Having Anxiety can impact many parts of your life. One of the more significant aspect it affects are relationships – personal or intimate. Relationships are extremely valuable, not just biologically, but for emotional, mental, physical and sometimes even spiritual reasons as well. Unfortunately, their value might just be the spark that unleashes many anxious thoughts and feelings. Relationship Anxiety can manifest at any stage, whether it’s platonic, romantic, familial or even professional – just the thought of interacting with another person who has their own thoughts and feelings can cause you to spiral into a world of negative thinking.
These are all normal and reasonable thoughts to have every now and then. Unfortunately, for some people these thoughts don’t subside as time goes on and the negative thought cycle develops into something bigger.
All this constant worrying can lead to creating distance between ourselves and our friends, family or partner. At its worst, anxiety can even push us to give up on relationships altogether, causing us to feel lonely due to forced isolation. Understanding relationship anxiety can help us identify our negative thought cycle that can cost us many opportunities at happiness. It’s the best way to keep our anxiety in check while embracing the constant unknown that comes with every relationship we will ever have.
Is Anxiety Your Roadblock to Happiness?
Personal and Intimate interactions are a basic need for us to be happy. Anxiety can affect our ability to build and maintain relationships. While this article can provide general tips and information on overcoming your relationship anxiety, a more personalized approach is necessary to completely rid of your anxiety. Take our free 10 minute anxiety test to determine the severity of your anxiety and receive a personalized treatment plan to get started on a worry free life.
What Causes Relationship Anxiety?
Let’s get something out of the way first: Relationships are scary for everybody.
Quite simply, relationships comes with its own challenges – many of which we don’t always expect. And that’s really because we can’t control the other person; we can’t control their thoughts, their actions, and their decisions. Lack of control is the foundation of anxiety and worrisome thoughts, it’s only natural that our relationships cause us some discomfort. In fact, it can get even worse as the individual becomes more valuable in our eyes and our constant worrying can promote hostility, paranoia and suspicion. A terrible combination that damages our self-esteem and fuels unhealthy levels of distrust, defensiveness, jealousy and anxiety.
Essentially, our fear of relationships and of the unknown feeds a constant stream of negative thoughts that can jeopardize our happiness and enable us to fret over our relationships rather than just enjoying them.
These negative thoughts always manifest at the most convenient time, of course. It’s when we’re alone and vulnerable that we begin to think “Do they really like me?” “Did they really cancel last minute?” “Would it bother them if I called them?” Seemingly innocent thoughts like this can easily spiral out of control as you maintain your isolation and get lost in the possibility of ‘what ifs’ and ‘could bes’. Pretty soon, you’ll start finding yourself passing on invitations, reconsidering a conversation and instead spend your nights withdrawn and causing a tension in your relationship that could very well break it apart.
It’s these manifested fears that act as the culprit behind these self-fulfilling prophecies, not the actual situation itself. The inner voice that distorts your thinking and perceptions are ultimately the cause of Relationship Anxiety.
What Perpetuates Relationship Anxiety
For the most part, the inner voice that personifies our fears don’t just manifest out of nowhere. In relationships, the perceptions regarding ourselves, our partner and the relationship potential are formed out of early experiences, gender stereotypes, societal expectations and attitudes influenced by significant individuals in our life (caretakers, family members, people of authorities or even ‘first loves’). The events and specific situations that resulted in a negative result in former relationships can shape how we view ourselves and potential friends or significant others. The culmination of these factors can cause us to be skeptical, shade our point of view and in even some drastic cases – completely cut off any opportunity to experience the same thing ever again.
We participate in many relationships in our life. From the get-go we have a relationship with our parents and that persists for a majority of our life. As we get older, we may have relationships with siblings, with new friends, strangers, teachers, mentors, partners – the list goes on. Each relationship we encounter helps to form and shape us, mentally and emotionally. Because of its significant impact on us, it can hugely influence many of our thoughts and attitudes. Multiple or even just one relationship that went sour can cause some sensitivity and develop thoughts of inadequacy on our end or mistrust on their end. A relationship where a friend or partner wronged us can cause us to constantly conjure thoughts of suspicion. A relationship that ended without any closure can make us think it was our fault and with every step we take in a relationship, we hesitate for fear of that happening again. A poor relationship with our mother or father can make us distrustful of authority figures or constantly seek acceptance from parental-like figures.
