Worry And Relationships By KARYN HALL, PHD
Some emotionally sensitive people are worriers. Not just your everyday worriers, but world-class worriers. They worry when they wake up about what the day will bring. They worry about their appearance, they worry if they’ve done the right thing, and they worry about what might happen in the future. They worry about their family; they worry about their friends. They worry about people they love. They worry because they love. Some see worry as being part of love and caring. They may not realize that their worrying can interfere with their sense of belonging and the closeness of their relationships.
Worrying Can Drain Happiness
Your daughter comes in to tell you that she’s been accepted to the college of her dreams. You had secretly hoped she wouldn’t get in because the college is so far away. You bite your lip and say in what you hope is an excited voice, “That’s great. Congratulations.” It’s not long though before your brow furrows and you are asking questions like, “If you go there you won’t be able to come home as often, you know.”
Of course you don’t mean to dampen her excitement. You just want to be sure she is thinking of all the problems with being so far away. Truth be told (come on, now, admit it), you are thinking of the problems that you see happening and that bother you, not your daughter. She may respond with, “Mom, can’t you just be happy for me? Just this once?”
Thinking of the pros and cons of a situation is a helpful way to evaluate choices that you have. Pros and cons are presented in a logical way though and worrying is filled with emotion, usually sadness and anxiety.
Worrying Communicates Lack of Confidence
Though you may not mean to do so, worrying about others communicates a lack of confidence. If they are uncertain about their decision or situation, your expressing worry can lead to their being more upset and uncomfortable. It can increase the tension that they already feel. If they are confident in their decision or situation, expressing worry will be seen as saying you don’t believe in them. Neither outcome is helpful and you may find they talk with you less and less about what is most important to them.
Worrying Can Be a Way of Avoiding Happiness
Sometimes people who worry are afraid of being happy. Most suffer greatly with their own worry and when they have let themselves be happy, losing that feeling hurt more than not feeling it at all. So when an event occurs that seems to bring happiness, they may automatically look for ways it could not be a pleasant experience. Sometimes they do this for other people too, perhaps not even aware of hat they are doing.
Most events in life are a mixture of both desired and less desired emotions. Graduating from high school can be a happy event with sadness about leaving friends. It’s usually pretty easy to find a reason to be doubtful about happiness. Winning the lottery could bring fears of tax problems and conflicts with relatives. Getting married can bring fears about losing independence.
While a realistic view considers both the advantages and challenges of events and decisions, not allowing celebration and not enjoying the positives limits your overall joy. Joining with others to celebrate joyful events is part of having a sense of belonging and strengthens relationships.
Worrying Affects the Way Others Treat You
When you express worry about the decisions of others, they may see you as someone who can’t handle life. “Don’t tell her, she’ll just worry about it,” may be the mantra of your friends and family. They may discount what you say because they see you as worrying about everything. If others don’t listen to you, that can lead you to feel left out, which weakens the relationships.
You may be confused about how others react to your worrying about them. You care so much and they don’t seem to understand that. If you’ve noticed that your worry is pushing people away, then you may want to try some ways to decrease your worry.
Ideas for Change
Find ways to be more aware of worry statements you make. Sometimes worrying is such a habit that you don’t notice when you are communicating worry. For example, ask others to point out your worry behavior to you. Statements of uncertainty can communicate worry. Asking others if they are sure about their decision, with a stressed tone and/or look, is an example. The television character Edith Bunker is an exaggerated example of communicating tension and anxiety to others through body language and tension level in addition to her tone of voice and the words she uses.
Once aware of your worry statements and body language, practice omitting those statements from your conversations. Practice having a more relaxed body.
Replace worry statements with supportive and congratulatory ones. “I’m so happy for you,” is an example. You probably still have worries, but you don’t always need to express them. If you do need to voice a concern, timing is important. Wait for some time to pass.
When you notice yourself being obsessed with worry, find an activity that gives you pleasure. Throw yourself into the activity.
Remember that productive worry is when worry gets you to take effective action, such as preparing for a test. Unproductive worry is worry over events that you have no control over and cannot change. Notice when your worry is not helpful and practice distracting yourself.
These are just a few ideas. Changing worry behaviors will not be easy and won’t happen quickly.