Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

When Someone You Love Has Anxiety

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When you love someone with anxiety. Man. Woman. Child.

Anxiety is unpredictable, confusing and intrusive. It’s tough. Not just for the people who have it but also for the people who love them. If you are one of those people, you would know too well that the second hand experience of anxiety feels bad enough – you’d do anything to make it better for the one going through it.

We all have our ‘stuff’ – the things that we struggle with. Ultimately, they are the things that will make us braver, wiser, stronger, more compassionate and better humans. It’s just the way it works. The difference with anxiety is that the struggle is more visible.

Whether we struggle with anxiety, confidence, body image – whatever – there are things that we all need to make the world a little bit safer, a little bit more predictable, a little less scary. We all have our list. When someone you love has anxiety, their list is likely to look at little like this:

  1. It’s no biggie. So don’t act like it is.

    In the thick of an anxiety attack nothing will make sense, so best not to ask what’s going on or if they’re okay. No. They won’t be okay. And yes. It will feel like the world is falling apart at the seams. They’ll be feeling awful, but they’ll get through it. If you’ve seen it all before there’ll be no need to ask anyway – and they’ll love that you know not to. Ask if they want to go somewhere else – maybe somewhere quieter or more private.  Don’t panic or do anything that might give them the idea that you need looking after. Go for a walk with them – physical activity is the natural end of the fight or flight response, which is the trigger point of anxiety. Otherwise just be there. They’ll know what to do. They’ll have done it plenty of times before. Soon it will pass and when it does they’ll be able to talk to you about what has happened, but wait for that. Then listen. We all love when someone is able to just be there.

  2. There’s a bit to know, so if you can understand everything you can … well that makes you kind of awesome.

    It makes a difference to be able to talk about anxiety without having to explain it. On the days they don’t feel like they have it in them to talk about it, it means a lot that you just ‘get it’. If you’ve tried to understand everything you can about what it means to have anxiety then that’s enough. Anxiety is hard to make sense of – people with anxiety will be the first to tell you that – but it will mean everything that you’ve tried. They’ll love you for it.

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  3. It’s physical.

    Anxiety is a completely normal physical response to a brain that’s being a little over-protective. It’s not crazy and it’s not deficient. There’s a primitive part of the brain that’s geared to sense threat. It’s all action and not a lot of thought and it’s in all of us. For some people, it fires up a lot sooner and with a lot less reason than it does in others. When it does, it surges the body with cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenalin to get the body ready to run for its life or fight for it. This is the fight or flight response and it’s in everyone. It’s just that in some people (people with anxiety) the ‘go’ button is a bit more sensitive.

  4. You’ll want them as part of your tribe. (Seriously. They’re pretty great to have around.)

    Because of their need to stay safe and to prepare against the next time anxiety rears its head, people who struggle with anxiety will generally have a plan – and they will have worked hard to make sure it works for everyone involved, not just for themselves. They’ll make sure everything has been organised to keep everyone safe, happy, on time and out of trouble. They’ll make sure everyone has what they need and if there’s anything that hasn’t been thought of, well it’s probably not worth thinking about. Notice the good things they do – there are plenty. Let them know you love them because of who they are, including who they are with anxiety, not despite it.

  5. Anxiety has nothing to do with courage or character. Nothing at all.

    Courage is feeling the edge of yourself and moving beyond it. We all have our limits but people with anxiety are just more aware of theirs. Despite this, they are constantly facing up to the things that push against their edges. That’s courage, and people with anxiety have it in truckloads. Remind them that you see who they are and that this has nothing to do with that anxiety thing they do sometimes. People with anxiety are strong – you have to be to live with something like that. They’re sensitive – they’ll be as sensitive to you and what you need as they are to their environment. That makes them pretty awesome to be with. They’re reliable – to control for the potential of something triggering an attack, anxious people will go the extra step to make sure there’s a plan and that everyone is safe, happy and have everything they need. They’re intelligent – they’re thinkers (which is what gets in their way sometimes). They can be funny, kind, brave and spirited. So I suppose it’s like this – they’re no different to anyone else. As with everyone, the thing that trips them up sometimes (their anxiety) is also the thing that lifts them above the crowd.

  6. Make sure there’s room to say ‘no’. And don’t take it personally.

    Sometimes plans might need to be changed to steer clear of anxiety stepping in unexpectedly. People with anxiety will be sensitive to your needs (they’re pretty great like that) and changing plans isn’t something they’ll do lightly. Your flexibility will never be taken for granted. There are many things in the environment that most people think nothing of, but which can be the beginning of an anxiety attack for a brain on hyper-drive. Things that are ambiguous or neutral can sometimes be read as a threat – not by the person, but by an overprotective brain. People with anxiety are super-aware of everything going on – smells, sounds, people, possibilities. It’s exhausting when your attention is drawn to so many things. Don’t take ‘no’ personally – they’re never meant like that. Know that just because they might not want to be doing what you’re doing, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be with you. Keep offering – don’t assume everything you offer will be met with ‘no’ – but be understanding and ‘no big deal’ if you aren’t taken up on your offer. They are saying no to a potential anxiety attack. Not to you.

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  7. Loads of lovin’ never hurt anyone.

    Be compassionate and be there. Talk up the things you love about them. There will be times that people with anxiety will feel like they are their anxiety and that they are a source of difficulty. (Who hasn’t felt like they’re making things harder than they need to be? C’mon be honest.) Specifically, I’m talking about when plans have to be changed, when you need to book a few rows back from the front row, turn the radio down, take the long way. If this is the worst you have to deal with in a friend, sign me up.

  8. Anxiety can change shape.

    Anxiety can be slippery. Sometimes it looks the way you’d expect anxiety to look. Other times it looks cranky, depressed or frustrated. Remember this and don’t take it personally.

  9. Don’t try to make sense of what’s happening.

    People with anxiety know that their anxiety doesn’t make sense. That’s what makes it so difficult. Explaining that there’s nothing to worry about won’t mean anything – it just won’t – because they already know this. (Oh boy do they know this!) They would have told themselves not to worry a billion times the number of times you’ve said it to them. If it hasn’t helped so far then one more won’t make a difference. Be understanding, calm and relaxed and above all else, just be there. Anxiety feels flighty and there’s often nothing that feels better than having someone beside you who’s grounded, available and okay to go through this with you without trying to change you. Telling them not to worry is as effective as asking you not to think about pink elephants. Really try not to think about pink elephants swinging from a vine. With flowers in their hair. Just stop thinking about them, those crazy big pink babes. See how that works?

  10. Don’t try to change them.

    You’ll want to give advice. But don’t. Let them know that to you, they’re absolutely fine the way they are and that you don’t need to change them or fix them. If they ask for your advice then of course, go for it. but otherwise, let them know that they are enough. More than enough actually. Just the way they are. 

  11. ‘You just need to get over it,’ said the person who doesn’t get it.
  12. Anxiety just happens and often there’s no real target. So if you’re suggesting they just need to ‘get over it’, the obvious question is get over what? If people with anxiety only needed a bit of direction to ‘get over it’, they would have given it to themselves and been over it long ago. Telling them to get over it is like telling them they’re doing something wrong. You don’t tell an asthmatic just to breathe. Tough love isn’t love. It’s just tough. Actually it isn’t even that.

  13. Don’t confuse their need to control their environment with their need to control you. Sometimes they look the same. They’re not.

    The need to control for everything that might go wrong is hard work. For the same reasons that drive anxious people to make sure that everyone has what they need, everyone is looked after, that things are under control and the likelihood of anything turning bad is minimised – for the same reasons you’re looked after – you might also feel controlled. See it for what it is. It’s the need to feel safe and in control of the possibility of anxiety running the show – not the need to control you. You might get frustrated – that’s okay – all relationships go through that. Having compassion doesn’t mean you have to go along with everything put in front of you, so talk things out gently if you need to. Don’t be critical though. Nobody likes that.  Just remember, while your resistance might look more like a ‘won’t’ theirs looks more like a ‘can’t’.

And finally …

Know how important you are to them. Anyone who stays around through the hard stuff is a keeper. People with anxiety know this. Being there for someone during their struggles will only bring the relationship closer. Nothing sparks a connection more than really getting someone, being there, and bringing the fun into the relationship – because you’ve gotta have fun. Be the one who refuses to let anxiety suck the life of out everything. And know you’re a keeper. Yep. You are. Know that they are grateful – so grateful – for everything you do. And that they love you back.

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281 Comments

Jill

Not okay–it is not okay to have to hear yet again that my anxious spouse just needs a little love, understanding, and space to not be involved in normal life activities. I’m still a keeper as a spouse, even if this disorder makes me mad as hell, grieve for the full life I am not able to have, and pissed at my spouse for being difficult to live with. Articles that acknowledge how devastating and depressing partnering with an anxious person is are giving you the real deal. Talking the disorder down and acting like it’s okay to live a lonely life accommodating an ill partner presents a false version of life as a partner of anxiety. Try again please.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Jill, you have a right to feel all of those things. I can hear how angry and frustrated and sad you are and all of those are completely understandable. You have a right to feel all of those things. I expect your spouse may also feel these things in relation to their anxiety. Anxiety can be awful like for everyone – the person who has it and the person who loves them. It’s so important to remember that anxiety isn’t a choice. I expect anxiety also makes your partner mad as hell that they are unable to do the things they want to do. I expect your partner also wishes very much that his/her anxiety didn’t get in your way – it would feel bad enough that it gets in theirs.

