This episode goes with Chapter 2, Section 1 of Anxiety…I’m So Done with You! In it, I review how anxiety infiltrates your identity and introduce Chapter 2. You’ll learn all anxiety’s tricks and tactics, especially how it lies to your face! Then, we discuss Lie number 1:
“You Have to Know What’s Wrong!”
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- What narrative therapy is all about
- 15 common lies that anxiety tells
- Why “you have to know what’s wrong” is a lie
- How the flexibility of a metaphor is more helpful than a label
- The truth about diagnoses
You don’t need to know what’s wrong! Anxiety uses that lie to distract you from healing. After this episode, you will stop doubting yourself and start questioning the validity of anxiety.
The medical model says you need to find out what’s wrong so you can fix it. It posits that when it’s fixed, you can function well again. But does it work for mental health? It doesn’t. People spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is wrong with themselves and remain unsatisfied with every guess they make, so they spiral into feelings of being out of control. It is a massive distraction from healing. This makes you think you are the problem and “damaged goods.” But you are not! You are a person with a problem. Rather than think it is you, know it as what you are feeling and experiencing.
That’s why I personify anxiety and find metaphors much more useful than labels. In this episode, you’ll learn all the words and labels that anxiety hides behind in order to disempower you, even diagnoses. And then, we are going to give the power back to you!
“You are not a loser. You are not damaged. You are not a problem. The problem is the problem. You are a person experiencing a problem.”– Dr. Jodi Aman
Resources for this Episode:
Get my other book: You 1, Anxiety 0: Win Your Life Back from Fear and Panic
Transcription of Episode
Hey, you’re here with Doctor Jodi, and this is season two of “Anxiety…I’m So Done with You!” This podcast is a teen and young adult guide to ditching toxic stress and hardwiring your brain for happiness. If you’re new, here grab a copy of my book “Anxiety…I’m So Done with You!” because this series follows it section by section, going a little bit deeper, giving more examples, and telling more stories. Season 2, which accompanies Chapter 2, details the lies that anxiety, depression, and negative thinking tell you to get you to believe in them.
Once you know what they are, you can see them coming a mile away and call them out. That way, they can no longer sucker-punch you with their toxicity. I appreciate your listening, subscribing, and leaving me five stars on Apple podcasts. If I’ve helped you, kindly spread the word about this book and podcast series. Mental health problems are invisible, so you never know who is struggling around you. Your sharing can make a huge difference in their lives!
This episode begins Chapter 2
Before we dive in, let’s take a moment to observe.
Take a long deep, cleansing breath. Feel your shoulders drop as you exhale. Feel your face around your mouth relax.
Doesn’t that feel good?
Please do it again.
Give yourself kudos for getting this far. Thank yourself for the time that you’ve invested in yourself. You are amazing.
How’s it going so far?
Every episode of this podcast has a blog post that goes with it. It has the transcription of this episode and more resources. At the bottom, there’s a comment section where you can tell me what you liked best about Chapter 1.
Reflect for a moment:
- What have you noticed about your anxiety?
- What have you noticed about your hopefulness?
- What do you notice about its intensity?
- What do you notice about your negative self-judgments?
We spend so much time trying to avoid our feelings, but when we do that, we can never process them and then get to the other side. Luckily, there’s another way. You can witness them.
Witness your feelings…
Witnessing them means you have distance and you’re noticing yourself. Instead of feeling inside the chaos of something that you’re experiencing… (when you’re inside your feelings, you’re in panic mode, and you’re scrambling to get yourself back in control, and you’re not as conscientious in your choice of coping strategies). However, when you witness yourself from outside of your feelings, you can feel your feelings fully and watch them. In watching them, everything changes because your monkey mind is not going, “Oh my gosh! We have to fix this! Oh my gosh! What’s this? What’s this? And then, we have to do this! And then, we have to do this! So, what if this happens? What if this happens? What if this happens?”
When you’re observing, you have distance. You’re away from the chaos, looking at it from the outside. You are less in your mind and more in your body. That’s why the monkey has very little control. It’s not trying to figure it out. You’re observing, noticing, and discerning, which is distinctly different from the monkey overthinking (and that makes all the difference).
Listen on YouTube:
Now that you’re done with Chapter 1, when we demystified anxiety and learned what it is and where it came from, is there more space in your life to breathe,
or to look forward to things?
What connections have you made since you started this journey? What activities are you reclaiming and bringing back into your life now that you’ve gotten rid of anxiety?
Anxiety wants you to isolate yourself because when you’re isolated, you are more vulnerable. When you’re isolated, the negativity in your head gets a life of its own. When you’re with other people, you get out of your head. It doesn’t start to spiral, making you feel worse and worse and worse. Either you’re focused on somebody else’s problems, you’re focused on the task at hand, or someone’s reminding you that you’re blowing things out of proportion––not in a way that they’re judging you––but they’re just saying, “Oh, I feel like that too!” And you don’t feel so crazy.
