The Things I’ve Learned About Anxiety – That Only People With Anxiety Could Teach Me

The Things I've Learned About Anxiety - That Only People With Anxiety Could Teach Me

There are some things that all the books, lectures, courses and research just can’t teach. They’re the things that come from people – the ones we talk to, listen to, connect with, acquaint with, like a little, love a lot or fight with.

So much is known about anxiety, but then there’s the human side. Science is awesome but even with everything it’s able to tell us, when it comes to that human thing we do, there are some things that can’t be properly understood until they’re experienced, touched, felt or seen – for real, not just through words of theory or a computer screen or the stark white pages of a straight-talking book.

The points that follow may not be relevant to every person with anxiety, but neither is the list of symptoms. Humans aren’t ‘boxable’ – we know that. We’re complex, fascinating, frustrating and between the heart and the head, there are countless versions of the human experience. 

Here are the things that I would not have known – could not have known – were it not for those who have experienced anxiety from the front line. 

  1. Anxiety is the fuel of contradictions.

    Sometimes feelings that are on opposite ends of the feeling spectrum, and which seem separated by the fact that any co-existence would be, you know, impossible, actually do co-exist. Sometimes they even feel the same.

    The first is craving solitude and craving people all at once. The second is having a fear of being seen and a fear of not being seen, at the same time. If you’ve ever known or loved anyone with anxiety and found yourself saying to them, ‘But I just don’t understand what you want.’ Don’t worry. Chances are they aren’t quite sure either. And that’s completely okay. Be grateful for the opportunity to practice being comfortable with uncertainty. 

  2. They’re wise – so wise – about who they choose to be part of their tribe.

    Anxiety comes from a hair-trigger threat sensor, remember, and the threat of psychological harm (humiliation, rejection, shame) can feel just as real as the threat of physical harm. Because interacting with people can be so anxiety inducing, people with anxiety are choosey about who they let close. They’re not rude about putting up the wall to those who don’t quite make the cut – not at all – but they’re decisive. If you’re one of the ones for whom the fortress is lowered, feel blessed, because you are. There’s something about you that feels safe and lovely to be around. 

  3. They’re awesome to have in your tribe too.

    Why? Because they’ll always have your back, your front and for the things you don’t see coming, don’t worry, because they’ll have them too.

    People with anxiety are some of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve met – they’re funny, kind, thoughtful and strong. They’re also very sensitive to what’s around them – it’s part of having a heightened threat sensor – and that sensitivity also extends to you and anyone else they’re around. They’ll think about what’s okay to say and what’s not okay to say, what needs to be done and what you might want.

    Anxiety has a way of persuading people to try for as much control as possible over the ‘unknowns’ in order to avoid potential chaos. This means they’ll be the ones who make sure everyone knows exactly where to meet, what time to leave to get there on time, what to take and the best way to get there. They’ll be the ones with the spare jumper, the spare coins and the spare phone charger. And if you need to make a call to let a bunch of people know you’re both running 20 minutes late to dinner, but your phone is out of charge, don’t worry, their phone will have plenty – you won’t need it though because they’ll already have sent the text to let them know. See. Way ahead of you. Just don’t forget to let you know how much you love them for it.

  4. Thoughts have more pull than knowledge. Yep. They run the mothership.

    The thoughts that are stoked by anxiety can be frightening, frustrating and suffocating. Above all else, they’re powerful. They’re more powerful than a lifetime of knowledge and the collective knowledge of a group, so don’t even bother trying to reason – it’s pointless. ‘Knowing’ that there’s nothing to worry about isn’t enough. Once fearful thoughts are in full swing, they will run the show. They’ll drive behaviour and bring feelings (fear, panic, anxiety) to life. All the knowledge in the world about what’s valid, real or likely won’t make any difference to those thoughts that are swelling. It’s the power of the mind against the mind. 

