• Español
  • Català
  • English
  • Italiano
  • Français

Anxiety: self-imposed limits

Anxiety: self-imposed limits

In any anxiety disorder there are, besides the most explicit and evident symptoms, less obvious symptoms that are related to the personality, which has grown on a soil filled with fear, whether conscious and apparent or not.

Anxiety has a cause

In some cases the disorder appears in a moment in life where no apparent stressors are noticeable. It seems as if the obsessive thoughts appear out of nowhere on a random day. Or it can happen that all of a sudden I notice my heartbeat raising and my breathing becoming difficult on the same bus that I have been taking for years, and that I therefore start fearing for my life.

But even in those cases, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and obsessive disorders don’t appear randomly, they don’t appear without a reason.

The fear which underlies every anxiety disorder has developed previously through other life events, which can be singular (traumatic) events or a series of stressful events over a prolonged period of time.

The glasses through which we see the world

Infancy and adolescence are the moments in our life which shape our mental schemata, or “the glasses through which we see the world”. It is in these moments that we learn when to be happy, when to be sad, what we should fear, when we should feel safe, what we are able to do and what we think we are (oftentimes erroneously) not able to do. All these experiences define our personality. A series of rules gets defined and thereby also the mental and vital space in which we can move ourselves.

It would be a serious mistake to consider that only difficult family situations can install fear into our mind and personality and reduce our psychic and safe space. Everything depends on the interaction between the person and their environment.

How can our family situation affect our anxiety?

A child that grows up in an extremely violent environment can start to perceive the world as a hostile place; while another child who has been able to overcome difficult moments and situations in their infancy can grow up with the conviction that life is wonderful, while feeling safe and courageous enough to deal with any situation with serenity.

In the same way, a child who has been raised under very favorable circumstances and who has felt protected by their family in any moment of their infancy, could feel secure and confident in life; whereas another child in the same situation could interiorize the unconscious belief that “I can’t do anything by myself”, and that outside of the familiar environment it is not safe and as a result becoming afraid of “exploring the outside world”.

The possibilities of interaction between a person and their environment are unlimited. Every case is unique and full of nuances, and requires to be analyzed with every detail.

But what is true is that once an anxiety disorder appears, this only happens because of the fear that installed itself in our mind during specific events in our life, which caused us to reduce our mental and physical space to the point of us self-imposing ourselves limits of which we are not even conscious most of the time.

What is the point of self-imposed limits?

These limits serve to protect us, to define a small, but apparently secure space which guarantees our survival, yet feeds our fear to break with them and overcome our anxiety and question them, since doing this would imply a more direct connection to life.

It is very common that when I speak to my patients, who suffer from OCD or Anxiety, at IPITIA they become very surprised when I ask them if they have ever considered changing their job, engaging in a personal project, living in another country, changing their partner or breaking the relationship with those people who make them unhappy.

“I can’t”

It is as if they would like to do this but an internal voice tells them “I can’t do that”, or “That wouldn’t be ok”. I’m not referring myself to financial or physical conditions that could really hinder these decisions, but to the fear which gets generated just by considering the option, and to the belief that this will never be possible.

These self-imposed limits which have impregnated our personality are in my opinion both the cause and the effect of anxiety and fear. Therefore, it is very important that the person besides reducing the main symptoms of anxiety, if he doesn’t overcome them, at least will be able to question them.

Face our fears

Questioning our limits means to face our fears and to increase our mental and physical space, with the consequence of being able to confide more in ourselves and in our way of living our life. To reestablish a true sensation of control and security we pass through a stage in which we become conscious of who we really are, and in which we define our true aspirations, while breaking the boundaries with what we considered our “safe space” until now.

I consider that both in life as well as in therapy for anxiety disorders, it is very important to analyze and question the self-imposed limits one has:

In a bigger space everything seems smaller, even our fears.

Marco De Colle

Clinical Psychologist