If your partner had food allergies, would you be mad as hell at him/her for not eating the same food as you? If your partner was in a wheelchair would you be mad as hell about their inability to walk when you need them to? Maybe. And that’s completely okay, but it doesn’t mean the target should be your partner.

Anxiety is a physical condition, not a chosen one. People with anxiety can’t ‘get over it’ any more than an asthmatic can ‘get over’ not breathing during as asthma attack. Anxiety happens in the brain – a strong, healthy, brain that works too hard sometimes and is a little too sensitive to threat. There are so many strengths that come with anxiety, but there are also ways it holds people back. This is no different for the rest of us – we all have our limits and we all have things that hold us back. The limits that are imposed by anxiety are not done by choice. Nobody chooses anxiety and nobody chooses to be limited by it. Nobody is suggesting that you should be living a lonely life and I’m really sorry this is what is happening for you. I wish it could be otherwise. You deserve a full, rich life. So does your partner. Anxiety can be difficult for everyone. Support and understanding and some accommodation for the things that are difficult at times is something we all need to be better for ourselves and the people we love.

Reply
Zgsandstrom

Hey Sigmund,

I agree that, in the moment of an episode (i.e. after the release of cortisol and adrenaline, usually with rapid breathing), there is a chemical element that cannot be reasoned with; all you can do is keep the individual safe, comfort them, and wait for it to pass.

However, while it may be true that generalized anxiety disorder is a hormonal and endocrine based response, classifying it simply as a physical condition and/or disorder is inaccurate. Cognitive behavioral therapy–without medication–is a long-standing and effective method of treatment for those suffering from GAD. Comparing it to other medical conditions which are treatable only by means of medical procedures (such as asthma, paralysis, and allergies) is, at best, a disingenuous and unfair comparison.

To be clear, you should never tell someone currently suffering from anxiety disorder to just “get over it”. From a clinical perspective, the fact is that since the triggers of anxiety are psychological, those with generalized anxiety CAN actually “get over it” with the help of a licensed professional–so long as the “it” in question is GAD symptoms as a recurring illness, and not an anxiety attack happening right now.

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Hey Sigmund

Anxiety is absolutely a physical condition. If it is not a physical condition, what is it? Are you suggesting it’s a choice? Not understanding the physical nature of anxiety, and suggesting that it’s otherwise, contributes to the stigma that is driven not by facts, but by grossly ill-informed, outdated opinion. There is an abundance of scientific evidence that shows an anxious brain is wired a certain way – not better, not worse, just different. This wiring also brings great strengths. Here is one article that will explain some of the research http://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-why-the-worry/.

An anxious brain is wired to be super-sensitive to threat – it’s physical. In the same way people with asthma (I’m one of them) or allergies know that there are things that will trigger an attack so they avoid them, people with anxiety also have a need to avoid the things that will trigger the physical side of anxiety. Just because the chemicals aren’t surging in a particular moment, doesn’t mean they want to invite them in. Anxiety, like asthma and allergies is something that has to be managed. One of the ways people do this is by avoiding the things that will trigger it. This can be difficult for the people who love them, but it’s important to understand that it is NOT something they do to be difficult, but something they do to avoid the awful physical symptoms that come with anxiety.

Are you suggesting that because anxiety can be managed without medication, this is proof that it isn’t physical??? Really?? In some cases, anxiety is so severe that the only way some people can manage it is with medication. Depression can also be managed in some cases without medication. Are you suggesting that depression isn’t physical? If I have a headache or a cold and it gets better with medication, does that mean it’s not physical? That I’m ‘faking’ it? That it’s all in my head? That I’m just trying to be difficult?

One of the reasons CBT works is by changing the wiring of the brain. Exercise and mindfulness also do this. Every experience we have changes the wiring of the brain. Exercise and mindfulness in particular have been proven by extensive research to change the physical architecture and structure of the brain – this is why they are beneficial for anxiety. Here is an article on how exercise does that (http://www.heysigmund.com/activity-restores-vital-neurochemical-protects-anxietyepression/) and mindfulness (http://www.heysigmund.com/overcoming-anxiety-mindfulness/). Anxiety is physical. It is no less physical than asthma, allergies or paralysis. The avoidance that you see in people with anxiety is to avoid the physical symptoms that come with anxiety. Before you publicly accuse me of being ‘disengenuous’ and ‘unfair’, it would be best to make sure you are informed. Hopefully this has helped with that.

Reply
yoyo

GAD is less physical than asthma. No one can learn their way out of asthma. We can’t manipulate our lungs with our minds at that level (though through exercise, diet and relaxation, we can manage our asthma).

Many people can learn their way out of anxiety and do so, often by safely, and in a supportive environment, facing their fears, not avoiding them. Our brains are malleable (though perhaps for some people, less so and our set points may differ, so some of us may be wired to be more anxious than others but even we can still shift along the spectrum). We can alter our brain (organ) with our mind (sensory experience of our brain) and also through the experiences we have with our body (exercise, diet etc). We can learn to be less anxious.

I’d guess your motivation to paint anxiety as physical is because you want people to respond with empathy to those suffering from anxiety? I agree, we should be loving and empathetic to those struggling with an anxiety but this is a moral stance, not a factual one. We don’t have to accept anxiety is like a broken leg, in order to treat people lovingly. I don’t think anxiety is any thing like a broken leg and I still empathize with how overwhelming and hard anxiety can be.

GAD/SAD is not either a physical condition or a choice. That’s a false dichotomy. Rather, as we learn how to be in the world, we develop coping styles or patterns of behaviour. If we don’t have the tools, emotional and social support and internal sense of self to feel like we can deal with the world, then new experiences, social environments, challenges and threats etc, may feel insurmountable and give rise to feelings of intense panic. Panic is not nice and so feeling like we can’t cope, we avoid the situations that trigger our panic and therefore miss the opportunities for corrective emotional experiences (e.g.public speaking won’t kill me) and skill building (e.g. practice, technique, preparation).

You can’t just snap out of an anxiety attack or choose to be less anxious, rather you choose how to tackle your anxiety (perhaps through positive self-talk, meditation,interrogating how rational your beliefs are, choosing to move through your anxious feelings in order to do the things you want to do, acknowledging your anxiety etc) and over time you become less anxious and better able to cope. A better metaphor for anxiety than an illness might be physical fitness, you can’t snap in to being physically fit. One run is not going to make you an athlete. Even worse your first run is probably going to suck and leave you red faced and panting but over time, with commitment, discipline and repetition, you’ll become a runner and then running will be second nature to you. There may be times, you’re less fit than you’d like or you skip your runs, but even then you’ll never feel as unprepared to run or as overwhelmed by the idea of running, as you did when you first began.

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

This isn’t a competition about which is more physical – anxiety or asthma. Nor is it a ‘moral stance’. I very much welcome healthy, robust debate, but suggesting that my articles are not factually informed is patronising and ignorant of the facts. ANXIETY IS PHYSICAL. The wiring of the brain is different, not better, not worse, just different. We can alter our brain, as you point out – are you suggesting the brain isn’t physical? Anxiety is activated by the amygdala. The amygdala is a part of the brain that is responsible for our fight or flight response – a physiological response that prepares us to deal with possible danger by surging our body with various neurochemicals that make us stronger, faster, more powerful, more alert. As you can see – physical. With anxiety, the amygdala is particularly sensitive and will tend to sense threat or danger when there isn’t any. When that happens, it hits the panic button and initiates the physiological fight or flight response unnecessarily.

Exercise and mindfulness can be very powerful in managing anxiety, and they do this by physically changing the structure and function of the brain. The fact that they are a non-synthetic way to rewire the brain and strengthen it against anxiety does not in any way mean that anxiety isn’t physical. The brain is physical. The fight or flight response is physical. The surge of neurochemicals that causes the physical symptoms of anxiety is physical. The rewiring of the brain that comes with various strategies is physical.

Many people are able to manage their anxiety. I am an asthmatic and I have learned the things that trigger me and the things that can strengthen me. I will probably always be prone to asthma. Some people will always be prone to anxiety. Does that mean one is more or less physical?

If you are still questioning that anxiety is physical, or that my claim on this is ‘moral’ rather than factual, here is an article that might help to clarify things further for you http://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-why-the-worry/. It explains how the brains of people with anxiety are wired differently – as in physically differently – not worse, not better, just different. Here is another article that explains the physical symptoms of anxiety http://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-kids/ and how anxiety is a physiological response. Here is another article that explains how mindfulness physically alters the brain in relation to anxiety http://www.heysigmund.com/overcoming-anxiety-mindfulness/ and another that explains how exercise does the same http://www.heysigmund.com/activity-restores-vital-neurochemical-protects-anxietyepression/.
Here is another one that talks about the ‘brain in our gut’ and how the environment of the gut (again, physical) can influence anxiety http://www.heysigmund.com/our-second-brain-and-stress-anxiety-depression-mood/.

Hopefully this will fill in any gaps in your knowledge. Hopefully also, you will now be able to see anxiety for what it is, and move forward from the ridiculous idea that the only reason people struggle with anxiety is because they haven’t done enough of ‘something’ to cure themselves of it.