    [irp posts=”974″ name=”When Someone You Love Has Anxiety”]

     

  5. Head and stomach. Sometimes it feels like it’s all about the head and the stomach.

    Anxiety can have a way of putting flashing lights around the head and stomach, as though they’re running the show – which, in that space of high anxiety, they kind of are. When anxiety is ‘on’, it’s as though the head and stomach are the only parts of the body capable of feeling, responding and being and every other body part is there to make them mobile and stop them dragging along the ground.

  6. ‘Everyday’, as in ‘everyday things’ means something different.

    ‘Everyday’ doesn’t always mean ‘no big deal’. No. It doesn’t. With anxiety on board, everything can feel like the biggest deal. What everyday means is ‘every day’, as in the things you do every day – today, tomorrow and the next day. As in, ‘Yes I know I should be okay with it because I do it every day, but I’m not.’ Anxiety doesn’t tend to keep a journal.

  7. Thoughts that begin as little thoughts can change the entire day.

    Did I lock the door? What if I forget his name? What if there’s an accident? What if we’re late? Or get lost on the way? What if the restaurant runs out of tables under the heater? … It doesn’t matter how much effort is put into preparation, organisation (and generally with anxious people there’s plenty!) once there’s a worry, it can white-knuckle for grip. You can practically see the imprint in their skin. The thoughts are often rational, plausible and possible, but anxiety makes them overwhelming.

  8. ‘There’s nothing to worry about.’ The best thing to hear. Wait. No. It’s not.

    You would think it would be comforting to hear that there’s nothing to worry about, but it can actually be isolating.

    Think of it like this: Imagine being at the side of a wide road you need to cross. Everyone is telling you it’s fine to cross and they’re all doing it, but you see trucks, cars, buses and bikes barrelling from the left and the right. Nobody else can see them. You know the road is okay to cross, but you can’t – you just can’t. That traffic! So, not only do you feel panicked but you also feel like you’re in it on your own. It can feel like nobody else really understands, which they kind of don’t – otherwise they wouldn’t be telling you there’s nothing to worry about.

    The truth is, when it comes to anxiety, it can be difficult for people who have never experienced it to understand – but that’s okay. You don’t need to fully understand something to be a comforting presence through the unfolding of it.

  9. Anxiety and Courage. They exist together. 

    When it comes to courage, anxious people have it in truckloads. Just getting through the day can call on enormous reservoirs of courage that the rest of us would only need to draw on now and then. Anxiety and courage always exist together. They have to. You can’t get through day after day with anxiety blocking the path, without having courage to help push a way through.

    [irp posts=”824″ name=”Anxiety in Kids: How to Turn it Around and Protect Them For Life”]

     

  10. Stimulation or isolation. I’ll take isolation.

    Anxiety can force isolation. Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – people with anxiety would rather sit outside in the cold on their own, than inside with their favourite people, the noise and the lights. It has nothing to do with the quality of what’s inside and everything to do with the quantity. 

  11. Sometimes ‘I’m sick’ and ‘I’m fine’ means ‘I’m panicking. Don’t ask.’

    Anxiety hates attention. When anxiety is triggered, the normal human response if you’re the concerned other is, ‘Are you okay?’, or ‘What’s wrong’? If you have to ask, then no, chances are they’re not okay. They might be a lot of things in that moment, but okay won’t be one of them. Don’t worry – just be a strong, confident, loving presence. You’ll probably be told, ‘I’m fine’, or ‘I’m sick.’  It’s not a brush off, it’s a protection. Anxiety can really quickly go from manageable to out of control in a matter of seconds, or in the matter of an ‘are you okay?’ Don’t keep pushing it – just give a gentle ‘I’m here’ squeeze of their arm or hand and move on. 

  12. Sleep is a natural human function … yeah no.

    Anxiety is tiring – that constant bracing – but sleep doesn’t necessarily come easily. Tiredness makes anxiety worse and anxiety makes tiredness worse – you would think it would be a union made in doona heaven, but no. It can look at little like this: ‘I have to get to sleep, otherwise I’m going to be out of my mind with tiredness in the morning, so I just have to go to sleep. But what if I can’t get to sleep? But I have to go to sleep. But what if I can’t?’ Anxious yet?

