I think what you’ve been through is a massive proof of concept. That you have the strength and the creativity to get through just about the worst situations. Not all of life is going to be that intense and terrible. But if it does get to that point, you have proved to yourself that you are able to draw together the resource and put in the work over time to survive it and improve your situation.
Your question sounds like it is coming from a place of balance and awareness. There are some people who want to be “better” so badly that they kind of fool themselves into thinking that they already are. I definitely don’t get that sense here. You are basically saying that you recognize you have tendencies toward depression that will likely be longstanding patterns that you need to watch out for. You have been able to move forward with your life in spite of these tendencies and in the worst sorts of situations, you have eventually been able to get through. To me that sounds super realistic. And it makes me feel confident that you would be able to recognize the need to bring in help and really intervene with your situation if it were to come to that in the future.
I think that maybe one way to better learn those signs that you want to look out for is to dedicate some time and effort to gathering information. Perhaps you could talk with people that knew you well during your heavy periods of depression and ask them what they noticed in you that, looking back, was a sign that things were not moving in a good direction. If you had any journals, workbooks, or other written material that you created at those times, it would also probably be helpful to review them. To remind yourself what sort of distorted thoughts you might have had or what your daily experience was like. This would allow you to better understand some of the things that seemed to be indicators of slipping into that “dark place”. This is hypothetical, but for some people, it might be that they need to be mindful when they stop calling their family regularly, when they start drinking more on weekdays, when their eating starts to get out of control, or when they start to devote less and less time to their hobbies.
You can definitely have self-efficacy without having an inflated sense of self-esteem. You don’t have to think that you’re an amazing person and feel special compared to other people. But you can learn to have confidence in your ability to adapt and get through things. You won’t always do everything right, but you can adjust if things go wrong. You’ve made it through every single hardest experience you’ve ever had.
There truly is no “normal”. So you need to take your personal sense of wellness into account. It’s kind of like when you are using a 0-10 scale to rate pain. If you are someone that lives with chronic pain and essentially will for the rest of your life, a constant 5/10 to you is probably pretty chill. But if I were to be suddenly transported into your body, that same level of pain would probably be considered an 8 or 9 to me. So it comes down to how you are able to tolerate your internal experience and your emotions. You might still be pessimistic and not exactly thing the world of yourself, but if you are basically accepting of this and not being held back in the important areas of your life, I’d say that you are doing pretty good.
So gather some information, learn some lessons from your past, and have confidence in your ability to adapt if you need to. Get some outside perspectives when you can to make sure that you are on the right track. And you might even consider writing yourself a little plan to get back on track if you do find that you’re starting to inch toward that black hole of severe depression again.
Thank you for the awesome question!
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