Gender expectations and requirements have stood the test of time, despite many changes in our modern society. Men are expected to be strong, stoic and to be the breadwinner. Women are expected to ‘act like a lady’, be respectable, be able to cook/clean/do anything. These type of stereotypes and expectations can put a lot of pressure on people who might be lacking in a particular department. For example, a man who just so happens to convey more emotion than what is perceived as ‘normal’ might feel inadequate and too feminine in relationships. Bullying or little jabs about them ‘expressing their feelings’ can make them anxious about socializing with other men and might even make them afraid of expressing more ‘feelings’ than their partner. A woman who doesn’t have the most ‘lady-like’ personality might feel that her intimate relationships fail because she doesn’t fit the ‘perfect’ mold, or might feel that she isn’t invited to outings because she isn’t the typical ‘girl’. Stereotypes can be damaging, because they develop these very biased thoughts that can in turn affect out we perceive ourselves and how others might perceive us.
Similar to gender expectations, societal expectations can cause us to feel inadequate or as if we are not responding to a certain situations appropriately. Societal expectations can change overtime as we grow. As children we are expected to be receptive and to act a certain way, and as we mature those expectations change. Events in our life can confuse or impair our emotional and mental development and we can either fail or overly succeed in society’s expectations of us. In addition, things like having a job a certain age, or driving a certain car or even wearing certain clothes can influence a negative thought cycle when it comes to how we socialize with others.
In our lives we encounter many people who touch us in many different ways. Our parents can have a huge influence on our parenting styles. Our teachers can affect our decisions on knowledge to seek as we advance. Our friends can shape our hobbies, preferences and our ideals. And finally our romantic partners can have everlasting effects on our personality, future decisions and many other aspects of our life. The fact of the matter is that, people can influence how we think and feel, and even if there is just one individual who is associated with a bad experience it can end up making or breaking us. A relationship that ended because you were considered too ‘needy’, might end up making you hesitant to move forward too quickly in relationships, you might reconsider every move you make or word you speak. You might even beat yourself up at night for something you said that might have been misinterpreted or sounded undesirable. When it comes to friends, people who might cancel on you a lot, or that you catch hanging out without even inviting you, might make you feel like you aren’t a good friend. That maybe you’re annoying, or maybe you just always upset people.
Every person and experience in your life matters and what might start as reasonable worries can sometimes spiral completely out of control because of our fear of repeating everything again constantly hangs over us, because we let it.
How Can Relationship Anxiety Affect Us
As we unveil our past, it’s easy to see that many of our early influences have shaped us emotionally and mentally and have manifested into our ‘psychological defense mechanism’ or more poetically: the walls around our heart and mind. These internal and external factors have shaped our relationship anxiety and can lead us to consistent isolation from relationships and the complete sabotage of many others. Giving into the monologue of our inner voice can have devastating effects on ourselves and the people around us:
When we are anxious about the development of a relationship or about the direction it is heading, we develop a tendency to be clingy or overly attached to our partner. This can lead to less than desirable traits such as acting jealous, insecure and making it a priority to spend time with our friend/partner. When this happens, we neglect our personal needs and independent activities and become highly dependent on the other individual. When they fail to return many of your actions your jealousy and worry develops into suspicion and ultimately you fall apart as does the relationship.
Sometimes our fears of lack of control can develop so badly that we turn to domination over the relationship to ensure its longevity. In these cases, our anxiety can cause us to start setting rules, limitations and guidelines just so that we feel better about our anxieties. This kind of behavior can distance the other party and can even cause them to harbor feelings of resentment.
If we constantly give into our inner thoughts and submit to our worries, we can develop indifference towards our relationships. This can further evolve into becoming cold, aloof and finally rejecting any movement or potential for a relationship just so we can protect ourselves from any future outcomes. Gradual rejection of a relationship can cause the other party to grow distant which further fuels your fears and eventually the relationship is ended.