Reply
MrsT

These articles are actually helpful to some. If they aren’t helpful to you, don’t read or better yet don’t respond.

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VioletStar

Hi Jill, Im going to just say my part and I hope for your family you can take this lightly and maybe it will help you?
I am a young woman with crippling anxiety at 23. I have had a lot happen in my life that only really matters to me because they are my experiences alone. The point is is that I feel justified in my saddness- but I know I am in the wrong anyway because i should be stronger than letting small things control me. I would love to talk to somebody without feeling as if they are doing me a favor or dont take me seriously. If we were to have a heart to heart i would expect you to think i was being meladramatic. My family thinks i am a drama queen. I have been wanting to die for over 10 years and not a single person thinks im honest about it because i havent gone through with anything. I am proud of myself for keeping myself this strong for this long, even though it gets harder everyday.
Why does it get harder? Because im alone. I have lived with my husband for years and i love him and I know he really loves me too. But he spends everyday trying to cope with my disability instead of helping me get out of it. If he could ignore what he thinks he needs to do and seriously just give me the chance and support and encouragement to get out in the world. He makes excuses for me to people we have known forever but had no idea i was having problems. Example: My 5 Year HighSchool Reunion was coming up. I chose to just save our money because we had some bills coming up and not enough time to visit both sides of family and travel. Even though I bought nice makeup (NYC used to work good enough for me) just so I can keep up that way. I have always hated makeup but in todays world you dont look put together without it… im not on good terms with my class of only 64,including myself, I was always the person calling to see what everyone was doing, and never got invited. He remembers it as I was to stressed and scared and too embarrassed to go.
Things are not “allowed” to get better once the people aronud you know there is a problem. Walking on egg shells probably feels inevitable to you, but in my situation I would have a weight lifted if I didnt have to feel bad for something I probably didnt mean or understand or couldnt explain. I feel so guilty for what Im doing to my relationship but everyday before he goes to work he says, “Today will be a good day, right?” Like I choose… If something last second comes up he makes a huge deal about making sure im calm and that messes everything up. I understand life happens and I cant control everything, but I shouldnt have to take a step back to convince him I will get over it and lets do whatever came up because thats the only way I wont have to worry about it anymore and thats ok.
I am blowing off my grandparents right now just because I know I havent talked to them and my dad said they are sad. So now i cant stop shaking and choking on my throat everytime I seriously try to pick up the phone… This is the stupidest thing I have ever done and i am humiliated that this is as real to me as it is.
My point is only this; I feel as if my husbands knowledge of my insecurities and anxious feelings I get make everything worse. He says he tries to understand, and I dont want him to! I just want people not to care that i am having a hard time in my brain. We keep talking about it and he really thinks i want to and it will help. I tell him that i would love for him to just play a video game while i do paperwork and even thogh he wont do it he says “every time i try this happens”. Meaning the fight he just started. He doesnt try to do what i asked until i beg and beg and tell him i needed that. But then i dont need it anymore and he doesn’t understand how to help the entire situation next time…
I hope this helps you understand, but i have told my husband this crap twice today alone and i feel as if i have to leave him so that i can have room to breathe. If he would give me a safe environment without making me feel bad about it life would improve for me at least! Hope things get better for you too… (Anxiety makes us people pleasers, failing makes us desperate to succeed) please understand when family forces one to get outside help it makes us feel unwanted and like you dont want to understand for yourself, you just want us “better” which just rips a hole through me…

Reply
Mizzybe

Thanks for the long story which already said everything I wanted to say –

Ya. For me If ppl around that keep trying to help but not the way I want or act like they think anxiety is really big deal really sick. That would make me feels bad.
Sometimes. I don’t mind if ppl understand me or not. I just don’t want to explain thing over n over again when I know u won’t get it no matter how many times I tell u. Which is really annoying n sometimes drive me crazy.
That’s why I don’t really tell anyone I have anxiety. I know they might misunderstand about things that I might do is weird or crazy n over react. I rather u don’t understand better than u treat me like something else.

I have anxity like 10years around already.
Started from something happened to me. But like “vialetstar said the only matter to me. I know I’m better than before.

But sometimes….
anxiety is really something just popup without making sense and reason.
Fds got mad about why I suddenly left.
Think that I’m over react on something.
Think I’m totally nothing but lazy just don’t want to do anything but chill at home. But sometimes that’s what anxity do when it got me. I know a lot of ppl wouldnt misunderstand how or why.
Or even think that anxiety is an excuse for ppl wants to be weird.

What makes myself feel better when it came to me. Is do whatever feels more relax and comfortable at that time. Maybe just lying in bed alone. With no ppl around. Lock the door. And just feels like nothing will be sudden happen to me. So finally can be more relax. Sometimes… All u know is just take sometimes to pack up and stand again.

Reply
K-cat

Violet star….when you said at the end of your reply…”if he would just give me a safe place……” Please describe that safe place. I need to understand…I am with someone with GAD. thanks K-cat.

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Tasha

Violetstar- I hear you loud and clear- needing space to be as you are in anxiety and out of it, feeling the pressure of loved ones wanting you to ‘get better’ – as opposed to their love and concern, and desire to see you through it.
I also,have anxiety, and am learning that Imgotta be the first one to accept myself and this condition- as in i gotta own it first- or i cant think others will- doing this is also helpful because it makes others reactions to my anxiety less powerful. I’ve been in therapy and mindful meditating also- both things giving myself and taking the space when i need it- ‘owning it’ – and this is helping me. Being OK with feeling anxious- and the repercussions – being ok with being anxious in public.
I know there is more i can do- and yet i dont always do the best things to take care of myself…
I wanted to know if you have any advice for what works with your partner in building mutual understanding? I feel like i am two people – or the anxiety state is a third wheel in my relationship-

Reply
Marcus

I agree with Jill, There are many beautiful things in my life to be grateful for, but they all come with a cost. It’s so hard living with a person with anxiety. Until they figure it out, the state of partnership is “unknown”. Worse, because anxiety and depression are mostly together it feels like it pigeon holes you as a partner. My problems go to the back burner, and no matter how broken I feel. I cannot express that to my partner without her relating it back to her own feelings. I feel like I’m being attacked from all angles without a corner to scream out. So what do I do? I try to make things more neutral. I try to take away things. At first it was things like: Budget, house chores, cooking, loud music and noises. That was quickly overlooked though, as these were viewed as straws of her burden she carried “us” for “so long” not even acknowledging how much I have taken away from things she used to do and still do the things I have always done. I mean we are a couple right? If those things were her strengths why not apply mine elsewhere? Not to mention, I was going to school, work, and being involved in an exhaustive schedule mostly of her making…what time did I have for those things? After I graduated school, I was able and equipped to be a great deal more help. That seems to get lost in our arguments. I feel like I have no time for me when she and her anxiety are around. I love to do art & poetry and my inspiration has always come at night, but I am guilty by her if I want to stay up beyond when she wants to go to sleep. It comforts her when I am in the bed next to her. I feel suffocated, snubbed out and mostly imprisoned. I’ve turned to anger or checking out in social media. I have been voyeuristic at other people’s lives and coming into balance with the world’s sorrows and joys instead of living mine. I felt helpless in my life and it was always followed by abuse. So my immediate reaction is to associate this new pain with that and become very irritable and extremely angry. I thought I had escaped that helplessness, and now I’m in another. I get so fucking sick of seeing her cry without me being able to do anything that I have come to despise her for it. She relives her anxiety with our friends during time we go over to un-wind. Time I am happy to see someone who doesn’t have anxiety. I look like the asshole because I appear un-phased, but I have been dealing with it for 2 years on! I feel mute. I feel hostage to not being able to express my own sadness. Now we throw our child into the mix, and I am trying to let him live a life without having him hostage to this as well, and I’m overwhelmed. When I try to talk about my own feelings it feels like it always comes back to her. And who am I to complain of a foot ache to an amputee? . My wife is getting the best me anyone ever has seen. Because of her condition, I am not privileged to her best. I get the face no one else sees in her professional place. I get the hurt, sad, depressed, anxious, angry, overly emotional person and at times I get to see who I love most. I am so hurt and hopeless, what can I do?

Reply
Mister Jones

wow… I just read your entire story, and I sympathize with you to the fullest… my fiancé has been dealing with anxiety for 2 years now… and, in parallel, I have been dealing with it. Although I am not diagnosed with it, living with someone who suffers from it makes me feel like my world is closing in as well. Often finding myself having to walk on egg shells, or having to watch my every word when I address her…it’s tough! And as a result, I feel like her punching bag…whenever her anxiety surfaces, I get the brunt of it. She gets upset at the small things, and sometimes I’m left with my head scratching.

Another issue is that, because I dont understand (and never will) fully understand how it must feel to live WITH anxiety, I become angry and mad at times. Her irrationality maddens me at times, and I take it out on her. Sometimes I feel imprisoned. There are times where I want to work on my own passion (music, art, etc) but always hesitate before bringing it up because I do not want to flare up her anxiety. And that damn anxiety has her address me in rude tones at times, or just sharp. And in the heat of the moment, I forget that it’s the anxiety talking, and not her, and I respond with equal (or higher) negativity.

