What Those Anxious Feelings May Be Trying To Tell You – And Why It’s Important To Listen (Part One of a Two Part Series)

What if anxiety is more than a clinical disorder to be treated, but serves as a barometer of our overall mental and emotional well being? This article focuses on anxiety as a ‘health-seeking signal’ inviting us to reconnect with the truest parts of ourselves that have been neglected or repressed. Included is a recent example from my work as a licensed Psychotherapist illustrating how anxiety at times acts as an important messenger inviting us to heal psycho-emotional wounds sustained in childhood and adolescence, if only we are able and willing to tune in and listen.

-Article by Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA, MFT

What Is Anxiety?

Clinical signs of anxiety
Clinical signs of anxiety

Anxiety is commonly believed to be an automatic, ‘built-in’ response to perceived threats, and is often referred to as our ‘fight-or-flight arousal’, or ‘fight or flight response’ as a species. Therefore, it stands to reason that children who grew up in chaotic, possibly traumatic home environments where their fight or flight (arousal) response was frequently activated are susceptible to developing various kinds of anxiety disorders even prior to the onset of adulthood. Hence, it is a concern that physicians and psychiatrists whose patients report feeling anxious typically prescribe anti-anxiety medication but do not always recommend that their patient also see a qualified Mental Health professional to explore the possible root cause(s) of the anxiety as well as to identify possible additional or alternative (i.e., non-prescription) treatments.

Signs And Symptoms Of Anxiety

Although anxiety can take on many forms, the below are signs and symptoms commonly associated with this behavioral health disorder:

  • Excessive Worry and Rumination
  • Irritability / Anger
  • Sleep Disturbance / Insomnia
  • Poor Concentration / Forgetfulness
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle Tension / Mysterious Aches and Pains
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Blood Pressure Spikes
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Heart Palpitations / Chest Pain / ‘Panic Attacks’

Psychotherapy As A Means Of Successfully Treating Anxiety Disorders

What if anxiety was not always something to be avoided and/or medicated away, but was instead something it would benefit us to be curious about? One way that I invite my clients to explore this possibility is to ask them to tune into their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations the next time they notice they are feeling anxious. What is happening right then in the moment? Was there a possible ‘trigger’ initiating the anxious sensations? As the following Case Study illustrates, this simple exercise can provide surprising insights regarding what a person’s anxiety ‘signals’ might be trying to convey.

The Wisdom Of Anxiety: A Case Study

Journaling when anxious can be helpful
Journalling when anxious can be helpful

I once had a client (whom I will call ‘Jeremy – not his actual name) share with me in session that he had recently felt extremely anxious when he entered a hotel lobby on a business trip. He attributed this to what he thought was the ‘Generalized Anxiety Disorder’ (GAD) he had been diagnosed with by his family doctor years before, prior to beginning his psychotherapeutic work with me. I suggested early on in therapy that he begin keeping an ‘Awareness Journal’ and to write in this journal whenever he was feeling particularly anxious. During one such onset of extreme symptoms that occurred during a business trip, Jeremy realized while writing in his journal that he had started to feel anxious when he saw a certain type of old-fashioned couch in the hotel lobby he had just walked into. Upon further reflection in his Awareness Journal, Jeremy suddenly realized that the retro-style couch looked nearly identical in style and in color to a couch that was in the living room of the home he had lived in as a child. Needless to say, this gave us much to explore in this and future sessions as he began to remember and share traumatic events from childhood that up until then he had unknowingly repressed.

Over time, the chronic, ‘generalized’ anxiety Jeremy had been suffering from for years receded as he continued to work diligently in psychotherapy to reconnect with the wounded, ‘lost’ parts of himself he had unknowingly disconnected from during childhood while growing up in a chaotic, unpredictable, alcoholic family system. He eventually chose to stop taking his anti-anxiety medication under the supervision of a physician and is able to self-manage any anxious sensations that arise via deep breathing exercises and Mindfulness Meditation practices I introduced him to in therapy, along with Somatic-Psychology techniques (for more information on the use and efficacy of Somatic-Psychology in the treatment and healing of trauma refer to Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma). Jeremy also continues to self-reflect in his Awareness Journal, which has become a critical aspect of his ongoing psycho-emotional healing and growth. (Note: Details of specific client cases have been changed to protect privacy).

Anxiety and Psychotropic Medication

lossy-page1-303px-Prescription_medication_being_dispensed.tiffWhile taking psychotropic medication to minimize symptoms is a personal choice, and in some cases is medically advisable, there are other effective interventions that a person can pursue, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; Family Systems work (as discussed in the above case study); deep breathing exercises; yoga; daily physical exercise; holistic / body-oriented therapies (such as Hakomi Therapy and The Feldenkrais Method); Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction; accupuncture; massage; medical cannabis (now supported by research); and homeopathic remedies as prescribed by a Naturopathic doctor,

Recent research also confirms that Mindfulness Meditation can be highly effective in addressing anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness is a practice that involves being fully engaged in whatever is going on around you. “It is simply the act of paying attention to whatever you are experiencing, as you experience it”, explains Kate Hanley, author of A Year of Daily Calm: A Guided Journal for Creating Tranquility Every Day. “By choosing to turn your attention away from the everyday chatter of the mind and on to what your body is doing, you give the mind just enough to focus on that it can quiet down.” In 2013 researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center published a study that confirmed that Mindfulness Meditation reduces anxiety at a neural level.