Hesitation is a combination of attachment, control and rejection. We don’t want to completely end the relationship, but we’re afraid of a bad outcome, however in an effort to control it we hold back our thoughts, feelings and desires from the other party. If we get invited to a gathering, we might object and say we’ll consider next time. If a romantic partner expresses affection, we might withhold in an order to control the pace of the relationship. Hesitation is a passive act that overtime can be the most harmful contributor to your relationships.
In some cases, the insecurities, worries and anxieties manifested can take a more aggressive form and we might project or misdirect our insecurities onto our friends, family or loved ones. We might do things like start arguments out of nowhere, give them the cold shoulder, point out little things and make a big deal out of them. Eventually, this type of behavior develops resentment on both sides until eventually the relationship just has to come to an end.
Isolation usually occurs after the aforementioned has been enacted enough times. After a while, we give up on any prospective relationships, pull out of any current ones and instead resort to isolating ourselves so that we don’t ever have to experience the same worries and fears every again. In isolation, we develop a fantasy world with fictional relationships that while give us the control we desire, doesn’t give us the same interaction we as humans need. Many anxiety sufferers will often always find themselves anxious about being alone and often this is a result of a culmination of all their negative thoughts.
How Can I Overcome Relationship Anxiety?
Overcoming relationship anxiety requires us to take a step back and to focus on our thoughts. Instead of feeding into our inner fears, we have to rationalize them and remind ourselves that they won’t be real unless we let them be. While our past can shape what we know about relationships, it can never truly determine how a relationship will turn out. Additionally, Relationship Anxiety manifests from pre-existing anxiety, in order to overcome your worries you have to start at the root problem. Take our anxiety test learn more about your anxiety and receive a personalized treatment plan.
We’ve compiled some common social scenarios that those with anxiety might find difficult to respond to and provided some tips on how to overcome those negative thoughts inside your head.
Scenario 1: A Casual Night Out with Friends
Your friends invite you out for the night. You’re going to see a movie, maybe catch dinner, go to a bar or even shoot some pool.
Your reaction: Do they really want to hang out with me? Are they just inviting me because they feel bad? What do I even talk about? I’m not even good at pool, why would I even want to play? I hate going to bars. I should just not go.
What You SHOULD do: Go out with your friends. Part of maintaining a relationship is participating in fun activities. More than likely, if they are inviting you, they enjoy your company and want you to be part of the fun – they are your friends after all. If you’re worried about conversation topics, try to compile a list on your phone or in your head before you go out. Conversations can move quickly and in unexpected directions, a story about a funny thing you saw on the train this week could easily turn into a conversation about your friend wanting to adopt a dog. If you’re worried about trying something you aren’t good at or that is new, TRY IT. That’s the fun about going out and experiencing things and if you express your discomfort your friends might even help you improve your game or might even suggest doing something else. Communication is key, if you don’t like visiting bars or certain venues, let your friends know. This is a group outing, not an individual activity and if you let them know how you feel they will be more receptive to your preferences.
Scenario 2: A Room Full of Strangers
You decided, okay I’ll go out and somehow find yourself at a party or event with a bunch of people that you don’t even know. The friend you came with managed to disappear and now you’re left alone.
Your reaction: You’re angry at your friend for essentially abandoning you. You’re angry at yourself because you aren’t sure how to approach people. You hate this situation and you want to leave now.
What you SHOULD do: If you feel like you’re completely lost and know nobody, chances are there are a few other people who feel the same way. If you’re bordering at the edge of the group and hugging the sides of it, try to move your way in. To do this, approach someone and start the conversation by asking how they know the host, or how they came to know about this event. After initiating that conversation and performing introductions, you might just find that you’re the catalyst for sparking conversation and may eventually find yourself at the center of the room. As for the friend, try not to be too angry at them, but let them know that you didn’t appreciate them leaving you in the dust like that. Sometimes, it could have just been that they were a crucial part of the event and didn’t share that with you, or something they could have just gotten caught up in something else. Regardless, it doesn’t hurt to let them know and to make the best out of your outing.
