Updated: Nov 13, 2018
I’m not sure if I’ve just become more aware in recent years, or if anxiety is more pervasive than it was when I was a wee lad, but I find that well over half of the people I interact with have some form of anxiety. In my life, I’ve been anxious and even worried, but I have never experienced anxiety that takes me out of the game (so to speak). I guess that makes me lucky because after watching those closest to me deal with it I can’t help but understand how dramatically their lives would improve if they didn’t have to live through the attacks.
Given the increasing number of people that have anxiety around me, I decided to spend some time and learn more about it. What I’ve found is that because there are rarely any physical symptoms that manifest in a way that others can see, many write the condition off. “Calm down” and “Just relax” are common replies to someone at the onset of an anxiety attack. Even I have to admit being guilty of this in my past. Because we without anxiety can’t understand it, we equate the attack to a time when we were worried but handled it with ease. What we often fail to understand is when a person with anxiety is worried they don’t have the mechanism of “ease”.
Children & Anxiety
Anxiety can start as early as birth and develop as late as into one’s senior years, although it is most commonly developed during childhood. When researchers compared the brain activity of a person with anxiety vs one without, there were clear differences. Much the same as learning another language or how to write with both hands can rewire a brain, so too can social and environmental interactions.
This is why children often develop anxiety between the ages of 7 - 14. Around the age of 7 is when we all start to become more aware of the people in our lives, the environment we live in, and we begin to observe with a greater sense of comparison. Quite often if a narcissist exists in our lives at that stage we will develop anxiety. Narcissistic interaction is not the sole cause but based on what I’ve learned this is definitely the top driving force, especially when combined with a genetic predisposition. This is because much like we compare whose car is nicer, whose house is bigger, and whose dad is stronger, we compare an environment with narcissism to what we biologically know to be correct. That is because humans will always seek happiness. Our body is chemically developed to function better when happy. Introduce a narcissist and happiness is not achieved in a lot of situations, or happiness is askew. Under these conditions, a child will become anxious because they cannot understand why they feel the way they do, but they know something is off.
Here’s the really difficult part about our development under a narcissist. Quite often that person with the narcissistic tendencies has either no idea that they are the cause of stress, or they have an unwillingness to recognize that they are indeed the problem.
Relationships & Anxiety
Stepping away from childhood for a moment, narcissism is also why statistically women have more anxiety than men. Quite often men will mentally abuse women by being “the man”. If that sounds like feminine posturing to you, perhaps this comparison will help.
You’re in a relationship and everything is going well. Both the man and woman have a child from a previous relationship, and both do not have a great relationship with their child’s other parent. If a man starts to repair that relationship, a woman will often support him. If a woman starts to repair that relationship, a man often feels threatened—arguments ensue. Of course, this isn’t the case 100% of the time, and that is my point.
Narcissists must control the narrative even if they know nothing about the subject matter. They view themselves so highly that they can’t be wrong. Or they have such self-esteem issues that they built up a defensive wall. Either way, they are dangerous.
When someone gets into a relationship with a narcissist they don’t see the negative behaviour as a problem because they’re quite often not being physically abused or disgraced in public. No, the anxiety worsens slowly and rips through a person like Cancer—with method and purpose.
This is why family and friends become so frustrated with their loved one that dates a narcassist and lives with anxiety. The loved one will defend the narcissist and return to them time and time again. That same loved one will ruin perfectly healthy relationships and welcome the narcissist back because the drama has become a part of them. They crave the bullshit and they don’t even know it. The blinders they put on allow them to see the negative dick in their lives as moody or my favourite … “He/she has changed, and they’re not like that anymore.” Clinical studies have shown that it is nearly impossible for a person in their 20′s to fully shed their narcassistic ways, and that in a great majority of cases if they get the relationship back, they’ll escalate their attitude after they tire of the lie they are living. You can’t get mad at someone that returns to a naracassist time and time again. They return because they’re brainwashed and have a low understanding of their value. One can only show that person the happier and healthier alternative and hope that one day they’ll realize the error of their ways … before it’s too late.
When a narcassist gets their hooks into someone with anxiety there are only 2 possible outcomes; that person dating the asshole will wise up and breakup, or that person will break. It’s sad but true. History, psychology, studies, and watching it happen before my very eyes says so.