When you’re with other people, the negativity in your head doesn’t have the same kind of power. You’re distracted, having something else for your brain to do. You also realize that you’re just like everyone else and don’t feel so different. Anxiety wants you to think that you’re different because that feels out of control. It makes you feel less then. It makes you not trust yourself.
Anxiety needs you not to trust yourself.
In Chapter 2, we will continue to deconstruct anxiety. In Chapter 1, you learn where it came from, and now, you’ll understand its tricks and tactics. Let me tell you the background of this and how I discovered that anxiety is a liar. The therapeutic approach that I use in my practice is called Narrative Therapy. It was developed by Michael White and David Epston. Narrative Therapy is a potent and transformative therapeutic modality. If you’re working with a therapist who does narrative therapy, you may not even know that’s what they’re doing because it just seems like the therapist is curious and asking you questions.
Well, that is what’s happening. The therapist is curious, and they are asking you questions because it’s talk therapy. However, they are specific questions leading you on a map, from what is “known and familiar” to what is “possible to know.” What is known and familiar about your problems is how you see them, how you experience them, and what meaning you have given them. What’s possible to know is how else you can see yourself despite them. Studying narrative therapy is how I learned to take power down from anxiety and give it back to you.
When I was working with people with anxiety, I would create documents. On a piece of paper, I’d put two columns. On one side, I’d write all the tricks and tactics of anxiety; on the other, I’d list the person’s skills and knowledges. (I learned this technique from David Epston.)
When I was listing the tricks and tactics of anxiety, I included the things that anxiety says to get you to believe it. Also, what anxiety tells you that could go wrong, what anxiety tells about the worst case scenario, how it makes you question everything, and gives you doubts about things going okay. All of these and more will be listed. I am essentially composing an expose on anxiety. We’re exposing anxiety for what it’s doing to you, calling it out. The therapist is like an investigative reporter trying to discover how anxiety messes with your life.
This exercise deconstructs it. It makes the tricks and tactics visible. When they’re visible on a list like that, they seem ridiculous, and you can see how they’re not true.
As I was writing the tricks and tactics of anxiety, or the tricks and tactics of nervousness, or what the worries were up to, I began to notice that they told people things––the nervousness, the anxiety, the worries, whatever the person had––it told them things that were untrue.
Once we started the column of the person’s skills and knowledges, we’d commonly be able to add that they knew the anxious thoughts were not true. I began to realize that the most significant tactic of anxiety was lying. It lies about you; it lies about what could happen and what you could handle. It lies about everything! That was its tactic, to lie!
As I made these documents, I also noticed that anxiety used similar lies for many clients. People might experience anxiety in different ways; however, it uses the same mechanisms to get you.
You 1, Anxiety 0
In my first book, called You 1, Anxiety 0 (meaning that you win the game), I use the metaphor of a game in order to call anxiety out as an opponent and to empower the human through their competitive nature. I also use a game metaphor to lighten up people’s approach to their anxiety recovery. The game idea provides a bonus of relaxing the person and increasing neuroplasticity, preparing them for a change in beliefs and emotional patterns.
15 Lies of Anxiety
In the book, I outline 15 common lies that anxiety tells that I’ll read now. because I think they’re really interesting. There are a few more lies in You 1, Anxiety 0, where I list 15 (in Anxiety…I’m So Done with You! there are 7). Here are the 15 lies that anxiety tells, aka the tricks and tactics that anxiety uses on you. (Again, I’m using the word anxiety as a catch-all for all of these different things that we experience that work on us the same way.)
15 Lies of Anxiety
- Says I protect you.
- Uses black-and-white thinking.
- Evasively threatens, “It’ll be awful.”
- Insists, “This is real!” or “This is important!”
- Convinces you that you are going crazy.
- Discourages you by saying, “Why bother? There’s no point.”
- Makes you forget what you know.
- Scares you.
- Terrorizes you when you are most vulnerable.
- Tells you that you are untrustworthy.
- Cuts you down.
- Tries to confuse.
- Disguises itself.
- Does not want you to talk about it.
- Tells you you can’t handle it.
If you want to go deeper or hear more stories to help illustrate these, or if you know an adult who needs this information and they don’t want to read Anxiety…I’m So Done with You!, You 1, Anxiety 0 is available. The link is below in the show notes. Again, it’s called You 1, Anxiety 0! Win Your Life Back from Fear and Panic. Get it here.
“You have to know what’s wrong!”
Let’s get into Section 1. The lie that we’re talking about in this section is “You have to know what’s wrong!” People think that in order to figure out what to do about a problem, you have to figure out what is wrong. This comes from a systems metaphor. A long time ago, someone presented a theory of our body as a system. It is a medical model which follows the logic, finds out what’s wrong, and then fix it so that the system can plow full steam ahead.
