While sharing with my coach the challenges I have met with filling my groups, she pointed out that “we” (meaning the average person living in the United States) are not a “group culture”. I thought about this for a moment (she is very wise and I often take pause to consider the truth bombs she drops for me 😉) and realized that she had a valid point! While I believe that, on some level, we crave being part of a group or community, we also have a sub-conscious belief that we are supposed to be strong and independent. Being part of a group vs. being strong and independent 🤔 that sounds like a bit of a conundrum...
At first glance those would seem like two opposing thoughts, diametrically opposed if you will, AND YET, what if that is where the challenge lies? What if the key is that we have not yet learned that it is not an "either/or" situation but rather a "yes/and” conundrum?
What if we human beings get stuck in feeling like we have to choose to be either strong and independent OR part of a larger group AND what if the way to move forward is to learn how to embrace BOTH?
While, at times (and I know I have mentioned this before 😳), getting anxious folks to commit to and walk into a group situation can feel more challenging than herding cats! Once they settle in, though, I hear comments like “it feels good to know that I am not alone” and “when I find myself in a stressful situation I think about what other members of the group might say and I feel better”.
No matter how shy, sensitive, introverted, grouchy, or fiercely independent we may be (did any of those describe you? I just reread them and definitely a few of them apply to me 😜) , we are, in fact, social creatures. We want to “belong”. It is a biological imperative. We are not meant to be in complete isolation and are, in fact, dependent on others for lots of things.
So how did we get this subconscious idea that we can do it alone? From lots of different little messages along the way. Our parents, teachers, coaches, and any number of “authority” figures probably encouraged you to stand out in the crowd in some way ( be tougher, smarter, more talented) and to some degree those are noble pursuits AND they are not the whole picture. This is where the “AND” part comes in to play. We seem to have lost sight that just because we can be individuals it does not mean we have to sacrifice the belonging to the group along the way.
Of course a majority of it comes from Anxiety telling us that our #1 priority is a tie between being comfortable and being certain. This is the part that I want to address today. When Anxiety is in our ear it is important to remember that it wants you to make it’s job easier. If you go out into the world and interact with other people you 1) make it’s job harder as it now actually has to be part of your survival system and do it’s real job and send you signals if there is any danger - it would much rather you stay at home and isolate yourself (or just have you hang out with mom and dad ‘cause they are safe 🙄) because then it has your full attention, AND 2) you might actually find out that Anxiety lies to other people and those other people might actually support you in talking back to your Anxiety (and that would totally suck for Anxiety 😳😂).
As technology makes our day to day lives easier, it makes truly connecting to others harder. We can hide in our “virtual world” because it seems safer. Notice how I used the word “seems”. Yeah, Anxiety will convince you that playing it safe and only interacting with others virtually (where you can edit what you type, leave a chat mid sentence with minimal repercussions, and simply “ghost” someone if you get “too anxious”) is the way to go.
Along this line I had an interesting conversation with a dear friend who suggested that offering my groups virtually might be a way to get teens to participate. She shared that she felt her own teens would be “more comfortable” sharing their fears and challenges with an online group as they wouldn’t have to be concerned that their classmates or neighborhood friends would be part of the group (which would mean they want to avoid possible embarrassment). At first I was intrigued by this idea, AND what came to me, though, was that this might just be another way that Anxiety would seek reassurance that all is safe and comfortable. Say it with me folks: “Anxiety is a Liar” and “Reassurance doesn’t work”!
Now don’t get me wrong, technology and the virtual world can make our lives easier and help us to connect in a lot of ways. I have had clients who could not get to my office and they were able to keep their appointments because of technology. I much prefer “seeing” my clients (or friends for that matter 😉) when I am talking to them (rather than simply by phone) as it gives me opportunity to read facial expressions and gestures. Technology can allow me these options. What technology lacks, though, is the deeper connection. The ability to feel the energy of the person in the same room.
So I just realized how verbose I am being with this topic, so I have decided to make this a multiple Part Series so that I can really explore this concept of what I am going to now call Community. The less we have Community in our lives, the more Anxious we have become.
I am going to take a break here and let you sit with this.
Will you do me a favor? Click the Comment button and tell me what you think (if you don't want to share publicly, feel free to shoot me an email instead 😊). Do you use technology to “play it safe”? I want to know what you think about how Anxiety and our not being a “Group Culture” intersect. Tell me about your experiences with being connected and having Community (either in person or virtual).
The voice behind Auntie Anxiety is Lynn Dutrow, Courage Coach and Counselor