Cookies, Plants, and Shoulds

People dealing with high functioning anxiety disorder perceive the world as a continuous flow of deadlines to be met. There is a constant need to evaluate and re-evaluate, plan, check and re-check. Over and over.

Analyzing not only what happened that day and how well you did (or didn’t do), but also looking toward the future to worry about what is coming up. The irony? No matter how much you plan, worry, or analyze, you are still constantly failing. Your Monger will make sure of that by continually pushing the line of success so you never quite make it.

High Functioning Anxiety is rooted in shame and the feeling of unworthiness. At our core, people with HFA believe we are not worthy and we don’t want anyone else to find out. This core belief leads us to hustle, push, worry, and try to control everything around us. We believe if we can “do it right” and “follow the rules,” we can protect ourselves from the inevitable failure and criticism that we deserve.

The irony is that while we can’t protect ourselves from other people’s judgment, we can control ourselves from our own judgment.

Let’s say you are an amazing baker. You make a mean chocolate chip cookie. If someone were to criticize your cookie baking, you might feel a tinge of doubt but rather quickly, your Biggest Fan would step in to say, “Hmm, I wonder if their feedback has any validity?” Because you are so confident in your cookie baking, you are able to hear the criticism, take it or leave it, and move on.

So what is the difference between the cookie baking and every other area of your life? You feel confident in your cookie baking; you KNOW you are a good cookie baker.

So now let’s take another example. You are a terrible gardener. In fact, when anyone gives you a plant, it is dead within a week. When someone criticizes you about your gardening, you are able to laugh it off because you KNOW you aren’t skilled at gardening and you are okay with that.

Here we have two examples: one where you are absolutely amazing and one where you are terrible. And neither one of them are areas where you put a lot of stock in your Monger. You KNOW where you stand. You have a strong loyalty with yourself in those two areas.

One more example. Let’s say you hate presenting. In fact, when you are called upon to present anything, you immediately freak out because your Monger is so loud. She tells you how terrible you, how THEY (the terrifying THEY) are going to figure out you are a loser who is unworthy of your job. You start spinning out, losing sleep, and dreading going to work, all because of a presentation. What is the difference between this example and the previous two? Why can’t you ignore your Monger like you can with the others?

One word. Should. SHOULD gets in the way of KNOWING. In the first two examples, you are comfortable with your success and your limitations, but in the third example, you get caught up in the should.

You SHOULD be a better speaker. You SHOULD be able to speak without getting stressed. You SHOULD be confident and excited to speak. That SHOULD word gets in the way of your self-loyalty.

Instead, what if the next time you notice your Monger talking and sharing how THEY are going to find out you hate speaking, you say to yourself, “I do hate speaking. I don’t feel confident about it. They might figure out that I am a terrible speaker.” From that place of honesty, you can ask for help, reach out to people who know more than you, and stop pretending.

Because HFA is rooted in feeling unworthy, we feel we need to protect the world from our failures. Never let them see you sweat takes on a whole new meaning. We need to be expert at EVERYTHING. We need to be responsible, practical, and accountable. We can’t possibly admit weakness.

Admitting weakness is the key. Because then we can ask for help, get advice, make a change, or decide not to engage in that activity. Owning who we are, warts and all. There is so much power in that.