I hear it all the time: "I'll be happy when this semester is over;" "I'll be happy when we find our dream house;" "I'll be happy when this cold is gone;" "I'll be happy when I finish this dissertation;" "I'll be happy when I get pregnant;" "I'll be happy when the baby is here." And what happens? The semester ends, the dream house is found, the cold is over, the healthy baby is born. There's a period of happiness — elation even — and then regular life starts again and the phrase starts all over, "I'll be happy when …" Relationship Anxiety: Fear Eyes Or Clear Eyes?
I've been working with a client who's been finishing her Ph.D. dissertation. She's been working on it for a long time and it's been a nearly constant source of stress and anxiety. The dissertation has consumed her to the point of pushing many other important areas aside, including her marriage and kids. Many times during sessions she would say, "I'll be so happy when this dissertation is over," to which I would respond, "Yes, you will, and then the next source of anxiety will rise up and consume your mind."
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She didn't believe me. She was convinced that once she finished, she would be happy again. A few weeks ago she completed her work and experienced, as expected, a couple of weeks of pure joy. But in our session last week, she begrudgingly admitted that she was pulled under by anxiety again, this time focused on a minor health issue with her daughter.
"I keep thinking about my daughter's health and am scared that something is really wrong." "Let's see what happens if you breathe beneath those thoughts," I suggested, "What feelings might be underneath?" She closed her eyes and took a few minutes to breathe deeply. When she opened her eyes, they were filled with tears, and she whispered, "I don't know how I would bear it if something happened to one of my kids. The risk feels too big."
The risk is big; it's enormous. There is nothing that renders us more vulnerable than opening our hearts to loving with abandon. As we talked further, my client realized that she had protected herself from this vulnerability by diving into her Ph.D. dissertation just months after her daughter's birth. She also realized that she had done the same thing as a newlywed by launching a business.
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"I've kept myself busy to avoid feeling this vulnerability," she confessed. "Yes, that's what we all do," I assured her.
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