Scenario 3: When you’re Transparent as Glass
You’re sure your thoughts and feelings are clear as day.
Your Reaction: You constantly worry if your friend or your partner know what you’re thinking and it makes you feel uncomfortable. You think that this knowledge of your inner thoughts might ruin the future of your relationship.
What You SHOULD do: Nobody can read minds. If we could, then that would be very bad for everyone. Your thoughts are your own unless you make them vocal and lay them out in the open. Sure people can read your body language, and if you’re feeling anxious or worried it might be obvious and that might be what’s causing you to feel like everyone can read you like a book, because well actions speak louder than words. If you’re concerned about someone reading your thoughts, chances are you want them to actually know about it. Communication is very important in a relationship, so if something is bothering you so much that that other person might just be able to read your thoughts, maybe it’s worth sitting down and talking about it.
Scenario 4: In Negative Spotlight
Everyone is always upset at you or they resent you. Friends, family and even loved ones don’t really like you, but just deal with you and you’re always on the negative spectrum of their thoughts.
Your Reaction: You’re sure that everyone hates you, or they’re mad at you, or that you’ve done something to upset them. This causes you to withdraw from them, or hesitate whenever you interact with them. After all, you don’t want to upset them any more than you already have, right?
What You SHOULD do: WRONG. You have to remember that everyone is living a separate life and not everything is always rainbows and flowers for them. Your friend might have had a bad day at work and can’t get the chip off their shoulder, that’s why they seem kind of cold to you. You’re significant other might have received some bad news that they aren’t sure on how to deal with, that’s why they keep brushing you off or seem distant. Your parents might have just had a bad day and might have accidently misdirected their anger at you. Everyone is human, just like you and they aren’t always aware of the things they say or do to you. If you feel like someone is upset with you, try to open the forum by asking them about their day, or if everything is alright. Sometimes they just need someone to open the conversation and eventually you might learn that it wasn’t you that was the problem, but it was something else.
Scenario 5: Lonely in the Midst of Company
You are surrounded by friends and loved ones, but sometimes just feel utterly lonely because you feel disconnected or detached.
Your reaction: You try to pretend you’re happy, but you’re not. You endure outings because you know it’s all part of the drill. You’re certain your friends don’t really like you, or that your partner isn’t really interested in you. Despite the involvement, you’re lonely and you just don’t know why.
What You SHOULD do: Everyone feels loneliness and it doesn’t always stem from actual social interaction. Maybe you are confusing your loneliness with a lack of fulfillment or enjoyment in your life. Perhaps you feel like your relationships are stagnating or need to be reinvigorated. It happens, that’s normal. It’s not because nobody likes you, it’s because you can only do the same thing so many times. Feeling lonely can also be a cause of your negative thoughts that are causing you to slowly reject relationships so that you can embrace your isolation. The important thing is to not give into this negativity and try to up the excitement factor in your friendships. Try finding a new group of people to spend time with by joining a recreational group, or go away with a loved one to ignite the sparks again. Everyone needs to get away, life and relationships included.
Scenario 6: They Love Me, They Love Me Not
With anxiety, the simple act of pulling flowers is akin to pulling teeth. There’s a constant internal struggle of whether or not the person you’re romantically involved with likes or loves you.
Your reaction: You obsess over the idea of the level of their affection and when you start expecting certain signs from them and don’t get them it discourages you. You begin to wonder if your relationship will go anywhere, or if they even enjoy your company as much as you thought. This feeds into your insecurities, which if satisfied can transform into jealousy and resentment.
What You SHOULD do: Everyone has their own pace when it comes to relationships, you have to respect that. If you feel like you’re ready for the next step, you can try pushing it in that direction – there’s no harm in that. It’s important to talk to your partner about what you expect out of a relationship from the get-go so that you are on the same page and have a good idea of where it can head. Some people might just want a very basic relationship that isn’t long-term, some people are looking for a life partner, and others are just looking for someone to have fun with. Knowing this can help you boost your confidence in your relationship and if it isn’t for your or what you want then it allows you the choice to stop it before it goes further.
