Most of the time, you feel at home in your skin. You feel confident, connected, creative, and effective in the world o as long as you don’t have to get out of your comfort zone. But, when the time comes for you to show up in a new way, do something special that you’ve been dreaming of, or to accomplish something important, you tend to avoid such challenges.
Something seems to interfere with your ability to step forward into something new, despite how much you need it or want it.
In fact, the thing that you want and long for the most is the cause of your anxiety. You get nervous and retreat into your “comfort zone” when you know you need to stretch yourself into the difficult and the unknown. You may notice that you feel anxious or you may say to yourself, “I am so nervous and I don’t know why.”
These days, there are valid reasons to be anxious about “showing up”
We have all been pushed out of our comfort zones in 2020 in so many ways. What was safe and comfortable before this year may be different now. And things will continue to shift over the next months and, perhaps, for years to come.
The new worldwide challenges may cloud your ability to distinguish between what is “me” and what is “a reality that is threatening my well-being.” You are not avoiding the world when there is a real threat to your well-being out there. Instead, that’s a sign that you are being realistic and aware of what is happening during a global pandemic. We’re talking about a different kind of avoidance that keeps you from going for what you need or what you want based on your own internal anxieties rather than as a response to a real external threat.
When you feel like you need to hide out and avoid the world and it challenges, but can’t pinpoint what makes you anxious, it’s a sign that you’re actually engaged in an inner emotional struggle rather than a legitimate fear about what is happening in the world.
Though it is hard to name, you notice the uncomfortable sensations that come with this anxiety. You don’t feel natural, genuine or spontaneous anymore. It’s like you can’t make a connection with yourself, other people, and the wider world. Disconnected from your talents and skills, you feel inauthentic.
With a real threat, like the Coronavirus, you’re aware that you’re scared and you know that there is something real that you need to be concerned about. Despite that added stress, you remain connected to yourself. You can access yourself, talents, and skills to keep yourself safe.
On the other hand, chronic patterns of avoidance come from an imagined threat. You don’t show up in the world because you’re afraid that you’ll be hurt emotionally.
Avoidance is an issue, even when you’re stuck at home
Though we tend to associate “showing up in the world” with getting on a stage, giving a presentation, or being at an event, we are still being called to show up in the world, even when our days are full of Zoom calls and being at home with family.
Maybe you want to reach out to someone you admire, but you feel your heart racing just thinking about it. You might be at a professional event (online or in person) and longing to participate, but you’re stuck in silent mode. The meeting ends without you sharing your ideas. When you’re called to showcase your expertise, you find you can’t speak up.
Avoidance and the anxiety that comes with it keeps you from being fully present with people and showing them your value and all that you have to offer.
Situations like these leave you with a sense of shame and embarrassment . As much as you want to connect, engage, access, and use your abilities, you get nervous and you freeze. As much as you long to share your gifts with others, you avoid the chance to shine. As much as you long to achieve your dreams, this anxiety is keeping you small.
When you play it safe because you are afraid of taking risks you feel lonely, and maybe even empty at times. Maybe you feel depressed and anxious about your future. People may perceive you to be shy, timid, or introverted when really, you’re just being held back by anxiety.
How many opportunities have you missed because of anxiety over a threat that is only in your imagination? If not for these fears you might have closer friendships, more meaningful professional connections, and greater creative opportunity.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to show up to everything or to go where you don’t belong or engage in events and activities that don’t serve you. But only when you deal with your tendencies for avoidance and understand what’s behind them will you know when and where to show up and how to apply your efforts.
What is underneath all this avoidance and the anxiety that makes you afraid to show up?
A fear of rejection or humiliation is often at the root of this avoidance anxiety. A fear of being inadequate, being shamed, or feeling isolated can all cause you to live small, refuse to take risks, and stay in your comfort zone, even if it’s very uncomfortable there.
These patterns can be signs of early childhood trauma. A history feeling rejected, unseen, or criticized as a child can play itself out in your adult life. It can be trauma that has been passed on from your family and impacted generation after generation.
You were born to seek connection, to explore, play, be creative, and be fascinated by the world. If the people who raised you rejected, judged, or blocked you and your natural tendencies, you could have gotten stuck in an emotional conflict.You long to be what you were innately born to be and you fear the emotional pain that kept you from following your natural propensities.
You know what you want, but you fear to go for what you want.
Trapped in that emotional conflict even as an adult, it feels safer in your “comfort zone.” You don’t take the risk to go for what you want because you’re afraid of revisiting your early traumatizing experiences. This is not a normal or healthy form of comfort, however. When you hide yourself away you lose your chances to create your own life and you stay stuck in your old emotional conflict.
Real comfort is achieved when you can take healthy risks and trust that you’ll be ok, no matter the outcome.
Psychotherapy and EMDR are an effective way to overcome avoidant anxiety
In the psychotherapy field we see this avoidant anxiety as a result of early developmental or attachment trauma. This is the kind of trauma that occurred during childhood in the relationship with family, teachers, nannies, or friends.
When clients come to me with such issues I offer a combination of psychotherapy approaches (psychodynamic, neuroscience of relationships, cognitive-behavioral), and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Together, these modalities help you change your relationship with your own memories and past experiences.
Over time, you become able to reconnect with your sense of power and agency. You can find your true, real comfort as you learn how to show up more fully grounded in your real skills and abilities. I watch clients invest themselves more fully in their work, goals, or dreams.
Ultimately, the goal is to show up more fully for yourself and build a life that matters to you. Even when we’re living in times as difficult as these and our everyday lives have changed so much, it’s possible to make peace with your past and with yourself so you can show up to do your best work in the world.
To set an appointment for EMDR therapy please contact me for your 15-20 min free phone consultation.
I am Mihaela Ivan Holtz, Doctor in Clinical Psychology. I help creatives and performers with their life struggles, depression, anxiety, performance anxiety, creativity, relationships and love, PTSD, and addictions – to become their own best version. You can read more about EMDR on my EMDR Therapy Page.