We have a 10-year old daughter… and she sees the shift in atmosphere in the house when anxiety makes an appearance…and in front of her, I do my best to steer clear of arguments with her because of said anxiety (which, I feel, forces her to relinquish all self-control)… sometimes I feel caged man… I feel like, I can’t speak to anybody about this (like my friends or family) because chances are, they won’t even understand the gist of it…

I just wish there was something I could to truly help her… but…I feel like my hands are tied… the constant quarrels, the numerous arguments, the multiple verbal sparring…I’m no doctor but there are times where I feel like I can do/say things to help her, and sometimes, that same olive branch gets broken right in my face…

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BPD Spouse

Jones, get out if you can. ASAP. Gracefully if possible – but get out. Have you read/researched Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)? It is not to be confused with bipolar – it is VERY different. What you described sounds to me like you’re living with a BPD. Typically highly empathic people like you are attracted to them and vice versa. You want to help. You try to help. There is no help that another can give them – in rare cases with extremely specialized psychotherapy it may be possible. Does she acknowledge she has anxiety or is always your fault?

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Michael Hill

Hi. Does anyone know of a forum for partners of anxiety sufferers? There are a few posts here about how hard it is, and people (like me) feeling at the end of their tether. A proper forum for bitching sessions and practical suggestions for making the relationship work would be great. Anyone know of any?

Thanks

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Emily F

My hubby shows no outward sign og being anxious he just rips into me verbally. Bringing up stuff I supposedly did years ago. Some of the hurtful things he says makes me wonder if he even likes me. I have to walk egg shells because he has anxiety but he can be rude and hurtful but we cant discuss it cause it makes him anxious. He has been working on his mental health and belongs to a support group and everyone says he is doing so well and he is but they dont have to live with him. He saves mr snappy for me. Im tired of being snapped at, im tired of walking on egg shells. And im scared because, now he is so much better than he was I think thats this may be the best its ever going to get and I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.

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Jen

Wow! I think we live the same life. I feel strongly that we should not encourage the idea that this is ok if someone has anxiety, take ownership go to therapy, take your meds, work on yourself . it’s not ok if you can’t meet your responsibilities and the needs of your spouse, children etc… stop asking others to manage you

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Dawn

I feel so lonely and isolated and it is very hard when I have my panic attacks because it is embarrassing to have someone see me have one and it also freaks out my pug (dog) because he senses and knows when I start shaking and have to get out of the house and (out of my skin). I am trying all kinds of meds and I go weekly to an Anxiety Treatment Center for help. I just feel so lucky I do not have a spouse or friend like Jill who is Mad as Hell that her husband has this disorder. What a “””””! Do you think we enjoy this! I have considered suicide over living like this. Her husband needs to get away from her as fast as he can! How about one ounce of compassion?

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Barb

I agree with Jill. The issue isn’t about being more compassionate. The anxiety disordered person needs to get help for their anxiety not just expect everyone to accommodate the same old patterns over and over. Anxiety is one of the easiest disorders to treat, there is treatment available. Doing nothing and asking others just to deal with it is not acceptable of fair to the family members or really to themselves.

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MrsT

This article is for an UNDERSTANDING about anxiety. Pretty sure that people living with anxiety know that they may need help. No one wants to live with it. Takes time and practice. So if you choose to be with someone that has anxiety you will need to establish paitence.

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Sadie

I agree that getting help is essential. It is troubling when people cause great pain to others without seeking a solution, but sometimes anxiety itself makes a person too afraid to get help. As someone with anxiety, I can say it is NOT EASY to “get over”. Also, not everyone realizes they have a problem. You can get used to feeling anxious all of the time. It can become a normal state. It’s often a lifelong fight. I have tried many medications which all caused me health problems (like gastritis- I couldn’t eat anything without severe stomach pain, another caused facial swelling etc.). I have tried CBT using a workbook at home and talk therapy. I am much better than I was when I started, but it took significant time and effort. I hadn’t felt calm and content in years. I just kept it to myself. I was young and I had no idea what was going on. Once I started getting treatment it was a huge deal to feel calm! I had forgotten how that felt. Now I have an anxiety attack about once a month. I feel calm often. I feel like this is a huge victory! However, I still suffer terrible guilt when my anxiety impairs my ability to care for my family. Not everyone is as lucky as me. Even with medication and therapy some are too debilitated to work, or even leave their homes.

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Dawn

How do you know anxiety disorder is one of the easiest disorders to treat. You could not be more wrong! This is the hardest thing in my life that has happened to me and I have been through having a child, back surgery, infusions, deaths and living with a panic disorder is the worst thing that ever happened to me. You need to learn your facts before you speak.

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Jean

A friend of mine has anxiety. This is new for him, he’s 20. He has always lived at his mother’s until this year. Him and his buddy’s got a place, but now he feels too crammed and has been having attacks. He wants to move to an apartment by himself. Is this a good idea? When he has an attack it sends him to the emergency room. Is there a guide for where a guy like this should live?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

It can be a big adjustment moving out of home and sharing with a friend. It sounds as though your friend knows what works for him and what doesn’t. Encourage him to do what feels right for him – he’s likely to have a really good idea of what that will look like. People with anxiety are generally really good at knowing their triggers, although sometimes with anxiety there are no clear triggers at all. If it feels okay for you, let him know that he can call you any time. If he calls you when he is anxious, help him to ground himself by asking him what he sees, what he feels, smells etc – this will help t bring him back to the present moment and find calm. You sound like a great friend.

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Erick

My questions is, how much support and help is too much? I find myself being the one asking my girlfriend how shes feeling and wanting to talk about her anxiety issues more than she does. I want to know and be aware of the moments when shes feeling the way she does and how long they last. I ask her if she thinks its serious enough to where going to a specialist would help and if medication is a question. She has no problem talking to me about it and reassures me she has it under control and tries not to let it affect her. She describes it as chest pains and feeling worried about absolutely nothing at random moments which can be confusing. But after deciding to educate myself more on the subject i kept finding myself in forums like this wanting to hear from other people and some stories were both eye opening and in some cases frightening. Stories of people who are immobile in their homes and deal with anxiety every second of everyday. It broke me down emotionally and has to this day make me feel anxious about the situation. Just thinking of someone who i love so much has to deal with this hurts me. I question if shes hiding all this pain so that i wont worry. We use to talk about our future and one day starting a family. Truth is these recent events have put a pause on the engagement on my end because i worry if her anxiety will worsen with age? Will we be able to have healthy children? Will i have to question her feelings when shes quiet at a football game or outing? Will she be able to be there for me emotionally when i need her? And the simple fact that it is not curable and be apart of “our” lives from now on. I read positive stories but then stumble across those who say theres no such thing and everyday is a struggle not only for the person with it but with their partner as well. I want us to be happy and not pretend to be. Everything I’ve been doing lately and all my attention has been directed towards her. If im not at work on my computer looking up anxiety, i am with her making sure i dont say or make a wrong move to trigger anything and it has been mentally exhausting doing this everyday from the moment i wake up to the moment i go to sleep for the last 8 months.

1)What can i do to help us “both”?

2)Have studies shown that it can worsen with age? I keep hearing 2 sides to this that it gets better or gets worse. She said she felt it really bad for 3-4 weeks straight when she first started feeling it 2 years ago and now happens occasionally here and there randomly not more than a couple of hours or day.

3)I keep reading it is not a good idea to not seek help even if you feel you do not need it. Is it a safer bet to see a specialist before it can worsen? Or is she being honest about it not really affecting her?

4)She stays active playing tennis on weekends, has a 9-5 job, practices self control from what tells me, we have as many friendly gatherings as possible because we love our friends, and she drinks an occasional glass of chardonnay more often now. Is this to hide the pain since 2-3 glasses gets her buzzed, or simply because she likes it? I cant tell and worry it can go downhill in the future

5)What category of anxiety would classify hers in? She doesn’t have panic attacks from what im aware of, shes not socially awkward but fears it, shes able to leave the house and do errands, shes still very much ready to go to a football game or surfing. She just feels anxious and feels it in her chest sometimes with no reason needed. I just want to better educate myself since going to a specialist at the moment is not an option for her.

6)Am i worrying more than i should and do a number of people really have control over it and live a regular life? Like i said i keep bringing up the topic more than she does and makes me think im stressing more than i should and or making her think about it when shes not.

Sorry for the long post but i needed to express the issue. I do want to be with her regardless of this or anything else. Truth is i just worry for our future. I dont see her as being emotionally crippled and know she loves me because shes constantly showing me. And i make more of an effort now more than ever to show her i love her and want to to support her. I also want people reading this who are suffering to know that theyre are people out there who really care about you and willing to go the far and beyond to help you be as happy as you deserve to be. Thank you so much!

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Erick it’s great that you want to help her girlfriend, but it’s important to be guided by her as to what she needs. If she says she’s okay, believe her! It sounds as though her anxiety is really well under control. Anxiety exists on a spectrum and people learn to manage it really effectively in all different ways. Anxiety is so common – you would probably be surprised to find how many people you know are dealing with it without you realising. Research is finding so many more ways to manage it effectively with and without medication.

There is evidence that anxiety runs in families but this is largely determined by environment. What this means is that it if you are anxious about her anxiety, you are just as likely to contribute to any potential for your children to become anxious. The environment is key. There are many ways that very loving, committed, wonderful parents can create environments that make anxiety worse. Things like overprotecting, modelling anxious behaviour (rather than brave behaviour), allowing the child to avoid the thing they are scared of etc. Again, these are all things that can be managed.