Scenario 7: Getting Ready for the Next Step
Your Long Distance Relationship might just be in closer proximity as you find out your online partner and you can finally meet in person. Or the person you have been casually dating seems to be ready to make it official and move into boyfriend/girlfriend territory.
Your reaction: Fear and worry, lots of it as you realize that you are taking a very important step in your relationship. You begin to wonder if you are worthy or good enough. You wonder if as you move forward if they will still like you. You worry about the responsibilities that come as your relationship becomes more serious. You worry about being ready or able to take this next step and soon you’re hesitating and ready to call everything off because these next steps are just too overwhelming.
What You SHOULD do: Take a step back and reconsider your fears. The changes that are about to take place didn’t just happen overnight. Chances are this is weeks, months or even years of work that has finally allowed you and your partner to move onto the next step of your relationship. When it comes to long distance relationships, people worry about finally being seen in person due to having a relationship over the virtual space. If you feel inadequate about your looks you can do things to change that. Work out, get on a healthy diet to shed some weight. Change up your hairstyle or your wardrobe to help you look and feel better. If you’re preparing to be part of a more committed relationship, take a moment to wonder why you are apprehensive. Is it because you’re afraid that you might get hurt? Are you worried that things might end badly? Or were you legitimately triggered or had warning signs that this person might not be right for you. You have to take a step back sometimes and away from your thoughts to view them and get an idea of what you really feel. If there were concerns or problems that you brought up that went unaddressed, then maybe this person isn’t worth moving into the next step with. If you’re concerned about being hurt or things going bad, remember that everyone – even people without anxiety have these fears, it is part of the experience that you must take to grow as an individual.
Scenario 8: The Unexpected Guest/Last Minute Reservations
A friend or family member shows up unexpectedly and wants to spend some time with you. Or a friend invites you out mere hours before an outing.
Your reaction: You’re annoyed. You hate when people show up unexpectedly and without any forewarning. The last minute invitation worries you because you wonder if you’ll have enough time to get ready, you don’t really know where it is, you’re not sure who will be there and you don’t know what to do. It’s fueling you’re anxiety and you wonder why this person would even do this to you.
What You SHOULD do: You feel this way because this is a situation that completely lacks control. With anxiety, you like to think you are prepared for anything, but when this happened you aren’t at all and it just freaks you out. When an unexpected friend shows up and wants to stay, sometimes the best thing to do is just go with it. You can try to offer ordering food or preparing something for them. Sometimes the time from preparing food or eating it can help you ease into this new situation. If that isn’t an option, you can even be upfront and honest and say that you were just finishing something up and go to another room to gather and compose yourself. Don’t feel like you are neglecting your friend or family, after all it was they who imposed on your time abruptly, they should be understanding of your time. Once you ease into the situation, ask them why they showed up so suddenly. Sometimes there’s a bigger picture to everything.
In the case of the last minute invitations, remember that you always have the option to decline. And if they bother you about declining, be upfront and tell them that you don’t like being told things last minute. Everyone has their own peeves, you are entitled to yours as well. If you’re interested in going or would like to make the effort, try texting your friend to get more details of the outing. Ask about the venue, how you should dress, how much money you should bring – these are all important and reasonable questions to ask so that you are properly prepared. Being prepared and having a better idea of the situation can calm your anxiety and make you feel like you’re in control again. Your friend should be compliant to your questions and who knows, if you do end up going maybe you just might enjoy yourself.
The Take Away
Your anxiety should not be the reason you can’t have any meaningful relationships. Once you really get inside your head and learn to push aside the negative thoughts, you’ll realize that the severity of your worry wasn’t necessary in the first place. Understanding the origin of your negative thoughts can help you better rationalize how you feel and in turn allow you to move away from your fears. Realize that you cannot control the thoughts and actions of others and that is okay, as long as you make the effort to make a relationship work you will always receive the fruits of your labor.