Working Mindfully With Anxiety

As the above brief discussion illustrates, there may be far more to anxiety than meets the eye. While it is understandable why anyone experiencing anxiety would want relief from these extremely uncomfortable symptoms, it may be that the symptoms themselves are pointing to possible solutions to those who are willing to explore their anxiety via mindfully cultivating an attitude of acceptance, curiosity, and patience. Journalling, painting, and other forms of creative expression, as well as psychotherapy and/or sharing in a support group, may offer a means of discovering the wisdom that anxiety has to offer.

A Special Note of Caution: It is recommended that a person experiencing frequent anxiety symptoms get a complete physical to rule out disorders like Graves (Thyroid) Disease, hormonal imbalances, and other medical conditions that can cause extreme and/or chronic anxiety.

Read Part Two to learn more about Anxiety, Addiction, Self-Medication, and Mindfulness Meditation and also access free resources:

http://chainfreeliving.com/2016/06/08/working-mindfully-anxiety-part-two/

Take my free brief quiz, ‘Are You Living As Your True Self?’ (hiding our real selves behind a mask can also cause us to feel anxious).

By Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA

Seven Strategies For Effectively Dealing With Workplace Bullying

In this article I discuss some of the unique traits that emotionally manipulative adult bullies exhibit; the various kinds of damage such bullies can cause to others who are exposed to them for any length of time (the emotionally sensitive, conflict-avoidant person, especially); and my strategies for dealing effectively with the adult bully at work.
Definition of Bully: A person who is habitually cruel or overbearing, especially to smaller or weaker people. -freedictionary.com

Workplace Bullying Harms

Bullying doesn’t just happen to children. It can happen to adults as well. I created the term Emotionally Manipulative Adult Bullying to describe a very specific kind of bullying behavior that can occur both in and outside of the office, yet often goes unrecognized and unaddressed. This form of bullying, whether it occurs between bosses and employees, colleagues, spouses, or in any adult relationship, can cause traumatic stress that is toxic to one’s emotional well being and overall health in cases where the energetically aggressive bullying behavior is repeated and chronic.

 As hard as it is to imagine, these types of emotionally manipulative, aggressive adults are usually oblivious to how their actions upset and negatively impact the people around them – especially those they may specifically and intentionally be targeting. Often the ‘target’ is an emotionally sensitive person who has trouble setting clear boundaries and will do anything to avoid or reduce conflict, which allows the emotionally manipulative bully to act out aggressively or passive-aggressively in an unimpeded manner. In fact,these types of bullies usually see themselves as the ‘victim’ if someone sets a boundary and refuses to tolerate (and/or call them out on) their egregious behavior.

Examples of bullying behavior

 

The ‘Accidental Bully’

Unlike the types of workplace bullies described by self-help websites such as workplacebullying.org, the typical emotionally manipulative adult bully is often completely unaware of the distress and confusion they cause those around them. Based on my years of working as a licensed psychotherapist, and now as a Therapeutic Life Coach, it is my experience that an emotionally manipulative adult who chronically exhibits disrespectful, overbearing, intimidating behavior is likely suffering from one or more personality disorders (e.g., borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder) and as such, can be very difficult for even a trained mental health professional to effectively relate to and work with, for the following reasons:

Emotionally Manipulative Adults Tend To:

  • Abuse positions of authority and power
  • Frequently dish out undeserved criticism
  • Use sarcasm and jokes to disguise their emotional abuse of others
  • Hold others to unrealistic standards based on their needs and wants
  • Use overt insults and covert threats to control others
  • Are completely oblivious to the fact that they abuse the rights and dignity of others while demanding that they themselves be treated fairly at all times
  • Play by their own set of ‘rules’ and use guilt, martyrdom, threats, and other forms of covert or overt intimidation (e.g., passive-aggressive behavior) when others fail to comply and play the game their way

The Negative Impact Of Being Bullied By An Emotional Manipulator

Intimidating behavior causes workplace stress
Intimidating behavior causes workplace stress

As stated above, It has been my experience in my work as a psychotherapist and coach that the people who seem most negatively impacted by the emotionally manipulative, bullying behaviors are those who describe themselves as being ‘trusting’, ‘highly sensitive’, ’emotionally aware’, ‘intuitive’, ‘caring’, and ’empathic’. This is likely due to the fact that these more sensitive personality types have difficulty recognizing, then standing up to, the extremely manipulative and emotionally and energetically aggressive behaviors being displayed toward them by the bullying adult. Such caring, empathic types may even feel bad or sorry for the person bullying them, and will often engage in codependent behaviors in their misguided attempts to calm the bully and keep the peace for the sake of everyone on the team and/or in the office. Unfortunately, such intense one-on-one exposure to the aggressor not only can make them a target of the bully’s focus in the workplace, but has additional repercussions for the person trying to help.