People with anxiety have anxiety from time to time – that’s it. They have incredible strengths and are no worse to be in a relationship with than anyone else. People with anxiety are generally strong, brave, considerate and emotionally intelligent. They thing of things that others haven’t thought of – they’re great to have on your team!

It sounds as though your girlfriend is managing her anxiety really well. We all have our ‘stuff’. For your girlfriend, she struggles with anxiety from time to time. I have people in my life who I’m really close to who have anxiety. They are warm, generous, strong, brave, wonderful people who I couldn’t imagine being without. Anxiety absolutely would NOT be a dealbreaker for me. I hope you are able to work through this together. It sounds as though you could be a great team.

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foolishsailor

So yeah big idiot writing after the disaster, here. I want to thank you for your article. My girlfriend has anxiety and she’s also in the med profession so she knows all about what she’s got and she’s done a fair job of explaining things and my background in alcoholism helped but as she was going into what is now a 3 week long battle I didn’t see it for what it was, I’m in the middle of the pacific ocean and she’s on the east coast. I needed to talk, she got wrapped up in all her stuff, I ended up in the back seat and just added to her anxiety with everything else going on. Instead of stopping, stepping back, accepting what she was telling me, I hit almost everything you mentioned about what not to do…but before I read this article I did send out one last note saying “hey I’m here and not going anywhere” and of course called myself an idiot when I sent her the link to this article. We’ve known each other for 13 years but didn’t start dating or talking in that manner until about 7 months ago so I was clueless and also arrogant that I knew how to handle this because there were little attacks that were easy to talk through and so I evidently I wasn’t paying attention. yes there is the possibility that she should’ve said something along the lines of “hey, things are getting sketchy” but her past is also filled with abusive men that didn’t get it and yelled n screamed so she did what she always did in the past. Thanks to that it’s been almost 2 weeks since we actually talked and over a week since any electronic communication. So having said all of that, my theory is I need to let her come to me when she’s ready, and I’m even leery of sending happy notes….thoughts?

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Angelo

Hey sigmund
Honestly I don’t know what to do my wife suffers from anxiety and has an ocd towards germs everything can be dirty in a split second and she can flip and it lasts for days I’ve read what u wrote and some of it makes sense and some don’t for the people who haven’t dealt with something like this they make think the person is crazy but from experience it’s a very hard thing to deal with day in day out especially when the person can shut down in an instant maybe u can help by explaining what to do I’ve dealt with this for over a year now and it is ruining a marriage there has to be a way to help

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Angelo I can hear how much you want things to be better for your wife and your relationship. Talk to her about what she needs from you. If her anxiety feels as though it’s really becoming intrusive, it might be helpful to get outside support from a counsellor. There are ways to manage anxiety, but when it’s severe it can be hard to know where to start, or to believe that anything can make a difference. That extra support can be key.

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Amanda

My 16 year old son has started to suffer from anxiety. In May he had several panic attacks a day,although the panic attacks have reduced his levels of anxiety are very high ,he always seems to need reassurance that he’s ok and nothing is going to happen to him. The only thing is he does not believe its anxiety and always thinks it’s something else. I feel helpless as a parent and not sure what I can do for him apart from the reassurance I give him daily, and it so hard to watch him like this. What can I do?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

I really understand the awful feelings of helplessness when one of your kids is struggling. All of the anxiety articles are on this link http://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/anxiety/. There is plenty there so take your time over it. The one that I think will help is this one http://www.heysigmund.com/dealing-with-anxiety/. It explains the physical symptoms of anxiety and why they happen. Understanding this can be really empowering. There is also plenty there about ways to manage anxiety. Hopefully there will be something in there that can bring some comfort to your son.

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george

I have anxiety and I’m going away for a week with a buddy. And my anxiety is driving me crazy. But you know what I’m going anyway I’m pushing through it. Because if I don’t. I never will. I will miss my wife and kids for that week but I know they will be there when I get back. I’m not letting this sto me no way my anxiety can go jump off a bridge.

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Megan

Recently found out my daughter has anxiety and depression. Trying to deal with her silents at the same time afraid she could not get out of that and harm herself. She refused to go see counselor. What should I do? Anyone as a parent who has same situation like me, I hope you can share with me. Also, for teenagers who has anxiety, please share your feeling and how to help.. I really appreciated. Thank you

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Megan I understand how painful it is watching someone you love hurting like this. One of the reasons people with depression might decide not to get outside help is because depression brings a sense of hopelessness with it. There’s a sense of ‘what’s the point’. Has she been diagnosed by a doctor? Are you able to talk to the doctor – maybe he or she can speak with your daughter about the importance of getting extra support. I know the helplessness can be awful but the growth is your daughter’s. You can’t make someone actively get support – I wish it could be different. What you can do is be there for her as a strong, steady reliable presence. Ask her what she needs from you, though she might not know.

Here is an article about supporting someone with depression http://www.heysigmund.com/when-someone-you-love-has-depression/.
Here is another one about research that found that doing meditation and exercise together can decrease depression http://www.heysigmund.com/dealing-with-depression-meditation-exercise/ – and another one about the things that can help with depression http://www.heysigmund.com/the-non-medication-ways-to-deal-with-depression-that-are-as-effective-as-medication/.
Here is a link with plenty of information about anxiety and how to manage the symptoms that come with that http://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/anxiety/.

As painful as it is to watch your daughter hurting, know that you don’t need to fix anything. Just be there and love her unconditionally. You can’t do any more than that, but that will always be so much more than enough.

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Megan

Thank you so much for your quick reply. Your words and articles helped me a lot as I am confused and lost and feel nobody there for me when found out my daughter has depression. She did not diagnosed by doctor. She attempted to suicide and I do not know how to help. She totally changed to different person and it scared me. I trying to search is medication really helpful as I heard lot of side effects and bad comments about medication will drive them more depress?

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Rebecca

My ex boyfriend suffers from anxiety stemming from issues from his childhood. He has disclosed a little bit to me but not much. I witnessed an attack for the first time a week ago. He then broke up with me about of the blue that evening. He said he had planned it. We have spoken a few times since. He says he needs to sort himself out before he can be in a relationship. He loves me and thinks I am an amazing person but is frightned of getting worse and making the relatinoship worse and wasting my time in the end. I love and care about him hugely and am not phased by his anxiety. We are both in our 30s. I will give him all the time and space he needs. Is there anything else I can do?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

It sounds as though you are being wonderful and giving him exactly what he needs. Just let know that you’ll be there for him when he is ready and that you understand he needs time. Let him know his anxiety doesn’t bother you – we all have our stuff and if that’s his, that’s okay with you.

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M

The same thing happened to me, with the exception of the panic attack ( I haven’t witnessed any panic attacks that I know of) we then agreed on giving us time, but my mom was in town and called him -without telling me-which he responded with not being able to get together and resulted in a (now regretful) fight. His birthday’s coming up and had his gift already but with all this mess and discussions I don’t know if it will do him good or I will be contributing with the anxiety?

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Timothy

Thanks so much for this article. My girlfriend has severe chronic anxiety and I want to have the right mindset about it. I have a question though. I recently opened up to her about some of my frustrations in regards to her anxiety because she told me to be honest if it ever gets hard. We want to communicate well because this is both of our first serious relationship. I admitted to her that it was frustrated at time but that I understood that a mental illness is part of you. I told her I love her for who she is. But then I asked if she would be willing, for me if not for her, to try and take steps to decrease it. Like exercise and meditation and all that. And I regretted it as soon as I said it. Was that a bad thing to say? She didn’t say anything but “I’ll try” but I think it really hurt her. I feel awful. What should I do?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

These things always depend on context. It doesn’t sound like a bad thing to say. To me, it sounds like it was said with generous, loving intent. It is also lovely that your girlfriend said she would try. It sounds as though somewhere in this communication you have heard disappointment in her. Speak to her about what she thinks you meant by this. Offer to do it with her and talk to her about why meditation and exercise can help anxiety, if she doesn’t already know. You will find articles about this on this link http://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/anxiety/. It’s all about communication. We all hear things through our own filters which is why things can be heard differently to what was intended sometimes. Having a healthy relationship isn’t about always getting it right, but about being able to talk through any misunderstandings.

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Ieshakemp

I’m so glad that I read this because for a whole year the guy I been talking to been telling me about him having anxiety and me I’m like okay but then he start showing it more and more ! But I just felt like he didn’t care for me and didn’t love me and some days he would open up to me and I knew like he do care for me then some days he didn’t so I would get frustrated because I just felt like he didn’t care about me and didn’t love me the way I love him but regardless of that I had to keep talking to him but deep down I didn’t really understand him our his anxiety ! Then peoples like his mom, grandma , my grandma and friends would say leave him alone because he just crazy and he was going kill me and I just knew he wasn’t because the way he showed me he care and how he can’t really function without me been around ! Some days I didn’t know if I was coming or going because I would get so frustrated because in my brain I’m doing all this but he don’t appreciate me and He would always tell me that I didn’t want to listen and don’t understand him which was true because I just thought he was playing and just saying that but I really see now that his anxiety not no joke and silly me should been listen to him but I was so busy been selfish ! This article gave me a lot of hope in the future with us and I want to thank you ?