Theorists thought it might be prudent to look at your mental health the same way. A person is going along in life when something goes wrong. So a professional expert has to find out what the problem is, fix it, and then the system can continue as it was going before. That’s the metaphor. This metaphor doesn’t necessarily track with mental health, but it’s been ingrained in us anyway.
This idea makes us––or encourages the monkey––to figure out what’s wrong so it could save our lives. This, “trying to figure out what’s wrong” is a major distraction. You’re thinking, “Why am I like this? Why is it me? Why am I different than other people? What’s wrong with me?”
Let me tell you: There’s nothing for you here. It just takes you down the rabbit hole of trying to figure things out and making things up that are negative about yourself. It also perpetuates the following eternal conflict: I can’t help it because it’s an anxiety disorder; there’s something wrong with my brain. Versus that individualistic idea, I should be taking care of myself. If something’s wrong with me, it’s my responsibility, and we have to fix it.
What’s wrong with being definitive?
The idea that we must figure out what is wrong with us encourages labeling. Labels are damaging. They are definitive. Definitive means there’s only one way. There’s no flexibility and no changeability in something definitive because it’s definitive. It’s done. It’s a conclusion. When something’s done, there are two problems: one is that there’s no hope, and two is that you have negative identity conclusions, which means you make negative conclusions about your identity.
That means you take it in you––”internalizing” it. You think it’s you, “I’m wrong,” “I’m a loser,” “I’m damaged.”
You’re not a loser, you are not damaged, and you are not a problem. The problem is the problem. You are a person experiencing a problem. When you see it that way, the problem name is a description of what you’re feeling. When I use words like anxiety and depression, I’m using them as a description of what you’re experiencing. Not as a label on you. That’s why the titles in my two books You 1, Anxiety 0, and Anxiety…I’m So Done with You! both personify anxiety.
I titled them that way on purpose so that it would be therapeutic to read the titles. I’m taking anxiety outside of your identity and giving it its own identity. We call this externalizing. That way, you could see it outside of your identity and relate to it differently. This way of thinking disempowers anxiety, giving the power back to you. It’s significant because anxiety hides behind you and wants you to think that it’s you saying those things. It wants you to think that you are helping or protecting yourself instead of knowing that it is anxiety trying to mess up your life.
He’s in a rut.
This week a new client told me that they were in a rut. That was their way of describing their experience, “I’m in a rut.” He brought a metaphor to the conversation. The metaphor is an idea, whereas “a truth” is rigid, limited, and unhelpful. (I am adding quotes to the word truth because it isn’t the truth. I’m using it to mean a limiting belief that someone believes is true, like, “I’m messed up” or “I can’t.”)
Metaphors are limitless. They can be developed, changed, and expanded. Truths are definitive: unchangeable and un-malleable. They feel like there’s nothing you can do about them.
But being in a rut is a metaphor. I love metaphors because it helps you understand the big picture. When you think about being in the rut, you can ask questions like:
- How did I get into the rut?
- What made the rut?
- What can I do to my tires to make them less vulnerable to getting into ruts?
- How can I switch to a road with fewer ruts?
Metaphors give you a distance from the situation. It’s not you messing up your life; it’s you trying to figure out how to avoid ruts. Ruts are temporary. This client wanted to avoid labeling what was wrong with him on purpose. He didn’t know what it was and didn’t want to distract himself trying to figure out what it was. It felt like a rut, so he called it a rut. I love that. Describing a problem instead of labeling it keeps you empowered instead of disempowered.
This is important because anxiety is a liar, using intimidating words to make you feel disempowered. (You’re not disempowered, but when you feel that you are, it affects how you enact your power.) It doesn’t only hide behind you, but it hides behind these other words and labels. Here are some examples: fear, worry, worrier, worry-wart, nervousness, anxiety, panic, shyness, mental illness, mental health, emotional, stuck, weak, shook, immobilized, irritable, resistant, impatient, interrupt, frustrated, disassociated, obsessed, grieving, and so much more. (I could go on and on and on, in fact, I listed two pages of these in the book.)
Why do you think I’m telling you this list? Why is it important to know that these things are all anxiety? It’s not. You don’t have to understand these things are anxiety, but it’s helpful to know that anxiety is using them as a tactic. These work on you in the same way anxiety works on you. They try to get your attention, make you feel powerless, get you not to trust yourself, make you think they’re real, or encourage you to think something’s wrong with you. They leave you wondering or not understanding, scrambling to make meaning around them.
Let me pose the question again: Are each/all of these words, anxiety? Yes. Remember, all upsetness is the same hormone of adrenaline. All of these things are various ways to describe upsetness. You may feel them differently. There are different heavinesses on your heart because of the meaning you make around them. However, if one of these things is dominant in your life and is around a lot more than it needs to be––if it is at all hurting you or is upsetting you––then you could deconstruct it just like you deconstruct anxiety.