As with any part of the human experience, there are so many things about anxiety that can only be understood by having it. If you love someone with anxiety, it’s important to pay attention. There will  be  wisdom and knowledge that only they can give you. Be open, and be grateful.

149 Comments

Sav

These are beautiful words. You described anxiety in a way I’ve been wanting to for forever. I could picture it so vividly in my head. I loved the metaphor about crossing a road in 8. If you wrote a book, I would most definitely read it!

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Jake

So much crazy going on around us today – wars, conflicts, persecution, violence, crime, natural disasters, terrorism, economic uncertainty, unemployment, divisions, disease, death. We fear for our children’s future, we fear for our families, we fear for our financial future, we fear for our safety. The list goes on…long. There actually is a lot we could potentially worry about.

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Jane

Why is it that SO many people suffer with anxiety?

What makes people so incredibly sensitive that they feel constantly threatened and frightened by their thoughts?

What has gone wrong?

We all have a level of anxiety – we need it to get by and survive but why has it gotten out of control?

My daughter is a sufferer. It has become linked to OCD compulsions. She has linked her anxiety to certain people who don’t cope very well, are forgetful and accident prone, irresponsible, uncommunicative and need a bit or organizing and looking after. Surely this is just stimulating the anxiety – especially when the people may play on it because they like to feel someone is taking care of them?
Before this she had a heightened anxiety level but something that appeared more “sensible”.
The cycle now seems endless and its very hard to watch such unhealthy co-dependency as well as the anxiety and OCD become worse.

I guess we are all learning to live with it now instead of expecting it to be cured somehow. All we want for her is a life of contentment – I’m not sure this will ever be possible?

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Rey

An Aha moment.

I started anxiety medication about 2 years ago and before then, a number of years before then.. I used to wonder about my thoughts and emotions. I seemed to be always feeling and thinking too much. In my twetnies I spent a lot of time crying in my bath tub after work, I use to have difficulty sitting in the same room watching tv with my family. In romantic relatioships I tend to be in the extremes, I truly believed that I was simply a crazy person. Thank you so much for all the articles. They have finally made me understand my life in retrospect.

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angus

the bit about sometime when i say i am fine it means, ‘im panicking, dont ask’ is so true for me

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Christine

After reading this I finally realise I’m not mad.. I’m anxious, I fear the things that should make me happy because something will go wrong, crazy things, things that will never happen but at the moment that they come into me head they are so real and I’m so scared and it’s so real that I can’t breathe!

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Lora Lietz

Thank you for spelling this out. This explains my husband of 26 years. It has been difficult on me over and over but i know he is suffering much much more than me. I just hope he keeps staying with me as he tries to push me out or leave too often. Its exhausting and extremely hurtful but in time he comes around. I am not sure who is fooling who during these times. Thanks again for insight.

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Nita

Lora,

I too am the spouse; my husband of 17 years has anxiety. I reply directly to you because I hope that you have helpful advise to share from your perspective. As a vital part of their tribe, we need support too. I battle resentment daily so because I want to be in relationship with him. But it gets overwhelming. Is there an online forum you frequent? What’s the biggest piece of advise you’d share? Thank u <3

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Denise

I can relate to all of these points you mentioned. I’ve had many people tell me I’m an “old sould”. Maybe it’s the additional awareness or cautiousness that comes with anxiety. At 26, I’ve been told I’m wise beyond my years.
I also prefer time alone as opposed to being surrounded by people. During the warm month I enjoy nature walks. Also, despite getting cold easily I spend a lot of time out in the cold with myself. When I meet other people with anxiety I feel a connection and allow very few people to be close. Honestly, I only have 1 or 2 close friends that don’t have a mental illness. Also, sleep. The struggle is real.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Denise what you are describing makes so much sense. People with anxiety often have so much wisdom. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sure there will be plenty of people who read this who will relate.

