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Relationships and love are some of the best things that can happen to a person. All of our energy and emotions can be elevated because of love. When things are good and butterflies fly in your stomach, you feel on top of the world, ready to achieve your biggest goals.

But, what happens when you have “mixed feelings” about relationships, even if you are a part of one? When anxiety kicks in causing you to feel scared, self-conscious, uncertain, and worried all of the previous elation can crumble down. This happens to a lot of people. On one level they know that they might be just overthinking, but on the other level – what if it’s true? Let’s take it from the beginning and see what anxiety wants to say.

Relationship Anxiety: What It Is and What It Means

Being anxious in a relationship is a feeling a lot of people get. The relationship seems to be going fine, you know each other, you mutually give and take, you have fun, and share a deep connection. But, somewhere in the back of your mind questions pop up:

  • Is this going to last?
  • Is this person serious about me or do they just want to use me?
  • Am I doing and saying the right things?
  • Does he/she feel the same way as I do?
  • Am I smothering him/her?

These, as well as a lot of other questions, might take the fun and relaxation out of this one connection that you so desperately want to be part of. And, it has its point. By theory, anxiety kicks in when you don’t know enough about the situation, but want to. How the brain translates it to you is by sending physical signs of discontent, discomfort, sweatiness, or dizziness. The psychological difficulties come by default – you question everything done and said, you overthink and mentally walk through previous situations, or you pose catastrophic ideas about what could go wrong in the future.

Not knowing the outcomes is something that the brain is not comfortable with. To compensate, one tries to come up with ways to cope – one would be anticipating and preparing for the worst, the other would be actively doing what it is you are afraid of just to get an advantage, and the third would be running away before anything starts. To translate this into relationship situations, due to anxiety you might:

  • Always be afraid that you aren’t good enough, that the other person doesn’t love you and will, eventually, leave you. Thus, you try to be appealing and similar to them, sometimes even copying words or phrases they say.
  • Actively make situations that might prove that the person isn’t into you, being suspicious, or looking for a fight. In the end, you might be even leaving them before they leave you.
  •  You constantly cut yourself from enjoying, always careful and cautious, keeping the person at arm’s length – together, but not fully. Always ready to just move on if things go south.

Why Might One Be Anxious in a Relationship?

Childhood attachment with parents

The secure childhood attachment style is plain and simple – people with this style of attachment are confident, know what they want and how to get it. They actively communicate, give and take, and are overall stable in their expectations and wishes. This is due to their secure connection with the primary parent (or both parents), as kids. They too can experience relationship anxiety, maybe caused by some of the next bullets explained on this list.

The anxious style of attachment heavily predisposes a person for overall anxiety, including relationships. In childhood, they might’ve experienced strict parenting where they received affection only when the parent wanted, were praised only when they did things how they were told, and were scolded when they did something different. In adulthood, this can go three ways: anxious–preoccupant (needing affection all the time and appearing similar to people in order to be liked); anxious – ambivalent (move between needing affection and hating affection, not being sure how to get it, angrily fighting to get attention, or passively waiting for it to just happen) or avoidant (not wanting affection at all, or secretly wanting it, but not seeking to avoid being hurt). There are two more attachment styles (dismissive-avoidant and disorganized), but as the anxious style explains most of the anxiety in adult life, we will dedicate time to the last two attachment styles in some other blog post.

Previous experiences

In almost half of the cases where a person experiences relationship anxiety, it is because they had some bad previous experience where a lot of negative conclusions were made. Conclusions that the person now thinks are constants, always to be like that.  An example would be– “You can’t do anything right. You are a selfish person. You don’t know how to love. You don’t deserve to be kissed.“ If someone had their lover saying hurtful things such as these, you wouldn’t blame them for being cautious, anxious, and uncertain when on the verge of a new relationship. Or even a relationship that looks like it might slightly move in a similar direction.

Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem can come from different directions – family, bullies, previous partners, and so on. The worst thing is when negative comments are internalized and the personal monologue tells them that they are not good enough. Self-esteem is the base from which we approach things in life, so it must serve us in the best possible way – being high enough to motivate, being low enough so we keep getting better, and being real enough so we don’t underestimate or overestimate our capabilities. No one has these things completely balanced out, but thinking positively about yourself is far better than thinking negatively.

Overall anxiety in more life spheres

People that fight overall anxiety are more likely to have relationship anxiety too. To take control of anxiety a person needs support, understanding, and guidance, something that a therapist can do. If you are a person with both overall and relationship anxiety, you could go two ways – either make an appointment with a therapist for an individual session and later on transfer the improvement into your relationship; or the other way around – schedule an appointment for relationship counseling and start working there. Both the therapist and your significant other can motivate and support you, and with time, feeling confident in your relationship can be transferred to other aspects of life. As long as you take a step towards fighting anxiety, you are on a good track. Just don’t leave it brewing because with time you will only become more anxious and the cycle is vicious.

How to determine if your anxiety is irrational, rather than your gut telling you something isn’t right?

Well, the simple way to answer this, theoretically, is – follow the signs!

Take a step back for a moment, and go over your experiences. For one, we sometimes drag experiences from past relationships and somehow put them into the ongoing ones. So, ask yourself – are you, by any chance, transferring past bad experiences into this relationship? Are you afraid something from the past might happen again and to save yourself from it, anxiously looking for a way to predict future outcomes? Even though we all hate to compare people, one way to calm yourself is to compare the problematic ex, with your current partner. Acknowledge their similarities and differences, and see how they approach things, how they think, act or feel. Are there any repeating signs?

One reason why anxiety kicks in is so your mind can have fictional control over things and their outcomes. But you can’t do that all the time, especially not in a relationship, where everything that happens comes from both partners. One thing that happens with anxious people is that they tend to give up from the start, just in case things don’t work. The other thing that might happen is a self-fulfilling prophecy – by convincing yourself that the person wants to leave you, you might unconsciously create situations that bring to one leaving the other. And by the previous point – you just might leave the person before they leave you. The third option is trying too hard to go around the “final catastrophic outcome” that plays in your mind. To add up to the previous example, you might desperately try to keep the person by your side, which they might perceive as smothering. What is essential for all of these things is communication and a deep understanding of the self. Share your thoughts and feelings with your partner and see where they are at.

If you concisely determine what’s true and what’s just a prediction, you might reassure yourself that your anxiety is taking reality a step further, a step where things look worse than they are. If you don’t battle overall anxiety, and you excluded all of the things we previously talked about, then, it might just be your gut feeling telling you that something is off. If that is the case, try thinking about all of the things that look like they aren’t supposed to happen. Don’t ignore your intuition.

Final Words

Anxiety is an endless topic. Even though it’s common and almost every person experiences anxiety at some point in life, if you suffer from overall high anxiety, you lose the strength and motivation to go forward in life. Relationship anxiety is no different – uncertainty, low self-esteem, bad previous experiences, and childhood attachments with parents, can combine, twist, and turn and leave you unnerved about the connection with your significant other.

Don’t wait long. Not feeling competent will only stop you from trying things and thus, you will never have a situation to prove that you can do that thing. And you’re in the loop – anxious about anxiety. A good anxiety therapist can give you small steps and work with you in a constructive direction, so you turn your fears into your strengths.

If you are interested in seeking anxiety therapy in Baltimore, MD, or relationship counseling in Baltimore, MD.  Contact New Connections Counseling Center today!

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About the Author:

Cathy Sullivan-Windt

Psychologist (Ph.D.) & Owner

Cathy is a licensed counseling psychologist with almost 20 years of experience. She specializes in women’s counseling, anxiety treatment, sexual assault recovery, life transitions, and relationship issues.

In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature, traveling, reading, and being with her family and friends.

Read More About Cathy

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