I attended my first day of group therapy on Friday at 11 AM. A feeling of sickness (clenched stomach, tightened jaw, dry throat, increased heart rate, restlessness) overcame me every time it was my turn to speak on whatever topic we were discussing. Somehow I persevered, although I often had to dig my nails and press my palms into my knees as I spoke as a way to hide how terrified I was. Good thing the table blocked everyone’s view of my hands.
One of the session topics was talking about where we believe our anxiety originated from. Many people, including myself, briefly spoke of experiences that influenced us when we were children. More specifically, one common denominator mentioned again and again was how their parents treated them significantly contributed to their anxiety.
I know how the last sentence must sound. So everyone in the therapy group blames their parents for their anxiety tendencies? The answer is yes and no. Everyone there recognized that at least some of their parents’ actions had a negative impact on them whether their parents intended them to feel that way or not. But, I also felt everyone understood that people can say things to others or react in a certain way to somebody under the pretense they are doing it for valid and necessary reasons without realizing the recipient is reacting to it as a bad thing.
An example that I feel might fit in this category is when one of the therapy attendees spoke of his parents constantly criticizing him, which in turn he perceived as very negative. This feedback from his family caused him to be unconfident in his own abilities, yet his parents tell him they criticize and yell at him for his own good. While his parents believe they are acting in a manner that benefits their son, it is actually having the opposite effect by giving him anxiety and insecurities about himself. Then again, I am certain there are people out there who may have received similar criticism from their parents but it didn’t lead to them into developing intense anxiety. Why is that? Are some people just mentally stronger or more mentally balanced than others?
In my opinion, I think I was already genetically predisposed to being more susceptible to anxiety in addition to exposure to some environmental factors. I have almost always held this belief about myself, but it wasn’t until sometime last year that I observed and noticed things about my own parents’ behaviors when they are in what appears to be a state of worry. Only today, at this moment, it has hit me as a very real and solid idea that my parents have their own forms of anxiety. However, I am more certain that my mother has anxiety while I suspect my father also does but his anxiety might be milder.
Once, my mother was preparing to leave for an outing with her younger brother and I noticed she took a whole hour just to get ready. I used to think she simply likes taking her time with things and maybe she does if she knows no one is going to rush her. Had my father been the one to go out with her that day instead of her brother (who was apparently patiently waiting for her in the living room for that whole hour), he would have started hollering for her to hurry up once ten or fifteen minutes had passed. I was in my room when I heard her come upstairs to use the restroom and then go downstairs. I heard what sounded like clothing being shuffled around downstairs and assumed she was putting on her jacket. I was confused when the noise continued. I wondered to myself, How long does it take for someone to slip on a jacket? Perhaps five or eight minutes passed and I still did not hear the front door close to signal their leaving. Instead, my mother came up again on her way to the restroom. She actually said out loud, “Why is it that I feel worried?” I got the impression that she was experiencing anxiety but that she mistook the discomfort for a phantom sensation of a bladder that wasn’t actually full. How do I know her bladder wasn’t full? Because she already used the restroom several minutes earlier. I would also rule out the possibility of a bladder issue because if she did have a condition like that, I’d know about it.
My mom is very paranoid about having our house broken into. I do think this is also linked to anxiety. She always insists on having the ground level floor windows and doors closed when no one is present on the ground floor itself. I can remember a time either from last summer or two summers ago that she and my father were going out on their usual evening walk. I decided not to go with them and stayed in the basement where the temperature was a lot cooler. I didn’t even know until I came up to the ground level that all I noticed the windows were closed. In the moment, I did feel upset because her behavior was irrational and ridiculous in my point of view. It’s not as if the windows are being left open when no one is home, which might be a situation reasonable enough to warrant a lockdown like that. She’s been like this for as long as I remember and the handful of times my father has tried to reassure her there is nothing wrong with leaving the windows open as long as someone is home, his words have gone unheeded by her and she does as she wants anyway. Now my father doesn’t bother to say anything when she starts shutting all the windows. Another time, my brother was upstairs in his room while my parents and I decided to go out. A different circumstance with the same problem. She still ended up closing everything on the ground floor just because my brother was not on that floor. It was frustrating for me in the past to try to understand why she is like this, especially during times when it was quite easy to feel annoyed at her and thinking she was being a total nuisance for no reason. It didn’t enter my mindscape to consider then if she has anxiety. I don’t even think my mom recognizes her own behavior as anxiety and a very real issue.
As for my father, I suspect he has anxiety but I’m also unsure. What I notice is the times I’ve helped him fix stuff on his phone, he can’t just be patient and wait. Instead, as I am actively working on the phone, he keeps asking me questions like, “what’s the problem?”, “can you fix it?”, “how is it now?”, etc. This in itself can be a trigger for my own anxiety because I don’t like being prompted with so many questions when I’m trying to do something. Another thing I see he does is he is unable to keep quiet when he is seemingly anxious. Like a few days ago when I had gone out to have breakfast with my parents and brother for Father’s Day. My brother was driving me directly from the restaurant to the subway station since I had plans afterward to meet up with friends. On the way there, it appeared he was not content with letting my brother use GPS to navigate the car to the station. First, he prompted my brother to turn the car at a certain corner, but when my brother declined, my father said, “but you have to turn eventually if you mean to get to the subway”, almost as if he assumed my brother didn’t know which way to go unless he told him. His tone made me think he was afraid we were not going to get to the subway in time. He still did not let the topic rest after my brother said it’d be fine to just follow the GPS route. Minutes later when the car already passed several streets, he asked my brother if he would be turning yet. At this point, I held back a sigh of irritation and could not help thinking, What is his deal? The driver knows where to go; he doesn’t need your constant suggestions. I felt more annoyed when he started counting out loud as the car continued to pass streets, “38, 37, almost to 36th street.” This is not the first time I’ve witnessed the “counting” phenomenon he does. If I could guess, it’s almost like when he is anxious, he can’t help but chatter aloud even if it’s to himself.