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Sue

I really need help. I am failing at lying to people that I am fine. I am surrounded by people who don’t understand what it feels like to continuously live under the fear of having a heart attack. How difficult it is to sleep due to suffocation and severe indigestion. It’s dreadful trying to stop a panick attack in public.
I sometimes get the thought of just ending all of this once and for all.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Sue I hear you. Anxiety is difficult for some people to understand, but there are many who will understand exactly what you’re going through. I understand how isolating anxiety can be, but know that you aren’t alone. Have you spoken to your doctor? If you haven’t, please find a doctor you can speak with. Anxiety is manageable and sometimes it’s about experimenting with a few different things to find what works for you. Keep fighting for you. There are people who will understand what you’re going through and who will be so committed to making things better for you.

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Jan

Wow I have lived with anxiety and depression for 18 yrs , and always felt isolated, I now understand, thanks for the writing this

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Jaime

Anxiety is the fuel of contradictions – this really hit home to me. I have been battling with why I want human interaction but avoid it at the same time. Thank you for your well-written insight.

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cherris

when I am in my panic,I have been called CRAZY,How do i respond to this..I have others say I was not discussed(GOSIPED) about.But i know I have.

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Hey Sigmund

Cherris – you are certainly NOT crazy! Anxiety can be difficult for people to understand if they haven’t been through it themselves, and it may be that the people in your life who call you crazy don’t understand the damage they do by saying this. Are you able to have the conversation with them to let them know? No relationship is perfect, but it is important to choose your tribe wisely and to be with people who feel good to be around, or who at least try to be good for you.

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tanya

WOW! I prayed for favor with other humans and that God would lead me to an article about me, not the regular body science stuff about toxic anxiety. . . Here it is! Thank you so much For caring Enough to sit and write this-it is me and many unfortunately, others. BUT this helped in too many ways to explain here. I plan to share this with those who poke fun at me(“family”) AND my fellow sufferers everywhere! God Bless You and this site!!!

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Hey Sigmund

Tanya I’m so pleased you found this article! I hope that every time you read it you are able to feel more understood and less alone in your experience.

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Heidi

I wish I could have read this article ten years ago it would have saved me a lot of pain. It’s been a long road but understanding anxiety and how to cope takes time. Through lifestyle changes and running, lots and lots of running, I have come to grips with my anxiety. Thank you for writing this.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re very welcome Heidi. Thankfully we’re coming to know more and more about anxiety so hopefully the road will get easier. It’s great that you have found healthy ways to manage your anxiety that work for you.

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Katherine

I just briefly read this article to my 7 year old son. He is highly intelligent. He has ADHD and takes medication for it. He was also diagnosed with anxiety. The doctor chose ?NOT to treat for this, although both axis 1 and 2 were completely equal. I’m wondering if the decision to NOT treat the anxiety was a mistake. My son can’t sleep, is sick every day before school or any event, he worries about directions, the kids on the bus, missing his lunch, etc. the worries never seem to stop. He agreed with so much in this article! It brought tears of recognition to my eyes! Especially the part that explains why trying to tell a person ‘it’s okay’ does ?NOT make the cars crossing the road disappear! So insightful and helpful for both me, the mom with a son experiencing anxiety, as well as for my son whom has anxiety. Do you know of child providers I. Michigan? What’s the best form of treatment if I can’t get a psychiatrist on board? What type of therepist should I look for? Thanks for this article!

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Hey Sigmund

Katherine this is such a difficult issue. I understand your frustration and I also understand why the doctor has chosen not to medicate. Medicating for anxiety should always be a very last resort. One of the reasons is because we are still trying to be sure that there are no long term effects for children, particularly when it is given with other medication (such as for ADHD). With children, their brains are developing and growing at such a rate, and they will be more vulnerable to any side effects than an adult might be. Having said this, I know how difficult and painful anxiety can be for both the kids going through it and their parents. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for medication – sometimes it can be the best option. It’s just a decision that has to be made very carefully and when all other options have been exhausted. Even if medication is the best option, it generally isn’t a long term solution and it is still important to learn coping skills and strategies to manage it. Here are some articles that will give you some strategies to try.

