Is It Called Social Anxiety When It's With Clients?

I, like most healthy and charming adults I know, have anxiety. My social anxiety has gotten better over the years as I’ve gotten older and the “who cares” part of my brain has gotten stronger. I have to tell you, this is such a relief. In my 20s, my social anxiety would cause me to review every word I had said in a dialogue and question if it was ok, or offensive in some way. It was exhausting, but it was the process my brain would take me through to try and keep me safe from rejection from the pack. My anxiety (everyone’s anxiety?) is attachment-based. If I worry and worry and worry and try and try and try then somehow I’ll prevent the loss of connection to others. The more important the person/group is to me, the higher the anxiety.

While my social anxiety is too old and tired to care about that stuff as much, I’ve noticed my clinical anxiety sounds remarkably similar to how the social anxiety used to be. I’ve noticed this week that I’ve been obsessively reviewing every word I’ve said to couples, and every moment I maybe should have done something different in session. The challenge with anxiety is that while it’s happening, it feels really necessary. And it’s hard to feel out in one’s own brain what is “good” obsessing that is important for deciding if I made any mistakes, and what is “bad” obsessing that is just torturing me for no reason. And then a tiny voice in my mind says, “um, maybe there is no good obsessing.” Ha. That’s adorable, Tiny Voice.  

So what do we do with this, if we were given brains that loop thoughts and get really stuck around trying to “check” internally if we did something wrong? Well, for me watching my tapes with my supervisor helps, but I only see her every other week instead of RIGHT NOW which my anxiety would prefer. Watching my tapes on my own is only a little helpful, because I’m still too early to really know if what I’m doing is bad or good EFT.

So I try to soothe myself with remembering the following:

1)   Everything is new. New is hard. Almost every session something I’ve never dealt with before comes up, because I’m a new couples therapist. This week, my couples were much more intense than I’ve had before, and I needed to bring my presence into the room more. I touched knees! I sat closer! Because I needed to ground us and manage the emotions in the room differently.  So I try to acknowledge that every time I do something new, my “checking” anxiety is going to light up and review, “Was that ok? Was it too much? Am I coming across too strong? If I dialed it back could I have achieved the same containment? Did I move us too fast?”

2)   Hardest of all, I try to bear the reality that I’m not as good of a couples therapist as I will be five years from now. And this is anxiety’s secret friend – sadness. If I let myself feel that sadness, that I will, even if it’s in small ways, not be as good for my couples as I will be in 5 years, it drops me down out of my anxiety.

I know that I offer a lot to my clients now, it’s not that I think I’m the worst. But most of our minds struggle the hardest with the 20% we’re not doing well versus the 80% we are doing well.

In my worst moments I repeat this mantra to myself, and I offer it now to you:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There’s a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in


- Leonard Cohen