You can use any name that resonates with you but use them as a description of your experience instead of a label. Think of them as relative, not definitive. That way, you can understand them as changeable and consider how they are more or less present in different contexts. You will notice that they come and go––that they have more influence over you sometimes and less power over you other times.
To diagnose or not to diagnose?
This is an excellent place to mention “diagnoses.” Diagnoses come from the medical model I spoke about earlier, touting that the “diagnosis informs the chosen course of medical treatment.” In many traditional psychological approaches to mental health treatment, they still think the mental health diagnosis informs the mental health treatment. However, this philosophy has some holes because many evidence-based modalities treat various problems.
As a social worker, the medical model fails to fit with how I see the world and understand people. From the social work, or social justice perspective, the medical model is othering. There are people who are mentally ill and others who are not. (What does that remind you of?)
The medical model enacts supremacy and privilege and invalidates people because it invisibilizes their personal skills and abilities. It fails to account for the context of people’s life. Therefore, it ignores the problems of our society that creates those contexts.
It also creates a greater power differential between the practitioner and the patient because the practitioner is seen as an expert. Diagnosing is damaging in the same way by putting negative labels on a person. Social workers see that people have agency and authority. They recognize that people are experts in their own life. While I can give somebody a mental health diagnosis, I don’t relish it, and I rarely ever do it.
After 26 years of practice, I’ve understood that the diagnosis has a purpose: payment. You need a diagnosis to get insurance to pay for the treatment or to qualify for services. Other than to justify payment, there’s no practical function of a diagnosis in modern mental health treatment.
What’s wrong with diagnoses?
Unfortunately, there are ways diagnoses harm you. Once those labels enter our hearts and identities, they make us feel horrible, and it takes a lot of work to undo that meaning-making.
Sometimes people appreciate a diagnosis. They say that “at least I know what I have.” In many ways, it’s a validation. “I’ve been struggling and struggling. I’ve been wondering what was wrong with me, and now that I have the diagnosis, I understand.” They feel validated like somebody sees their struggle. Also, when people have a diagnosis, sometimes they feel like, “Now I have something to fight! Now I know what it is; I have something to fight.”
That’s because it’s really distracting to be like, “What is wrong with me? What is wrong with me?” (That’s the whole section of this episode: anxiety wants you to get distracted by trying to figure out exactly what is wrong.) Having a diagnosis solves that for you. As such, it makes you feel better, but only temporarily. After a while, it starts to affect how you see yourself. In the long run, it’s not at all helpful.
This book presents another way to have that validation and have something to fight. By externalizing anxiety, you know it as relative and changeable. You see that it goes up and down. You know:
- it influences your life
- its tricks and tactics manipulate you
- it lies like heck
- it’s a big bully
That should give you validation and something to fight while avoiding labeling you as pathological. It doesn’t encourage you to construct negative identity conclusions about yourself. Plus, it doesn’t affect how you see yourself––actually, that’s not true. It affects how you see yourself but in a positive way. There’s an old video called, I’m a Mess, which explains this well. Here’s the link to that video.
Before I close this episode, there’s one more thing that I want to say about mental health diagnoses. They are subjective (opinion), not objective (factual). As much as some people act like they’re objective (factual), they are not. You could go to three or four clinicians and get three or four diagnoses. And, if you’ve ever read the DSM that’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, you’d think, “Wow, that sounds like me, and that sounds like me, and that sounds like me, and that sounds like me.” Plus, ADHD, OCD, anxiety, depression, or borderline looks different in different people. How do you explain that they manifest differently in different people?
Read the Deciding to medicate your children or yourself blogpost here.
Here’s the takeaway I want you to have from this episode (and from this section of the book): You are you. And you are so much more amazing than the anxiety wants you to think you are.
Now that we’re uncovering all of these lies, the next time anxiety tries to use them on you, you will see them coming a mile away. You’re going to think to wait a minute; that’s not right. That’s something the anxiety is saying. Do I want to believe that or not? Instead of doubting yourself, you’re going to be doubting anxiety.
Thank you so much for listening to this episode, chapter 2, Section 1, “You have to know what’s wrong!” If one of the 15 lies from You 1, Anxiety 0, sparked your interest; all those lies are covered in my Anxiety-Free Me! Online Anxiety Recovery Program. If you’re interested in that, a link to the program will be in the show notes. In this episode, we talked about that bully of anxiety being such a big liar, and we unpacked the lie, “You have to know what’s wrong!” that wreaks havoc with your psyche. I appreciate your subscribing, commenting, and rating me five stars on Apple podcasts. In the next episode, we’re going to cover Lie Number 2, “You have to look at me!” Read Chapter 2, Section 2, and I’ll meet you there.