The Dance of Connection

Rescuing women and men from the quicksand of difficult relationships.

Anxiety Deficiency Disorder???

Anxiety sucks, but consider the alternative.



ANXIETY DEFICIENCY DISORDER?

I was inspired to write The Dance of Fear, because anxiety operates as such a powerful force in everyone's life, whether it holds us back in love and work-or propels us toward disaster.

Indeed, anxiety and fear are the culprits behind most of the problems for which people seek help, including problems with anger, intimacy, and self-esteem. Learning to cope with these emotions are central to living a loving and creative life.

It makes no difference whether you view your anxiety as a product of your genes, faulty brain circuitry, early trauma, current stress, world events, or the moon and stars and grace. Whatever your perspective, these things are certain:

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Anxiety feels lousy. It also makes you feel dreadful about yourself. It can impede your capacity to think. It can dig a big negative groove in your brain and make it impossible le to hang on to a positive though for more than five seconds. It can affect your body in ways that feel crippling.

So it's not surprisingly, the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association has many labels for people who struggle with anxiety. These disorders include generalized anxiety disorders, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, social phobia, object-specific phobias (blood, elevators), hypochondrias, obsessional worrying marked by anxiety and distress, and compulsive behaviors (like counting, checking, cleaning) aimed at magically preventing some dreaded event.

That's the short list. The suffering it encompasses is real enough.

Yet, interestingly, we don't have similar diagnostic labels for folks who fail to get anxious when they should. True, one can get diagnosed with a "conduct disorder" if one's behavior is sufficiently deceitful, aggressive and destructive that it violates the social codes of family and society.

But what about the less flamboyant ways that many folks operate at the expense of others, or themselves-and don't get the internal signals to change course? What about people in positions of power who harm others in their single-minded pursuit of profits, never feeling much anxiety about their behavior? Or ordinary citizens who go about their business as usual and fail to register or respond to dangerous, unfair or downward spiraling events in their families, communities or global environment?

I'm not suggesting that we all live awash in anxiety at the state of the world or our own relationships. In fact, when we get too anxious we lose our ability to be good problem solvers. Nor do I mean to trivialize or erase the profound suffering of those who suffer from severe, relentless anxiety, paralyzing panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias.

But it's interesting to think about the fact that when anxiety disrupts functioning, it is considered a psychiatric illness. There is no diagnosis for indifference, the most dangerous emotion of all.

 

Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., is best known for her work on marriage and family relationships and the psychology of women. Her book The Dance of Anger has recently been reissued.

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