Relationships: Finding the Courage to Move On (cont.)

Moderator: So are most people's anxiety problems rooted in their childhood or upbringing?

Dr. Greer: Much of the anxiety. Certainly medically, there's some physiological component to anxiety, but a lot of it comes from not developing and acquiring what's known as "binding" or "containing" our anxiety. We need to learn "self-soothing." When you were a baby and were feeling anxiety, your mom would come over and soothe you. She would come over and pick you up and hold you and you would feel soothed. Whether you were tired or hungry, you experienced relief from your distress. As we get older, there are things that we learn to do to calm and soothe ourselves when we're anxious. A lot of times people don't develop these coping skills effectively. Some people turn to cigarettes or alcohol or drugs or gambling or shopping, all of which are outlets to ease and relieve anxiety. One of the things that triggers anxiety, it's called "separation anxiety" -- is separating from a person or situation that they're attached to, even if it's a negative attachment. If they have negative feelings about a person, and a lot of things they don't like, it doesn't mean that they don't have emotional needs being met by the situation, that is, feeling safe, secure, feeling familiar, and not alone in the world

Mikey40_WebMD: How can one learn "self soothing" as an adult?

Dr. Greer: I have a whole chapter on how to soothe anxiety and lose guilt. One of the ways to go about it is to look at the actions that you can take to help yourself calm down when feeling anxious. Depending where you are, you can pick up the phone and call a friend, or take a walk, or write in a journal. Often putting things on paper is an easy way to move past them. Take a nice long walk or a hot bath, listen to some calming music. Learn what calms you down. Develop the self-awareness to know what will relax you. If you know that a hot bath will help you let go of tension. If you are anxious knowing you HAVE to call your mother or sister, know that you can get over it. Really becoming aware and taking responsibility so that you're not leaving yourself in this helpless state like when you were a child and needed your mother to come and soothe you. When you're in gridlock, you're very often at a crossroads.

Al_Pavy_WebMD: What is a serial pleaser?

Dr. Greer: Serial pleaser is somebody so plagued by guilt and in such need of approval by others in order to feel good about themselves, that they always say yes and put everyone else's needs above their own for fear of the other getting angry and withdrawing approval, love, and acceptance. The cause of this very often can stem from growing up in a family with divorce, or perhaps other difficulties, or simply two working parents. So in order to get noticed and feel either mom or dad is approving of you, all of which are necessary for self-esteem, you learn early on that being cooperative and saying yes to them makes them happy, makes them say and do nice things for you. You carry that out of the family. If a girlfriend says can you help me with homework, and you say yes, she says "you're the best!" It carries over. You start to learn that it's a great way for people to like and think well of you. Over time you sacrifice all of your own needs, and it's a matter of time before there's a resentment and feeling of emptiness that no one's meeting your needs. The message you're giving everyone is "I'm not important, you're more important," and that will catch up to you.

Mikey40_WebMD: If you think you are a serial pleaser, what can you do about it?

Dr. Greer: First thing is to start to take a look at who you're saying yes to the most. Your mother? Your sister? Who's the person you say yes to most often. Ask yourself what you're afraid of if you say no? They'll get angry and tell you you're thoughtless and selfish? Do you feel if you say no that you're being selfish? Then start to look at your needs so that you can begin to prioritize and make them as important as anybody else's. Why shouldn't they be? Why are you the least important in your world? And then develop some comfortable responses to give people so you lead with a positive response. If your mother says, "Can you pick your sister up tomorrow?" You can say, "Gee, I'd love to help you out, I unfortunately can't do it tomorrow, but I can next week." You're letting them know you'd like to help, but you have another commitment. Give them an alternate time. If it's a one time situation, let them know that you'd be happy to help another time. Don't go from always saying yes to always saying no, but give yourself the option to say no but also to sometime say yes.

column_WebMD: If you feel that your girlfriend/boyfriend is a "serial pleaser," what actions should you take?

Dr. Greer: The best way to bring attention to behavior you want to change without them feeling attacked is by asking questions that show your concern. Like, "I noticed that you always say yes when so and so asks for your help. Does that bother you?" If they say, "No, it doesn't bother me," you could ask, "Why not? Don't you miss getting home earlier?" Ask first, "Does it bother you?" and then, "If not, why?" If they say that it does bother them, suggest "Did you ever think you had the option to say 'not this time?'" You want that they'll be open to hearing what you have to say.

column_WebMD: How do you spot a dead-end relationship?

Dr. Greer: A dead-end relationship is one where the minuses outweigh the plusses. You keep coming back to the fact that you're more empty, dissatisfied and depleted than you are happy and fulfilled. Consequently, you're often in an angry or resentful mood when with this person. It's like an emotional rash. When you're with them, you feel like you have a rash rather than peaceful and relaxed. You end up using a lot of denial. The tricky thing is that you don't know you're using it. One of the skills I mention in the book is keeping a denial document. It means that you forget the pain. It's not like you don't register that you had a horrible fight with your boyfriend. Rather a week later when you're well again, you forget the pain, and then you're hooked. You write down "December: this is what he said, and did, and called me" so later, when he turns it around, you'll see over time that it's a pattern. You start to break through your denial and see things how they really are, and give up staying in a relationship based on what it should be rather than what it is.