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Millie

I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety for years. I learned the anxiety (and all sorts of problems) from my mom, who is not undergoing any sort of treatment. We’re very close and I love her and we can have a great time together, but she often treats me like a therapist. It’s hard for me not to absorb and handle her anxiety, and to hear her constant negativity and sadness.
I resent her for not seeking treatment or doing anything to try to lessen her anxiety, like meditation. However, I’ve been in treatment for 18 months – my first therapist traumatized and abandoned me. My psychiatrist has tried a lot of different meds and combinations, and still I constantly struggle. So it’s hard for me to blame her for not wanting to put herself through that, given how little treatment has done for me – and how much harm my first therapist did.
I’m basically stuck between a rock and a hard place. There seem to be no resources for people struggling with mental illness who also have to deal with parents struggling with them.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

It’s so difficult watching someone you love struggling and not getting the help they need. Hearing other people being negative and sad does have an effect. It may be that she doesn’t have hope that she can feel better. Negative thinking can be very persuasive. Keep going on your healing path though. Perhaps when she sees change in you, it will move her closer to where she needs to be.

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Lexie

I’m 18 years old and I only knew about my anxiety a few years ago. I get stressed easily, I overthink, I panic even when other ppl think its unnecessary. I’ve been in a relationship with an older girl for more than 6 months now. I hate that she smokes but I never gave her shit about it. I had a bad anxiety attack a few days ago, which was the first in a long time, the first since we met. I forgot how I used to control myself during an anxiety attack. so my first instinct was to text her. And she doesn’t understand it and says it annoys her. I know she loves me, but she snapped that day and told me things that I knew. She told me I need to stop this and that. Im sure what she said would have hurt anyone with anxiety. Yes I was hurt but at the time I felt like I just needed her and another fight would just be too exhausting. I now feel like I can’t go to her when im anxious which is shit. Isn’t she supposed to be there for me?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Anxiety can be really difficult to understand for somebody who hasn’t been through it. If she doesn’t understand your anxiety, that’s okay – it doesn’t mean your relationship will struggle. In relationships we teach each other. What’s important is whether or not she wants to understand. Talk to her about it and see also what she needs from you to be able to be better for you, and what she needs from you to be better for her. If she has no interest in understanding your moments of anxiety, or any important thing about you for that matter, then it would be understandable to question that. But definitely don’t give up on her or your relationship without talking to her about it first and seeing whether or not you are both headed in a similar direction in relation to what you want from the relationship.

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Tom

My girlfriend suffers from anxiety. We’ve been together for 18 months or so and are both 26, work 9-5 jobs, but we don’t yet live together. I’m finding that when she has a particularly bad episode it’s usually triggered by me – me suggesting a trip to see my family, or an invite to a BBQ with my friends or my friend’s wedding where she won’t know many people. I try hard not to take it personally when this happens and help her through it, as I know that it’s her anxiety being irrational and not her. But it often is personal, like she (her anxiety at least) is deliberately mean, she pushes back when I try to say I’m there for her, or ask if I can do anything, or if I just give her space. She makes it clear that there is nothing I can say that will help – when I say “let me know if I can do anything”, she tells me it’s too late. When she can’t sleep she insists that I go to sleep, while I insist that I’m here for her, not going anywhere, until eventually she convinces me that I’m not helping so I say goodnight; 10 minutes later of course it’s “are you seriously going to sleep?”. Or I’ll get a sarcastic message like “great conversation ??”. Last New Years she even hit me when I got a call from a female friend wishing me happy New Years – a completely irrational thought that there was “something going on”. I thought we were way past that day but every couple of months she’ll have a bad day and it’s all the same.

When her anxiety is causing her to be completely irrational like this, or intentionally mean and combative, how should I react? How can I help when every well intentioned thing I say is wrong? I feel like if anxiety was out of the equation, I wouldn’t put up with that behaviour and would have broken up with her long ago. I love her, but when she’s like that she makes me feel helpless, stupid and angry and then guilty for having those natural reactions. Even reading back this post, I feel guilty that I’m the one asking for help but i have my own life, with my own friendships to maintain and I can’t cancel my social or family life because of her anxiety. I can’t ignore someone being frequently mean or trying to provoke a reaction. What can I do?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Tom it is completely understandable that you’re the one asking for some help with this! Anxiety doesn’t always get in the way like this, but it can and when it does, it can be awful for both of you. You are absolutely right – it’s important for you to maintain your own relationships. Anxiety makes people anxious and in the midst of anxiety, it can make people aggressive or avoidant – but that’s in the heat of the moment. It doesn’t linger and make people mean well after the fact.

Have a conversation with your girlfriend about what you need, and ask her what she needs from you. Decide on your dealbreakers – I would suggest physical violence is one, and perhaps closing you out long after an incident has passed is also something that needs a rethink. Let her know how much you care about her, but that you have important needs too. Let her know that you understand that she gets anxious at the idea of being in certain situations, and that you’re prepared to talk about that, but that you can’t just give up the things that are important to you. Be gentle and loving and have the conversation when things are calm. Let her know that you’d like to talk to her about how to make things better for both of you. It’s all about communication and talking about the things that you’re both prepared to tolerate and the things you aren’t, and working on a plan or a compromise to move forward.

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Jacob

It’s been really interesting reading this blog. My fiancé has anxiety as I’ve learned just recently. It’s funny after 16 years together and it being my only long term relationship I had nothing else to compare her to – I just assumed all women were emotional messes all the time. But it is now obvious.
I’ve done everything for us over the time we’ve been together – all the washing, cooking, managing bills and money as well as keeping a full time job. She just can’t keep a job at all not matter how much I take away from everyday living stresses for her. Over the 16 years we’ve been together I’ve had 4 jobs and she’s had about 30. Some were with really good companies too. It’s always just a matter of time before she clashes with someone and gets sacked. “not a team fit” etc.
We have no friends anymore. I have no mates to call on. It became too difficult she would always have a melt down before we caught up with friends it became too hard and ugly for me to bare anymore. My friends tried to get me to leave her early on but guess I couldn’t see it then I guess I thought I could fix her up. Now I’m just a full time therapist for her.. I get dozens of txts and calls from her daily telling me small things people have said or done – very much over the top stuff and I tell her all the time why are you telling me this stuff. Why do you let that sort of crap worry you…
Thing is I’m now burned out with it all. I’m sick of everything always being about her every time I talk of even a little hardship or needing a break etc. I can’t even begin to list out the toxic madness this journey has been
Thing is now I’m tired of life and even more tired at the thought of trying to deal with this newly realised problem of her anxiety. Sounds like anxiety is just something most learn to live with and “manage” it never really goes away

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Anxiety is something that can definitely be managed. It sounds as though it is really intruding on your relationship, but it doesn’t have to. Is your fiance doing things to manage it? It’s wonderful that you are so supportive, but it’s also important that if anxiety is behind her behaviour, that she is doing what she can to manage it. Talk with her gently about this. Here is a link with some ideas for how to manage anxiety http://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/anxiety/. Exercise and meditation can make a huge difference. This is backed by a ton of research. Getting enough sleep is also really important. Take your time over the information and share it with her lovingly. Offer to do some of the things with her – the things that are good for anxiety are actually good for everyone. All the best to both of you – I hope this helps.

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Done

Sorry. I’m with Jill. The tone of this article is so glib and so one-sided and fails to really describe what living with someone with anxiety is actually like. I have lived in a marriage with someone who refuses to acknowledge the role his anxiety plays for 15 years and actually blames ME for HIS ANXIETY. I have bent over backwards again and again and again and nobody thanks me for it, least of all him. Some people’s anxiety takes a form that is actually ABUSIVE. It doesn’t matter why the person needs to be in control of everything, it’s still controlling and it’s painful and damaging. Rapid mood swings, silent treatment for weeks, constant unwarranted criticism, constant nit-picking, an over-exaggerated doomsday response to the smallest infraction of his many rules, never knowing who you’re going to come home to. I’m on the verge of packing a bag. I’ve been in counseling for years but he won’t go with me. I’m out.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

It’s easy to blame anxiety for everything that has gone wrong with your relationship, but comments like this concern me because of the way it takes a bunch of symptoms and turns it into something they aren’t. I have lived with people with anxiety – and it is NOTHING like what you describe. The people with anxiety I have known are warm, open, generous and I couldn’t imagine being without them. I have also known plenty of people who have been awful humans, who have no anxiety at all. Anxiety is a set of symptoms, and none of those symptoms include silent treatment, criticism and the other difficult behaviours you describe. Anxiety can make these things worse, but it doesn’t create them from nothing. I understand the relationship you are in is a painful, hurtful one but it’s important not to make anxiety the scapegoat.

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Glenn

I know what you mean. I looked up the definition of emotional abuse and my wife pretty much has checked every box when it comes to how she’s treated me.
What I’ve found has helped tremendously is a change in my attitude. I believe her anxiety has caused me to become subservient and therefore more emotional and anxious myself. I have stopped this bullshit and I am mentally prepared to leave her if she thinks she can continue this behaviour. I made sure she knows this too and things have gotten better in the last two months.
She still has her bad days and bad weeks but I take the stance that I won’t put up with abuse anymore. It pains me that she abuses herself (mentally) but I can only do so much. I simply have to be her rock, but also need to live and enjoy my life when she can’t join me. We have a 1 year old together and he is our biggest bond. I’m strong for him now as well as for myself.
She got no joy from being abusive to me, so why should I let her keep doing it? She’s an adult and understands there are real consequences to how she treats people… She just needed to be reminded that this rule also applies to me.

