This week I’ve been thinking about all the strategies we use to stabilize tense relationships with other people. Often we avoid, we complain, or we try to control. But in our quest to keep things calm, we can miss out on more fulfilling relationships with family and friends.
Anxiety-managing strategies are kind of like emotional training wheels. When your bike has training wheels, your travel is stable, but limited. You can’t go off the beaten path, and you can’t go very fast or very far. This is the price of avoiding a tumble from a two-wheeler. Anxiety-managing strategies work the same way. They lower the anxiety of having to be around difficult or stressful people. But they prevent the development of a true, person to person relationship.
What Do Your Training Wheels Look Like?
- You bring your spouse to family gatherings as a buffer.
- You don’t share your beliefs with people who might disagree.
- You complain about your boss to your coworkers.
- You assemble allies when you’re angry with someone.
- You only talk about the weather with your family.
- Your children are the only conversation topic in your marriage.
- You don’t share your interests with people who might find them boring.
- You overfunction for others who are slower at a task.
- You only gossip about old acquaintances with your friends.
- You send a text when a phone call feels scary.
- You only make “duty visits” to see your family.
- You vent about your parents to your sibling.
- You get updates about an important person from a third party.
These strategies can help you feel steadier in stressful or uncertain relationships. But none of them afford the opportunity to develop a more interesting and more vulnerable relationship with the other person. When you can learn to sit with the discomfort of a person to person relationship, and calm yourself rather than relying on others to do so, then you have taken off your training wheels and are wobbling towards more mature relationships.
But what does it look like, in real time, to take off your training wheels?
It’s important to remember that taking off training wheels feels unstable. You have to be more observant and more intentional with your actions. But with regular practice, and the willingness to crash into the bushes every now and then, you’ll be surprised to find that many interactions aren’t as intimidating as they once appeared. You might even look forward to contact with people you once found stressful.
News from Kathleen:
Exciting news! Next week, you’ll be able to read AN ENTIRE CHAPTER of my new book,
Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down, if you have pre-ordered the book. I’ll provide a link where you can submit your receipt to receive some helpful bonus content as well as the preview chapter.
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