Identifying Anxiety & a Narcissist
My childhood was complicated. I grew up a loser, moved into the house my Papa basically died in after he and my dad built it, which was in a town that I had zero identity in. My whole childhood I just wanted to escape. My father had a tough time dealing with his dad’s death, and my mom was destined for a different path. While this led me down some dark roads and caused issue, I was never around a narcissist. My dad never lorded over me, tried to use me against my mother, or dictate. The same could be said for my mother. At school I was picked on a lot, but never did I have a commanding officer or a group that consistently ragged on me. I believe this paragraph to be the reason I don’t have anxiety. As an adult, I take no shit from anyone, and can immediately recognize when someone is toxic (for the most part) and cut them out. This can be harder with women, but I’m working on figuring that out before I get in too deep.
So what makes a narcissist tick? Well, the definition is, “a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves.” Some signs that you have a narcissist in your life are as follows:
The conversation must always be about them: This can be tricky because lending your personal experience to a conversation is not narcissistic. I have a lot of stories because I’ve made it my mission to live an out-of-the-box lifestyle. This means I lend personal experience to the conversation. However, when the other person’s viewpoint can never be found because you’re not actually listening then chances are you have narcissist in you somewhere. The opposite of narcissist would be someone that can listen to you, take in what you say, and at some point see what you mean.
Psychologists say an easy test to run if you feel like you have a narcissist in your life is to not tell them about your day when you see them. Wait for them to ask how it was. They will either not ask, or they will talk about their day and at the end allow you time to speak about yours.
Full disclosure, when I read the research on this initially I was worried. I can talk a lot and often have a story to tell. But my mind was put at ease when the number one identifier of narcissism through conversation was identified, “the inability to often remember what the other side had to say”. That is because a narcissist will often only listen to themselves, and can’t wait for someone to finish their sentence so they can talk. A problem I have is interrupting people. I think that has more to do with my brain being wired by internet conversation where you can jump in and itemize facts, rather than wait. I’m working on that one, but I do know that I listen, so I feel comfortable in my relationship with conversation.
Indulgent Behaviour: Alcoholics are often narcissists; not always, but often. When the people around a drinker tell them that their habit is destroying their relationship and they don’t care, or when a father drinks with little regard for his child, that is narcissism with bubbles.
User: Oh boy, have I known a lot of people guilty of this one. A few I just cut out recently. Someone who doesn’t pay money back, only calls when in need, doesn’t take extra steps in a relationship for their partner to ensure they are happy, has a hard time apologizing (that’s a big one) … the list can go on and on. These people are some of the most dangerous. This is because they are too self-absorbed to care about you and when you bring it up they will make you feel like you are at fault for expressing your opinion.
Indulgence: If you have someone in your life that is a trophy seeker, feels entitled to special treatment, often steers a conversation into a negative arena, or makes decisions before others can weigh in, then you need to bring it up with them. Indulgence was the number one way that men kept their women in a box during the early to mid 20th century. It wasn’t until women came together to fight in numbers that men had to give this up. Some men still rule their relationships in this way. Run!
Don’t Dismiss, Learn
I guess the point I am trying to make is that when you dismiss anxiety in someone you are likely the cause of that anxiety, or at the very least furthering the attack. It can be hard to reshape your thinking and understand that a lifetime of abuses (in all forms), and not a weak personality is the cause of anxiety.
Those with anxiety are not weak but they are conditioned to think they are, so it is up to us without anxiety to take the time (sometimes years or decades) to condition them to a new reality—happiness.
Now, you might notice that I have cited no sources in this post, and that is for a very good reason. You need to do the research yourself. Use this blog as a starting point to learn more. I am extremely happy that I did because I’ve been guilty of some of the issues listed above and will continue to work on the way I communicate with a person that experiences anxiety. I will not be perfect, but I will try to be understanding.
Those with anxiety often feel like everyone is going to leave them and push people away in an effort to spare themselves “that feeling”. That makes them hard to love. I believe the trick is to show them that you are the one who will not leave because of what they are going through. You will be the one to say, “What do you need from me to help you?”