As an anxious person in general and in relationships, I often overthink several worries. I’m over-perceptive, sensing emotions in others that they may not even be feeling. Is she annoyed I haven’t done the dishes yet? Is he disappointed I don’t know more about this topic? The list goes on.
Sometimes, I’m so worried or I’m judging myself so hard that I assume the other person’s thoughts; I apologize and feel guilty before the other person even expresses their concern.
And guess what? They usually aren’t even thinking or judging me in the way I assume they are. Often, I’m taking their behaviors personally when they’re not personal at all. Maybe my loved one is having a bad day, or they don’t even realize how they’re coming across. As a result, my apology seems sudden and my guilt unnecessary.
In therapy, I talk mostly about my relationships. I express concern over loved ones’ reactions, words, and my self-conscious thoughts. In response, my therapist told me three words that have stuck with me ever since: Feelings aren’t facts.
While apologizing and rectifying problematic behavior is important, I understand all too well what it means to over-apologize and self-betray. I understand feeling irrational anxiety and know I’m dealing with it, but I also need affirming reminders sometimes. For more information about feelings not being facts and other ways you can tell if someone actually feels upset with you (especially when you’re an anxious person), read ahead.
1. Keep in mind that the answer may be more accessible than you think.
Something my therapist reminded me is that it’s totally okay to be communicative and honest about my feelings; I can simply ask my loved one if my concern is true. This is the easiest, quickest, and clearest way to get an answer, and it’s the tip I suggest most. To start this discussion, I suggest using “I statements,” a helpful, therapeutic tool.
For example, I could say, “I feel worried you’re upset with me for X. Is that true?” If the other person isn’t upset, great! Problem solved. And if they are, we can communicate further and fix the issue. This way, we can move on faster and more healthily. Within our discussion, we can talk about compromises, apologize when necessary, and clarify intentions, all while acknowledging impact.
If you don’t feel comfortable asking your loved one, or at least not yet, I understand! The next five tips are suggestions to consider as well.
2. Question the validity by thinking about the person’s character.
Because of my anxious attachment style, in which I feel insecure in relationships, most of my worries pertain to whether someone’s annoyed with or judging me. In those times, I think about the other person’s personality and usual reactions to determine whether I’m concerned about an issue that may not exist.
For example, some of my loved ones will always speak up when they’re upset. They aren’t passive-aggressive or uptight, and they’re not proponents of drama. If they haven’t spoken up, they’re likely not upset — something I have to remind myself of. If they’re upset, I can trust they’ll speak up.
3. Remember, feelings aren’t facts.
When my therapist told me “feelings aren’t facts,” she was so right. We may feel like we disappointed someone, but that doesn’t mean we did. We may feel like failures, but that doesn’t mean we are. Those feelings can sometimes come from our mental illness’s voice, which we can easily confuse with our own.
When I can’t tell if a thought is a feeling or a fact, I look to logic. What facts can back up my thought? Can others confirm it, or have they in the past? Am I in an emotional place, in which I might be more vulnerable to anxious thoughts? Asking questions like these can be a great starting point.
4. Think about what you’ve learned from past experiences.
Past experiences can inform present and future ones. Can you think of times when you worried a loved one was upset with you, and they weren’t? The situation may have been similar, either in your thoughts, their behaviors, or factors that made you feel vulnerable. By thinking of these experiences, we can affirm ourselves and realize we may not need to worry after all.
5. Brainstorm where the thought may be coming from.
A couple of times now I’ve mentioned how vulnerability can play a part in someone experiencing anxiety. Essentially, vulnerability factors (tiredness, hunger, negative emotions from a recent argument or forgetting to take medicine, et cetera) can put us in a place where we’re feeling insecure or are quicker to feel upset.
So, when you feel concerned you’ve upset someone, ask yourself: Am I dealing with any factors that may make me more vulnerable to anxiety? Maybe you’re worried everyone is mad at you because you just got in a big fight with your friend. Or maybe you tend to feel sad when you get tired. None of this is to shame you or make you feel at fault, but to explain the situation rationally and help you separate feelings from thoughts.
6. Practice self-affirmation statements.
Research shows self-affirmation is a powerful tool, even if it feels silly. It can help us see information as helpful and informative rather than harmful or threatening. I imagine an example of that may look like this: Instead of thinking, “They’re being short with me, so they must be angry at me,” you may realize “They’re being short with me. Maybe they’re having a hard day and I can help them feel better.”
Some examples of self-affirmations include:
- I am loved for who I am.
- It’s okay to be imperfect — we all are.
- One slip-up doesn’t make me a bad person.
- I have many outstanding qualities, including X, Y, and Z.
A study also showed forward-facing affirmations are even more powerful than backward-facing ones. For example, think about ways you’ll make people happy in the future instead of ways you’ve made them happy in the past.
When you’re feeling anxious, practice self-affirmation statements. Write them on sticky notes and stick them on your mirror. Look at yourself in the mirror and say it. Whisper it to yourself, think it in your head, whatever you need to do! Continue to practice these regularly, if possible, and you’ll probably see results.
If you struggle with an insecure attachment style and/or anxiety, you may believe others are upset with you or are judging you when that’s not the case. This is an understandable struggle, and it’s also one you can overcome. While communicating openly is best, you can also look at logic and context to determine if your worry has any basis in fact. Additionally, practicing self-affirmations regularly can help you feel better about who you are so you can take information in a more positive way. Ultimately, know you’re loved and that feelings aren’t facts!
This post was previously published on Medium.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: iStock