The face of fear
Posted Dec 16, 2015
A 24-year-old female, Reva, lives with her boy-friend, who buys her jewelry and dinners out on his meager income, yet she often loses her temper, yells at him and treats him like shit. She asked her primary care physician what she could do to calm herself and told she was suffering from an anxiety disorder and prescribed Zoloft. But it wasn’t working, only making her feel lethargic and more irritable.
I asked Reva if she ever felt depressed, “Never. I’m full of life, except when I feel anxious.” I asked if “full of life” meant “being the life of the party?” “Always, she replied, I’m the first on the dance floor to pump up the party.” And when did she begin feeling anxious? “I don’t know, it’s always been there—to one degree or another,” she said.
“Did your mom or dad suffer from an anxiety disorder? Reva told me she was adopted, but at age 18 contacted her parents for the first time and arranged to visit them in the Mid-west. Her dad turned out to be a drunk and her mother smoked weed. She had two older sibs, neither graduating from high-school and both messed up with alcohol, drugs and the law.
“What about your adoptive parents?” Reva said they were OK, but that she had hated them while growing up. When did you first learn that you were adopted? “Around the age of five. I always asked if I didn’t have a sister, and my dad finally confessed yes, and I was adopted because my birth parents could not afford supporting another child.” And how did you react,” I asked. “I felt happy that I had a sister, but pissed at my birth-parents for giving me away.
I told Reva that I didn’t know the root of her anxiety, but it might have had to do with her being adopted—“given away” by her birth-parents. This could lead to substituting her anger toward her birth-parents toward her adoptive parents, while protecting the fantasized bond she had for her birth-parents. But when finally visiting them, this illusion backfired.
Reva interjected, “What a let-down. Now I have to be the grownup with them when we talk over the phone. They tell me their troubles and I am supposed to listen and be sympathetic!”
“Which makes you feel even more abandoned and deserving of the parental love you missed from your birth-parents,” I added. Reva nodded and her eyes began to tear.
“You rejected your adoptive parents, in spite of their love for you. You are rejecting your boy-friend in spite of his love for you. You are so forever anxious about being abandoned by others that you end-up abandoning them. Yes, you have an anxiety disorder, but Zoloft is not the answer.”
“So, what can I do,” Reva asked?
“Learning of your adoption at such an early age must have been a terrible blow to your self-worth. And no amount of love and care from your adoptive parents could assuage your feelings of being abandoned by your birth-parents. So you took on feelings of entitlement—that others owed you for the loss of love from your birth-parents. Your boy-friend senses this void in your life and is trying to help fulfill it by spending money that he cannot afford. In the end, if he doesn’t give up on you, you will up the ante and abandon him.
“Am I really that bad,” Reva asked?
“No, you’re just really anxious and you need to face the fear of being abandoned. One way to overcome this fear is by caring, loving, and giving to others. Whether they accept or reject your love, you’ll be the better for it. Self-worth is not a given right; it’s something that we all have to earn.
This blog was co-published with PsychResilience.com