In my previous blog post, I wrote about How To Tell If Your Relationship Is Causing You Anxiety. Now let’s address your anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety is common. In 2013 there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK. So if you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms, you are not alone.
Anxiety can range from mild to overwhelming, and it has many names: apprehension, fearful, frightened, hesitant, agitated, nervousness, petrified and worry are a few.
Your anxiety symptoms can be brought on sporadically by various work or relationship issues or other life experiences. Or it may be chronic and ever-present.
Why Anxiety Symptoms Come And Go
Fear is a major component of anxiety. And it’s important to realise that anxiety is there for a reason. Anxiety symptoms are the body’s way of letting you know that you need to prepare to do something to keep yourself safe.
When experienced in response to actual danger, that fear resolves reasonably quickly. That might happen when your partner is verbally abusive, and you leave the room or hang up the phone. However, if you’re then worried that the fearful experience will happen again, your fear and worry become that threat.
Flight or Fight
When you feel anxious, the body’s fight-flight-or-freeze response is engaged. This is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system preparing you to meet the real threat. It instructs automatic processes like your breathing and heart rate, to kick into high gear and your adrenal glands to release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
If however the response is activated by something that hasn’t occurred, i.e. your fear and worries, there is nothing to fight or flee. Then, the tension builds up inside our body, but there is no physical action you can take to release it. Instead, your mind goes round and round, replaying possibilities and scenarios.
This ruminating isn’t helpful; it just leaves you feeling stuck and exhausted.
Treading On Eggshells
In a relationship with someone who has unhealthy narcissistic behaviours, this feeling of being unsafe and anxious happens when you’ve experienced Gaslighting or manipulation, or you fear the narcissistic rages, put-downs or other problematic behaviours. This unsettled state leaves you feeling fearful and treading on eggshells.
If you have become just so used to this pattern of behaviour or you’ve grown up with a narcissistic parent then this way of relating becomes internalised as normal; that’s how relationships work. Then you’re on autopilot, and you mightn’t even realise that you’re living with an undercurrent of anxiety.
This isn’t safe.
Ignoring The Alarm
When you have become so numb to the signals that your anxiety symptoms alert you to this leaves you susceptible to more of the same problematic behaviour.
Look at it this way. If you’re lying in your bed and the smoke detector goes off, what do you do? In normal circumstances perhaps you’d get up, check the kitchen, the fireplace or other high-risk areas. Only when you’re satisfied there’s no fire would you switch off the alarm and go back to bed.
In narcissistic relationships, it’s almost as if we assume it’s a false alarm, or the alarm is going off next door, or you’ve got your earplugs in. You don’t pay attention to anxiety. To do so feels too overwhelming. And perhaps you have to consider things about the relationship you’re not ready to do.
Another point to remember is that when your body is on alert constantly releasing stress hormones, in the long-term this has a negative impact on your physical health.
The Body Remembers
In narcissistic relationships, you tend to be in your head a lot, to think and trying to figure things out. And we can’t think clearly when we’re scared.
But the body remembers.
The body remembers the bones remember, the joints remember, even the little finger remembers. Memory is lodged in pictures and feelings in the cells themselves. Like a sponge filled with water, anywhere the flesh is pressed, wrung, even touched lightly, a memory may flow out in a stream. Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Our body knows when we don’t feel safe, And our body tells us we don’t feel safe. Part of the work is tuning into the body, connecting to our feelings so that we can pay attention to what is going on.
If you’re in an unsafe environment with a lot of uncertainty and you don’t know how the other person is going to respond, what you learn to do is not trust. And usually, the first person you don’t trust is yourself.
Your body doesn’t lie. You can trust it. Tuning into your body can be life-changing.
We do listen to our bodies, but often it’s when we are on our knees, and the fire is raging out of control. What you want to learn is to trace it back and not leave the chip pan on the flame. Learning to integrate mind and body is critical in understanding and managing your anxiety in a narcissistic relationship.
So what does the body feel like when it’s anxious?
From head to toe, almost every part of the body can be impacted by anxiety just by the nature of your body releasing a lot of stress hormones.
- A tension in the body, sore muscles or aching joints
- Headaches and dizziness
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty swallowing, dry mouth
- Aching neck, backache
- Irregular breathing
- Chest pains or palpitations
- Nausea, indigestion, stomach ache
- Frequent urination, diarrhoea
- Excess sweating
- Racing heart
You may also become aware of specific body sensations. Have you ever noticed your breath and the feeling of breathlessness or tightness in the chest? Other body sensations you might notice when you feel anxious are being constricted, clenched, frozen, shaky, sweaty, tight, throbbing, rigid, jumpy, tense, shivery, clammy, cold, knotted, nauseous or wobbly.
What’s Going On?
Once you connect to these feelings, you can bring your attention to what you notice about what’s going on for you at the time and how you’re behaving. Are you avoiding or removing yourself from situations that feel uncomfortable? Perhaps you’re silencing yourself or saying yes when you want to say no. Are you doing things which are not really in alignment with your values such as rationalising poor behaviour? Not to mention second guessing yourself or changing your plans.
Anxiety Affects More Than Your Mind.
Most people try to capture what they are thinking or doing when they are anxious. And anxiety affects more than your mind.
Connecting your feelings to your behaviours is key to understanding the patterns and dynamics of your relationship. Your thinking might not be so clear when you anxious because a very young immature part of the brain, the limbic system, is at work. And you might notice the anxiety when there’s a conflict but becoming connected to the body and how you are feeling on a daily basis lets you what the reality is of being in your relationship.
So how do you connect to the body? Mindfulness.
Pause and Be Mindful
Mindfulness is a great practice to allow you to connect with you. The next time you notice an anxious event do the following:
- Ground: Notice your feet on the floor and the sensations of your lower body
- Bring your attention to your breath for a few moments. What do you notice about your breathing?
- Breath in for the count of 5 and exhale for 9. Do this 5 times.
- Now bring your attention to your body and be aware of what body sensations did you notice?
- What are these symptoms letting you know? Check out your thoughts. They might include: I’m not safe. I can’t protect the ones I love, I feel bad, I feel isolated etc
- Write them down in your journal.
Over time begin to notice any patterns and what information your symptoms of anxiety – your Soul- are bringing to your attention.
Over To You
Does your relationship leave you feeling anxious and treading on eggshells? Counselling is a safe space where you can discover tools to manage your anxiety symptoms. If you want to explore how anxiety plays out in your life get in touch and book your first counselling appointment.
Or call me today on 07535 864836.
Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Sandra Harewood
Soul Centred couples counsellor Sandra Harewood specialises in working with couples and single women with childhood wounding that impacts their adult relationships. Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore and discover creative solutions to their difficulties and create great relationship.