A young man described his anxiety as being like a gang of bullies surrounding and taunting him with invectives such as, “You’re going to fail anyway, so why bother trying?” “Nothing is ever going to work for you.” “What if everything falls apart?” These inner demons echoed some of what he came to believe when he was in middle school — a period which seems to be the bane of the existence for many teens. It tends to be a point in their development when they cross an invisible line into their own personal hell.
In his case there were actual human representatives of that harsh inner critic that he came to carry with him. He internalized the bullies and let them run roughshod over him.
As an adult, he worried about his future. He worried about making friends. He worried about having a relationship.
Standing in the Customer Service Line
Despite his apparent successes, such as graduating high school, preparing to go to college, finding a job he enjoys, having a small circle of reliable friends, as well as caring parents who believe in him, he would still find himself bombarded with those self-sabotaging thoughts.
It made sense to him to treat these thoughts one at a time, like a line of individuals waiting for customer service. He agreed to run each one through validation filters. Was it true and knowable that he would fail? Of course not. Was it true nothing would ever work? No, he had successes that proved otherwise. And yes, sometimes things do fall apart, but then much of the time they can be put back together. He recognized that he was not Humpty Dumpty.
He could determine when anxiety was beginning to take hold. His physical symptoms included rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, redness in his face and neck, butterflies in the stomach. They preceded the self-deprecating thoughts. He had learned to face them by doing something both physical (by taking a walk, going for a run or working out at the gym) and emotional (by talking with friends, going to church, or writing about his feelings). Still there were times when he felt as if he was aloft on a seesaw, spending most of his time dangling helplessly in the air. Rare was the time when he was grounded and solid.