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Katrina

My boyfriend is suffering from anxiety. He came to my country one year ago and had a panic attack. I met him last February. Our relationship lasted for 8 months. But 2 months ago, he told me he doesn’t love me and he doesn’t know how to love. Every time we met, my existence reminded him he can’t love. And it leads to anxiety. That’s why we broke up once. He said he needed to be alone and didn’t want to hurt me anymore.
I liked him so much that i contacted him again and we decided to meet again and try again. Everything was going well except his appointment issues. We were supposed to meet every Saturday. So i asked him ‘are we meeting tomorrow?. He said he was planning to swim on saturday but he doesn’t know how he would feel after it. I just thought this was about basic social manners. If you have a previous engagement, you shouldn’t do anything affect it or at least ask for an agreement. So i was angry. I didn’t realize my anger could trigger his anxiety. He sent me a video he made unrelated to me and said ‘please don’t be mad at me’. I just wanted to talk about this and didn’t know it could make him worse. He said ‘sorry i need to be alone. Please just do not worry about me.’ After that, he has been ignoring my contacts at all. Because he said the same thing when we broke up, I can’t be even sure if he is still my boyfriend. Because i already know he doesn’t love me, I don’t know if he’s gonna come back to me. I don’t want to feel insecure anymore but I don’t know what to do. If at least i know he loves me, I wouldn’t be insecure like this. Should i wait for him? Or should i just let him leave me?
I am also afraid of asking him ‘do you still consider me as your girlfriend? because it might cause him worsen.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Katrina have the conversation. It will either get better or it will get worse. If it gets worse, you will know where you stand. If you say nothing, you will stay guessing. Imagine yourself in a position of strength, because you are. This isn’t about ‘letting him leave you’, but about you, decide with strength and with love, whether this is the relationship you want to be in. Let your wisdom in on this. You don’t have to wait for anyone to leave you – either they are good enough for you, or they aren’t – and this is regardless of what they think. There is love for you – if it isn’t with this man, it will be with another. But don’t settle for a love that is pretend and confusing.

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Katrina

Thank you for such a generous advice. I appreciate it. I really do.
I felt really depressed and felt like nothing could make me happy. I will have a conversation with him soon.

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Natasha

HeySigmund, i’m really struggling with getting help for my Fiance’s stress and anxiety after he suffered from a massive Blood Clot on his lung 7 months ago that should have killed him. He is extremely lucky that his body has very nearly got rid of the clot and there has been no damage to his heart that was having to work harder to pump blood to his lungs. However, even though he has been told he is as fit as any other 35 year old, he is suffering from chronic headaches, dizzyness, sickness and everyday exhaustion that he thinks there is something medically wrong with him and that its not stress and anxiety, even though a medical consultant has told him this is what he is suffering with. He has seen a counsellor through our GP and gone through a CBT course but it hasnt helped. His symptoms have stopped him from working, socialising, and spending time with his family. I am trying my best to support him but where’s the support for me? I’m like many others who dont feel they can voice their frustrations and emotions to my partner about how the anxiety is affecting me and i find mysef crying in the bathroom or at work when he texts me telling me he’s having a bad day. We are even at the point now where we are looking at Aniexy rehab where he can get some intense one on one therapy, but to what cost, putting ourselves into debt. I cant cope with him being a broken man and not being able to help him.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

It sounds as though both you and your fiance are really going through a difficult time at the moment. Your fiance has been through a very traumatic experience and it may take him time to heal fully from this. That is so understandable. It sounds as though things could have easily ended differently for him. It is also understandable that he would be anxious about something similar happening again. It may help him to get a second opinion to confirm that his symptoms are not from something other than anxiety. Two opinions are much more convincing than one. There is a very real reason for his concerns, so this might be a helpful thing for him to do.

If it has been confirmed that there are no other medical reasons for his symptoms and they are definitely from anxiety, getting into a regular mindfulness practice will help his healing. Mindfulness will help him to ‘watch’ his thoughts and physical feelings without hanging on to them or turning them into something more frightening. Plenty of studies have found that it can change the structure and function of the brain in ways that can protect and strengthen it against anxiety. Start with 10 minutes a day and work up from there. There is information on this link http://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/mindfulness/. The Smiling Mind app is also a great resource for guided mindfulness https://smilingmind.com.au/smiling-mind-app/.

The most important thing is to give your partner time to recover, but also to make sure that you are getting support from people who care about you, and also that you are doing things that you enjoy and that you feel nurtured by.

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Taylor

This article helps with empathy, but not much else in terms of anxiety. Yes, empathy is a huge part of dealing with someone’s anxiety, but I can’t help but think there are shortcomings in this article. The overall tone of the author implies that anxiety is something that does not get better. My wife’s anxiety has certainly gotten worse, so I assume it can get better over time as well.

I don’t know any real answers, but for some of you dismissing our comments because we just don’t understand isn’t enough. We realize we don’t understand. That’s what got us here in the first place. We want something concrete to help our loved ones enjoy life with us.

I think our comments should serve as learning testaments for how you can tell use to help you. Not dismissed like I often see.

Sorry, nothing against your article as it can be helpful, but it just doesn’t have the substance we lovers of anxious people are looking for.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Taylor I love that you are trying to understand your wife’s experience with anxiety. It is so confusing to me though, that people come to this article because they want to understand anxiety and yet it is dismissed by people who don’t understand anxiety. There are beautifully insightful comments on this article from people with anxiety about their experience and about what they want people the people in their lives to understand. This is what they want you to know!

I am the author of the article and in no way does this article suggest that anxiety can’t get better. In fact, this site is FULL of information and the most current research explaining how anxiety can managed so that it stops getting in the way. One of the things that can really help with anxiety is when the people close to the person who has it understands their experience from their side. We all want to be understood by the people we love, and anxiety is confusing.

One of the things that can really get in the way of someone’s attempts to manage their anxiety is being around people who dismiss anxiety as something that people just need to ‘get over’. This doesn’t mean people can’t heal and strengthen against anxiety – they absolutely can! – but we all have things that will set us back, and in relation to anxiety, being in an environment that lacks understanding can make the symptoms worse. People with anxiety don’t want to be a burden and they don’t want to feel as though they are letting anyone down, and feeling any of these things would – very understandably – make symptoms worse and get in the way of healing. It would for any of us.

On this link, you will find plenty of information and ‘real answers’ about what anxiety is, how it plays out, what drives it, how it can be managed, and the things that can make it worse or better. http://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/anxiety/. Hopefully it will be the ‘substance’ you are looking for.

I hope it is able to help you and your wife to strengthen and protect each other from the effects of anxiety.

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Eliza

I loved this…I have anxiety BIG TIME, and this totally helped me understand myself better! Thank you so much for this! Wow…I just have to read it over and over again. You have a gift! I’ve been getting help since high school, and it’s definitely been a trial, but also a HUGE blessing in my life. And thank you for not making it sound like a HUGE deal. Because it really isn’t! It’s stressful and hard….oh so hard, but it’s doable, and it does come with those perks mentioned! Thank you so much for putting a positive spin on this. People without anxiety might not understand this article very well as seen in previous comments…all the points you made were so very accurate, at least for me. Thank you so much again 🙂

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Olivia

My boyfriend of five years has been struggling with anxiety for the last two years. It like nothing I’ve ever experience before. He hates being in a car, sometimes when we are going somewhere I have to pull over 2-3 times and let him out until he calms down. He can’t hold down a job. He will have one for two maybe three months and get fired or quit. The issue isn’t him not showing up for work it’s that he leaves in the middle of work due to attacks. We have walked out of movie theaters, parties, family events, even restaurants because of it. He refuses to take medication which I somewhat understand. He thinks the cause of his anxiety has a lot to do with a very bad acid trip a few years bad and his attacks have progressively been getting worse. He won’t even sit in the passenger seat when I drive he lays in the back. I have always been very patient and understanding of his anxiety, researching and trying to find new ways to help/fix it but It being years later I’m very drained and becoming annoyed with it. I love him but how can we grow and have a family if he can’t hold a job/get in a car??

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Olivia it sounds as though you have been so beautifully supportive and patient, but you are right – we all have our limits to what we will tolerate. It sounds as though your boyfriend is really struggling, but that does not mean the responsibility for supporting him is all yours. It is critical that he also does things that will help with his symptoms. It’s not enough for him to keep being barrelled along by anxiety, knowing that you are also being hurt by this. If he doesn’t want to take medication, that’s understandable, but there are other powerful ways to deal with anxiety that don’t involve medication. Exercise and mindfulness have been proven by tons of research to have a positive influence on the symptoms of anxiety. Here is info about exercise http://www.heysigmund.com/activity-restores-vital-neurochemical-protects-anxietyepression/ and mindfulness (or any type of meditation) http://www.heysigmund.com/overcoming-anxiety-mindfulness/. He also needs to make sure his diet is one that supports a healthy gut (limit processed foods and sugars, limit alcohol etc, take a probiotic with live and active cultures) because the environment in the gut has a big influence on mental health. This article explains that http://www.heysigmund.com/our-second-brain-and-stress-anxiety-depression-mood/. If his symptoms are so severe that he can’t see his way to start consistently doing any of these (exercise, mindfulness, healthy diet), then he may need outside support from a counsellor to get him on the right track. Anxiety is very manageable, but he does have to take active steps to manage it. He needs to keep fighting for him and to find a way through his anxiety. You sound like a wonderful partner – he needs to understand that when he fights for himself (to get better), he is also fighting for you.