Chronic Adult Bullying and Emotional Manipulation Can Cause:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Loss of trust and confidence in self / Poor self-esteem
  • Compulsive worrying and ruminating over just what is happening and why it is happening, and who to tell and what to tell in an effort to get help (especially true when the bully is one’s boss)
  • A pervasive sense of fear and hyper-alertness
  • Various losses from missed work (financial losses due to lack of attendance; loss of credibility; disappointed team members; loss of one’s job)
  • Sleep disturbance and/or full-blown insomnia
  • Paranoia / Fears of “going crazy” or being seen as “crazy”
  • Mysterious aches and pains with no known cause
  • Stomach upset / Digestive disturbances, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Seven Strategies For Effectively Addressing Bullying Behavior In The Workplace

Ignoring the emotionally manipulative adult bully in the workplace won’t help, and will simply result in the egregious behavior continuing. While direct confrontation of the person bullying you is not always possible, effective, or even recommended, if the situation is not addressed in some manner the bully will simply continue to act out in an emotionally aggressive manner, to the detriment of all concerned. If you are an especially sensitive person, you may even become physically ill and/or rush to quit your job to get away from the harmful behavior. Instead, try these seven strategies I designed that have helped many of my therapy and coaching clients successfully put and end to bullying behavior experienced at work:

  1. Awareness is the first step. Acknowledge that you may be the victim of workplace bullying and that you may need help and support from others to arrange for an intervention of some kind to end these negative exchanges.
  2. Realize that emotionally manipulative bullying is sometimes not obvious to others if you are the one being specifically targeted. This is why it is especially critical that you document the bullying behavior as well as you can in case you need to go to higher levels of authority for help, such as human resources or an appropriate authority figure. Once you have reported the bullying, it is their job to assist you in finding solutions to what could be a complex situation (e.g., the bully is your boss); if the authority figure you approach says that they cannot help you, ask them who can. Do not accept ‘I don’t know’ for an answer. You shouldn’t have to handle this on your own.
  3. Are there people around you at work who witness the emotionally manipulative bully engaging in inappropriate behavior, such as harassing you or putting you down? Consider asking them to act as your witness. Ask if they are willing to document what they observe in case you do decide to seek help from those in a position to intervene.
  4. Release the idea that you did something to deserve this poor treatment. Emotionally manipulative bullies often target sensitive, kind, empathic, and helpful people. Remind yourself that you did nothing to cause the bullying, and you can’t control the bully’s behavior. Nor is it likely that you will be able to put a stop to the aggressive behavior on your own, or that the bully will just stop one day without intervention. Get help as soon as possible.
  5. Recognize and accept that you can not ‘help’ the bully to become a reasonable, nice, sensitive, and caring person. Remember, even specially trained and licensed healing professionals are challenged to help these types of emotionally manipulative and aggressive individuals.
  6. Decide if you are up to confronting the person bullying you – but never confront without a witness. If you decide that you would like to directly address the situation and confront the person you are having difficulty with, it is imperative that you do so with the support of an appropriate third party authority figure at work – Especially if the bully is your boss, or a team member you must work with regularly. Do not ever attempt to confront the bully on your own!
  7. If you’re not getting the support you need from an appropriate authority figure at work, consider seeing a therapist, life coach, or employment consultant who specializes in bullying in the workplace for further suggestions and ideas. You should not ever have to quit your job in order to escape being bullied in the workplace. If you decide to work with a therapist, counselor, or coach, make sure they have a good understanding of organizational systems and have experience in helping people address workplace bullying and dysfuncational organizational dynamics.

Bullying happens when authority figures are weakIMPORTANT NOTE: In extreme cases, you may feel you have no choice but to quit your job if appropriate help from an authority figures is not available. Although no state has as of yet passed an anti-bullying law, that doesn’t mean bullying is legal in every situation. Therefore, prior to quitting your job due to somebody else’s inappropriate, manipulative, and possibly even abusive behavior, you might consider contacting The United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and/or a local Labor and Employment Attorney to find out if the kind of bullying you are experiencing is illegal due to violating federal or state laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment.

Some Final Thoughts

Documenting is critical!
Documenting is critical!

Whether you are the one behaving inappropriately with others in the workplace or the one being emotionally and mentally harmed by someone else’s bullying behavior, it is important to recognize what is actually happening and take steps to stop it. If not, the distressful dynamics will continue to fester and grow, affecting the emotional and perhaps even the physical well being of anyone who must have sustained and repeated contact with an emotionally aggressive bullying personality, as well as negatively impacting the overall productivity of the office.

Remember, the authority you seek out for assistance in ending the bullying will depend on your particular situation. Check to see if there is an Employee Handbook. It is the Human Resources department job to identify the best person at your workplace to help you put an end to the emotionally manipulative bully’s destructive and toxic behaviors, and to intervene on your (and others) behalf, if warranted.

Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA, is a licensed Psychotherapist, Transformational Life Coach, Author, and former High-Tech Executive Employment Consultant. You can learn more about her ‘Whole Person’, ‘Whole Life’ Coaching practice by visiting her at ChainFree Living.

 

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