Have you noticed a pattern? Perhaps you feel fine but then as soon as you walk into the office and see your boss, the anxiety hits… Or you look forward to a family lunch, only to feel worse after.
If you suffer from anxiety, you may have noticed that certain triggers make it worse. Sometimes these triggers can be daily activities or situations (like giving a big work presentation) but for some people, they can also come in the shape of a person.
If you relate to this – as uncomfortable as it feels right now – the fact that you’ve identified what’s causing you anxiety means that you’re already one step closer to being able to fix it.
But before you take any action, first consider whether there’s any possibility you could be projecting…
Very often the anxiety we feel around other people is a reflection of the way we perceive ourselves.
Projection is a common defence mechanism which causes us to take aspects of ourselves (which we find uncomfortable and unsettling) and ascribe them to other people.
If, for example, we don’t like someone – or we feel uncomfortable around them – we might convince ourselves that it’s actually the other way round… That they don’t like us.
By placing the blame onto the other person (e.g. “they’re making me feel anxious”), we’re relinquishing ourselves from any responsibility, helping us feel better about ourselves in the short-term.
We’re going to be especially susceptible to this type of projection if we already suffer with low self-esteem.
If you’re sure that you’re not projecting and you truly believe someone is treating you badly… It’s time to take action.
As much as we can blame the other person for making us feel anxious, the reality is that we set the tone for how we allow others to make us feel.
If we notice a pattern of anxiety after meeting with a particular person, then we need to take steps to stop this from continuing. Because ultimately, no one can make us feel a certain way. We always have the power to set limits around another person’s behaviour – even if that sometimes means ending a relationship that is doing us harm.
If you’re allowing bad behaviour to continue, then you likely struggle with setting healthy boundaries.
What does it mean to have healthy boundaries?
A boundary is something that separates two things, making them distinct from each other.
When it comes to relationships – whether with friends, partners or work colleagues – just as we connect and come together, we also have our own unique identity to uphold.
Healthy boundaries help us maintain self-respect and understand where we begin and where another person ends.
If healthy boundaries weren’t modelled to us by our parents – or if we grew up in an environment which was very restrictive or dominating – we might struggle with asserting boundaries in later life.
When we don’t set healthy limits around how people treat us, we can wind up feeling powerless (and anxious).
How to stop this pattern
- Identify exactly what’s happening
What is it about this person’s behaviour that makes you feel anxious? Are they unpredictable? Dominating? Disrespectful? By identifying the specific behaviour that leaves you feeling anxious, you’re going to equip yourself with the knowledge of how you can change it.
2. Approach the situation directly and assertively
Being assertive means being open and honest and unafraid to ask for what you need. It’s a vital communication skill which involves finding the middle ground between being passive and aggressive – being able to express your thoughts and feelings, whilst also not violating the rights of others. If you believe this person is disrespecting you, remind yourself that you have a right to be treated with respect, and that your needs are just as important as theirs.
3. Use “I” statements
The best way to practice assertiveness is by using “I” statements which help you express your needs without coming across as too confrontational or blaming. An example might be,
“It makes me feel anxious when you threaten our friendship every time we have a disagreement”.
- If you feel like they aren’t listening, use the broken record technique.
This is where you calmly repeat yourself over and over again, until the other person listens to what you’re saying.
Our boundaries – or lack of – are generally shaped by our early life experiences. Because of this, it can be challenging working on them alone. A therapist will help you unravel where this vulnerability stems from and set boundaries which never allow another person to leave you feeling anxious.
Defining and asserting boundaries can feel daunting at first, particularly if it’s something you’re not used to – but ultimately, it will leave you feeling empowered. No one has the power to make you feel anxious. They can only do that if you allow them to. Once you begin setting the tone for how people treat you, everything changes.