Anxiety Makes You Selfish

And other half-truths

Elle Rogers
Mar 11, 2019 · 4 min read

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. — Teddy Roosevelt

When anxiety gets its claws in you, especially when it brings along its hired goon, depression, it can convince you of a lot of things that just aren’t true — things that you probably don’t even believe when you’re doing well. And it can cause us to come across negatively to others. After all, they can’t peak inside our minds to know what’s really going on. All that other people experience are our behaviors, which leads to misinterpretation and, often, judgment and stigma.

No matter how others see you, though, and no matter how you judge yourself, bear this in mind:

Anxiety does not make you selfish. Nor does it make you self-entitled, a burden, or any number of other things you might tell yourself. It makes you a human being grappling with an intruder in your psyche.

Inglorious Selfishness

But why do we appear selfish to those on the outside looking in?

When we’re anxious, we become lost in our own thoughts, waging a battle so distracting in its intensity that it makes it nearly impossible to notice the outside world. It’s not that we don’t care, but rather that we’re so distracted by our discomfort that it is only with great effort that we’re able to look out and truly see others.

So how can we reduce this effect? By being mindful. By paying attention to what we are telling ourselves. We have more control over our thoughts than we often realize and we are not at their mercy. This is not a cure-all, of course. It’s a tool to help us focus our attention away from ourselves.

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Photo by Artem Bali on Unsplash

The Burden of You

Your loved ones want to help you. Let them. They don’t want you to suffer in silence. Let them in.

I often feel that I need to shield my family, especially my husband and son, from my anxiety and depression, but I’ve learned the hard way that this only makes things more difficult. What I most want them to know is that I love them and that I care so deeply about how my mental illness affects them that it tears me apart inside.

Think about it. Your loved ones don’t want you to suffer in silence. And if we explain to them, at least in general terms, what is really going on, they’re much more likely to be understanding and forgiving when we are irritable or lash out or retreat within ourselves.

It comes down to communication. I don’t want my husband to think I’m angry or annoyed with him when what I’m really feeling is anxious. But the symptoms of anxiety, without explanation, lead him to believe that he is the cause of my cantankerousness.

The Forgetfulness Factor

With so much tumult and worry creating an emotional storm within, it makes sense that it’s hard to remember things. I often forget that my husband has a meeting after work or what he is working on or that he asked me five times already to find our tax paperwork.

It’s frustrating for him and it’s frustrating for me. I only have so much bandwidth to work with, though, and when much of it is taken up with primal fear and endless worry, paperwork takes a backseat.

This can be a challenge, but here’s a tip that may help you:

Set up a command center somewhere, a place that you can keep a list, important papers, notes on phone conversations, whatever works for you. And visit it often. Make it partly portable. Oftentimes I take out my phone and punch a reminder in or scribble something down in the notebook in my purse, then leave it at my “command center” when I return home.

I also carve out time to remember. By this, I mean that I sit down and go through all the things I need to remember and prioritize them. I consolidate my lists.

There are workarounds. You are not at the mercy of your anxious, forgetful mind.

At times it can feel like there is nothing to do but sit back and take it. Not so. There is a fine line between acknowledging our mental illness and seeing ourselves as victims.

We may seem selfish and self-absorbed. We may feel like a burden to those who love us. We may forget things and cause frustration. None of these things are our fault, but that doesn’t mean that we are powerless.

You won’t be perfect, but you can take something back from the beast that has stolen so much from you.

Invisible Illness

We don't talk enough about mental health.

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