>> Anxiety in Kids: How to Turn it Around and Protect Them For Life https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-kids/
>> Building Emotional Intelligence: What to Say to Children When They Are Anxious https://www.heysigmund.com/building-emotional-intelligence-what-to-say-to-children-with-anxiety/
>> 18 Things Kids With Anxiety Need to Know https://www.heysigmund.com/kids-with-anxiety-need-to-know/
>> Mindfulness for Children https://www.heysigmund.com/mindfulness-for-children-fun-effective-ways-to-strengthen-mind-body-spirit/

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Lee

I started to cry when I read.. just give a gentle “I’m here”. I isolate because life with anxiety gets so overwhelming. I don’t want to be alone & it would be so great to get an “I’m here” from someone. It’s nothing fancy but so powerful. Thank you.

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Kacey

Spot. On. Sending this to my closest friends and family. I’ve tried and tried to help them understand my beautifully complicated mind. I am constantly either creating a masterpiece or a monster, and so often the monster likes to take over and invite all his friends. Haha! I wouldn’t wish anxiety on even my worst enemy! ♡

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Debbie

I’ve read many articles regarding stress, and it many of them they talk about strong and courageous. You totally helped me to understand that I am just that. The world I live in right now is pure chaos, but I DO have the strength and courage to go on one day at a time. I don’t really have a tribe, so to speak, but I have a daughter that will listen and I am grateful for that. Even though on the inside of me, I feel like I’m going insane, I am still able to get up every day and face what is coming. I always felt weak and fragile – sometimes even ‘out of it’ but when you put it into words, we are strong because we just keep moving on. Thank you so much for this article. God leads us to special people.

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Hey Sigmund

Debbie I’m so pleased you found this article. I hope you keep this article close to you to remind you of the strength and courage with which you live every day. Anxiety can feel insane – I really understand that, but there is nothing insane, weak or fragile about the people who have to live with it. You have a warm, strong, generous heart. Thank you for your comment – it means a lot to me.

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Lisa

Wow! Thank you for putting anxiety into the words that I have been looking for. I was diagnosed with anxiety due to PTSD a year and a half ago. So, number 4 is what I deal with the most and have struggled to explain to my friends. The phrase I use is, “In this moment…” It doesn’t matter how many times I have successfully completed a task, in the moment of a panic attack, reason leaves and feelings of fear take over. It truly is the mind against the mind.

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Hey Sigmund

You’re welcome Lisa. I’m pleased it helped make sense of things. I completely understand what you are saying – thoughts in that moment can be so powerful can’t they. Hope you’re doing okay.

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Kristina

PTSD is.. A lot of things. I have struggled with it for years. I’m gonna have to remember this saying for the times I need it most. Thanks for sharing it. 🙂

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Vic

I’m always afraid of saying something wrong, or doing something wrong so that when I actually do something wrong and I’m called on it – no matter how intense – mild or harsh – my mind goes crazy and it’s difficult for me to get over that kind of anxiety. It’s like I have this continuous feeling of being slightly afraid. I see a lot of myself in many of the situations described and it’s interesting it’s actually put in words. Thank you, it helps.

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Em

I have never read a more insightful affirming article on my day to day life. Tears run down my face- sent it to my tribe and those who are on the outskirts of my tribe. Their response was so grateful that after 20+ years of friendship this article explained more about me than any conversation. Thank you and blessings to you- so grateful!

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kathy

All of that is so true. It is good to see it in words that I could never express. Thank you

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Viki

At times I get so anxious about things I find it easier to completely abandon the will to control the situation and I literally walk away saying “I can’t cope with this”.
And if I can’t do that (because I’m on my own with the children or driving or have to be somewhere on time etc) I really suffer and have to reach deep to keep going. It’s exhausting.
I never thought of it as being courageous but phrasing it that way will help me from now on.
Thank you for that!

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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