The Link Between Anxiety and Control

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”

– Psalm 37:7a

I’ve always been a careful planner. I like to know what to expect. As a result, I love organizing things, making lists, and creating plans. Although these are good qualities, I think that sometimes control is actually a coping mechanism for my anxiety.

There are so many unpredictable things that happen in life. And I feel safest when I try to control what I can.

My desire for control affects the way I plan my week. I’ve noticed that I can be fairly inflexible about my daily and weekly schedule because routines make me feel safe. As a teacher, this also impacts my classroom. I spend too much time over preparing for lessons and often miss out on spontaneous moments of fun with my students. Control impacts my relationships as well. I regularly rehearse difficult conversations with people in an effort to be prepared for any possible outcome. My desire for control even affects my relationship with God. I struggle to just be quiet and let God speak to me whatever He wants to say.

I can say from personal experience that controlling my own life is exhausting. It leaves me tired, weary, and discouraged since I’m living out of my own strength.

However, I’m learning that God doesn’t call me to control and manipulate situations just so that I can feel better.

He calls me to be still.

He reminds me that He is God and I am not.

He invites me to surrender control because His ways are so much higher than mine.

He helps me to open my fists and let go of the things that I think will make me happy so that He can show me true joy.

I’ve been discovering that solitude is a powerful tool for releasing control. This can be as simple as taking just 10 minutes a day to be quiet before God. During this time, I don’t bring my own agenda or questions. Instead, I ask God to speak to me whatever He wants to say. Sometimes He encourages me to pursue an activity that I hadn’t planned for that day. Other times He invites me to reach out to someone in my life. And most of the time He simply reminds me of who He is and who I am.

In these times I feel truly secure in the love of my Father.

And I remember that out of control is actually the best place to be.

Weakness

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

-2 Corinthians 2:9 & 10

I think that the reason I am so hesitant to share about my social anxiety is that it feels like the weakest thing about me. As humans, we prefer to share our strengths with others— the areas where we have things figured out. It’s so much harder to talk about areas of our life that are works in progress.

However, God has been showing me the power of embracing my weakness. I would rather Him use the strong areas of my life where I feel confident and able. However, I’m realizing that if I can fully embrace this part of my story, God can use it in the lives of others. Only by journeying through anxiety can I understand the anxiety that others experience.

Even more importantly, God has showed me that my social anxiety is actually in many ways a gift. It reminds me that I’m human and desperately need God’s help. My anxiety forces my normally independent and self-reliant self to depend on other people to help me.

Although I am confident that Jesus wants so much freedom for me (which I am starting to experience) I often wonder if anxiety may continue to be a struggle in my life. Like the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, my anxiety is a constant reminder of my humanity and need.

Moreover, my anxiety is an opportunity for Christ’s power to be evident in my life.

I’m learning by experience that His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

Beloved

“Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we were spoken to by the voice of eternal love. Our preciousness, uniqueness, and individuality are not given to us by those who meet us in clock time— our brief chronological existence— but by the one who has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity.”

-Henri Nowen, Life of the Beloved 

I just love this book and the beautiful truth that is described in this quote.

As Christians, we are the beloved of God.

However, I’ve found from personal experience that it is much easier to know this truth than to actually live like I believe it.

I think that one of the greatest roots of my social anxiety is a fear of rejection. In my opinion, rejection is one of the most painful experiences that we can have as humans. We were created by God for love and connection and that is why rejection is so incredibly painful. 

In my research about anxiety, I’ve learned that most people who struggle with social anxiety can pinpoint specific memories (usually in their teenage years) where they felt rejected, excluded, or unwanted.

As I’ve sought healing in my life, God has taken me back to specific memories of rejection and exclusion. I’ve tried to identify the lies I started to believe about myself through those experiences. Sadly, I’ve realized that I’ve allowed fallen human beings to speak my identity over me, rather than my perfect heavenly Father. 

Over the past year or so, God has been taking me on a journey of reclaiming my own belovedness. I’ve set aside a lot of time this year to intentionally focus on scriptures about His unconditional love for me. In the process, God has started to reveal to me my true identity as child, friend, and beloved of God.

Along the way, something surprising has happened. My capacity to love others has increased. There is a strong correlation between the way I view myself and the way that I judge others. It’s hard to truly love others when I’m viewing myself harshly or with self-criticism. As I’ve come to believe that God truly loves me just as I am, regardless of how I perform or measure up, I’ve realized that the same is true about other people too. And this profoundly impacts the way I see and treat the people around me.

Reclaiming my own belovedness frees me to call out the belovedness in others.

What a beautiful gift!

Social Anxiety and Perfectionism

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.” 

-Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

I’ve come to the realization that perfectionism is perhaps the greatest root of my social anxiety. Perfectionism has been an unwanted friend of mine for as long as I can remember.

As a child, perfectionism was apparent in my immaculately clean room. When I felt stressed or out of control, I found myself constantly reorganizing my room. Suddenly all of my books needed to be in alphabetical order or my closet needed to be organized by color.

Perfectionism stayed with me in my years as a student. I was so tied to getting a 4.0 GPA and did everything I could to maintain that. I remember my dad actually challenging me to purposely get a “B” in one of my college classes because he was concerned about my addiction to perfectionism!

Perfectionism also impacts how I approach social situations. I’ve realized that I tend to avoid social interactions if I don’t think that I can handle them perfectly. I’d rather simply not go to an event if I won’t know most of the people there or if awkward situations are likely to occur. Unfortunately, I realize that this has caused me to miss out many potentially beautiful and life-enriching opportunities over the years.

About a year ago, God challenged me that my “all or nothing” mentality was holding me back. He encouraged me to approach social situations with a 70 percent mindset, rather than the perfection-driven 100 percent mindset I naturally adopt. As a result, I’ve started to say yes to more opportunities and social situations while giving myself permission to handle them imperfectly. I’d rather move forward in my life and keep growing than stay stuck because I’m afraid of failing.

As God’s been stripping away this pattern of perfectionism from my mind, I’ve had some powerful realizations. First of all, I’ve noticed how much deeper and meaningful my relationships have become. I think that it’s actually harder to connect with people when I’m trying to perform perfectly. As human beings I think that we are more attracted to the imperfections and broken pieces of each other than the perfect facades that many of us try to keep up. As Brene Brown suggests in her book The Gifts of Imperfection (a book I highly recommend!), letting ourselves be seen in our vulnerability and imperfection is what actually connects us to one another.

I’ve also realized that when I fail, I’m going to be ok. My identity and value as a child of God are not centered in handling every social situation perfectly. God loves me simply because He loves me, not because of the way I perform. I have become intimately and personally acquainted with the extravagant grace of God.

That is why I chose the title of this blog: “grace to be imperfect”.

It’s true. There is grace to be imperfect.

And I’m starting to believe that truth more and more each day.