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sofia

i’m 18 n my bf is 23 he confirm that he us an anxiety patient as m still young ‘ am not much familier with anxiety and about my boyfriend he keep on telling me that he worry about me i have no idea to deal with him as i came across your stories i think it will be helpful for my relation so i would like to ask that what really do i need to do physically to forget his personal problems as i am still busy schooling i dont have time to hang out with him or take him in personal places he is always busy for his work and does not even have extra time for me to chat so please help me i am in delema

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Julia

In a nutshell, get on with your life . If he needs space he will respect you for giving that space without a fuss. If he has opened up to you and told you what his anxiety is; acknowledge that but still live your normal life. You do him no favours by trying to prevent your life adversely affecting his. A good relationship is the meshing together of two unique individuals which , amongst many other things, supports them and make them stronger. If one side is top heavy then it’s dependent not supportive and that’s when frustration and resentment kick in.
Don’t be a door mat and just be aware that no one has the right to control you. If you are being constantly quizzed as to who you’re with,what you are doing, etc early into the relationship, – that’s not anxiety, that’s bullying and controlling behaviour .

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Ana

Hello, I really need an advice and I hope you can help me with it. In general words I had been reading about anxiety and I think my ex boyfriend (he broke with me one month and a half ago) has anxiety but he doesn’t know exactly about this disorder or that he needs help. I think this because all the things he told me about himself and the way he started feeling and acting… I love him so much because I know he did nothing wrong and he is passing through hard times and internal struggles and that is why he didn´t want to continue with me cus he didn´t want me to suffer next to him because of who he was and that I didn´t deserve to be unhappy waiting for him to be again himself. I supported him always and I was always there for him and acting with a lot of patience and love because I knew how bad he was fighting against himself to stop feeling the way he was and thinking and to stop pushing me away but he suddenly took the decision to break because all of it. I know he is still the same person as always behind all his fears and negative thoughts and I still want to be with him no matter what, I love him for who he is in all ways.

He is coming to see me in few days just for one day because we want to have a decent goodbye and last hug before he goes back to his country (we had a long distance relationship and he is studying in a country near mine) but I don’t know if I should tell him what now I know about anxiety or how should I act with him or what to tell him…

My main questions are: should I tell him he has anxiety and he should read or talk with somebody about it or what would you recommend me to do or say when I see him? And should stay in contact with him even if he broke up with me and in which “role”? I still love him with all my heart (he says he still want to be my friend cus he will not be able to live without knowing about me cus for him I’m still the best person he had met and the one he had love the most and didn´t want to lose me but his thoughts and fears took the decision for him to stop our relationship).

Thank you in advance

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

I think it is okay to let him know your concerns, but I would certainly not suggest that you tell him he has anxiety. Whether or not this is about anxiety is very unclear. He may be anxious about the future of the relationship, and what he wants from the relationship, but that doesn’t mean that his feelings or his concerns about continuing the relationship are not valid. Ask him if he feels anxious, and whether or not this is the reason he has ended the relationship. Does he want the relationship to continue? Is this something you can work through together? These are questions only he can answer, and I hope that you are able to have the conversation and get the clarity you are looking for.

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Ana

Thank you so much for this answer, I also send you an email with more details about he and why I think he has anxiety (in my opinion) because it was not mainly about our relationship, it was in a lot subjects of his life. If you have time to read it I will appreaciate it a lot too. I really want to help him in some way and want him to have a beautiful life.
Thank you so much for helping in this way and for your kind words!

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K

Hi I tried to leave a reply here in august but mine wasn’t uploaded. Since then, I have subscribed newly updated replies.
With courage, I am leaving a reply again. When I met him at first, he didn’t realize he had anxiety. Once he found out, he tried to go to the hospital but he was disappointed by the doctor’s attitude. After that, he didn’t go to the hospital at all. I had never met anyone with anxiety before him so I had a lack of understanding. I tried to read a lot and listen to him a lot.
He is afraid of using the transportation system bc he had the first panic attack in the subway. So, I had to go to his place every time I met him. He doesn’t drink bc of the disorder and he hates the place where people gathered. We had to give up a lot of things but I was okay with it only if he liked me.
I sincerely loved him and told him many times. And he told me back. I thought I was in the lovely relationship. A few months ago, he confessed me he didn’t love me. He said he is just that kind of person who cannot love and it’s not my fault. And he said people with anxiety barely feel commitment to people near them, such as family, friends and lovers.. I was shocked that he didn’t love me. He said he didn’t want to hurt me anymore and he needed to be alone. Since I loved him a lot, I couldn’t give up and we got back together.
I realized that my upsetting, my sickness and our quarrel can make him feel bad, which leads to his leaving. I had to be very careful whenever I met him. I said nothing negative. I couldn’t tell him what I felt at all bc I didn’t want to make him feel bad and leave me again. I felt lonely, unloved, uncared and insecure. At the end of relationship, I gave up a lot of things. I didn’t ask him to love me and meet me. I just asked him not to leave me. Despite of my efforts, however, he left me several times and it made me feel seriously insecure and not able to express my affection.
A few weeks ago, he tried to leave me again and I let him go. I felt kind of relieved bc I was released by the energy consumption. After that day, he contacted me again and he asked me to come bc he felt really bad. I was worried a lot and came there ASAP. He said he just didn’t want to feel sad. I really didn’t understand what he wanted to do with me.
Now he is in his country. We agreed taking time when he is in his country. He had a plan to get through the process in hospital of his country.
In this situation that I cannot tell him about me and my feeling at all and I feel insecure, I don’t really know what I can do more. I gave him everything I could – my affection, time, understanding, and efforts. And I couldn’t get anything back. He didn’t try anything for this relationship and I cannot even talk about it with him.. I am not even sure that he is going to hospital right now. What can I do? Is breaking up the only solution?

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

I’m very sorry your reply didn’t appear! I’m not sure how that would have happened. You’re all good now though …

In response to your comment, when your boyfriend said that ‘people with anxiety barely feel commitment to people near them’, that’s just not true of most people with anxiety. People with anxiety are generally very loving, committed, loyal people. It may be true for your boyfriend, but it is certainly not something that generally happens with anxiety.

If your boyfriend doesn’t feel committed to your relationship, there isn’t much you can do. Don’t break your own heart by hanging on too hard to someone who is not fighting to hang on to you.

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K

Thank you for your kind advice! Yeah I think you are right and I’ve thought like that. That’s because my boyfriend told me that he couldn’t love his ex girlfriends, even though he didn’t have anxiety at the moment. This is not because of anxiety at all.

The reason he wanted to be alone was that he didn’t want to hurt me and he didn’t have energy to keep this relationship. And I kept feeling insecure because I wasn’t convinced that he really had feeling for me and he tried to leave me continuously. When he comes back to my country next month, I will try to discuss about this topics and figure out if he wants to make it well. If he doesn’t want, I should just let him leave. Maybe that is the best for both of us.

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K

I finally broke up with him. I will never meet someone like him. I feel very relieved and free.
I tried hard to understand him by reading a lot of articles and books and getting some advice from psychologists. I tried my best to make him feel safe with me. I thought we could have a conversation to make the relationship well when he started psychological treatment and felt better.
I was wrong. Despite of all of my efforts, he didn’t try to understand how I felt in this relationship. Even though he felt stronger and better, he wanted to leave me. I spent the worst time in his life with him but he left me. THIS IS NOT BECAUSE OF HIS ANXIETY. I can’t believe what kind of person he is. I felt frustrated, depressed and blue in the relationship but he never cared.
And now, I feel thankful for ending this relationship.

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Yorick

Hey, so my boyfriend is stuggling with anxiety at the moment (he has been for years), and I always try to be there for him and be the best listener I can be. I love him unconditionally and I try to tell him he’s perfect just the way he is as often as acceptable. The thing is, he doesn’t really seem te appreciate it all that much. Whenever we’re talking about his anxiety (of course only when he started the conversation and wanted to talk to me about it), he is very short in his replies, rarely shows gratitude towards me always trying my best to be there for him and going out of my way to talk to him, and it just kinda seems like he takes it all for granted. without a second thought. I started tearing up at the “and finally”paragraph because he doesn’t show how important I am to him and that he considers me a keeper (he even broke up with me not too long ago but a week afterwards called me in the middel of the night crying that he misses me), and that makes it sometimes very hard for me to finish the conversations about anxiety with a good feeling. I sometimes just want that “thank you” or “I love you” text at the end of such conversations, just so that I know that I’m not doing it for nothing and he really does appreciate it as much as you say he does. I feel like a douche for feeling this way though…

– Yorick, a small town boy from The Netherlands.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Yorick – you are NOT a douche! You sound like a wonderfully, open-hearted, generous partner. Don’t change this about you. What you are describing is so normal and understandable. We all need to know that we are loved by the people who are important to us. Some people have trouble showing it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. Keep being who you are – you sound like someone pretty extraordinary to be around.

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