After my big race and lots of travel, coupled with my son’s 22 birthday, I needed a break!
I was so tired and overstimulated from the travel, the race, the travel mishaps and delays…the whole catastrophe! His birthday seemed to represent some kind of subconscious milestone of “unparenting” or whatever the identity shift that occurs when your kids become adults. I won’t go into all the draining things, but when you’re an HSP (highly sensitive person), these seemingly small things really take a toll on you.
So last weekend, I did an at-home retreat to regroup after the intensity of the past few weeks. I slowed down and spent a lot of time off of my phone and social media. I went inward. I participated in an online retreat hosted by one of my long-time mentors.
One of the lectures I listened to (it was private, or I’d share it here, sorry) talked about the difference between true caring and “anxiety-caring.”
Anxiety care is when caring is coupled with a layer of fear.
It can take many forms. It can be fear/caring about how you will be perceived by others, fear/caring about bad things happening to people you love, or fear/caring about the world and the hell in a handbasket it seems to be going toward.
Anxiety care is when we care about something so much we go into worry.
We feel anxious, and it increases our stress. This is what keeps us up at night. This is what makes us feel stressed and overwhelmed about other people and the world.
Authentic caring is love.
There is no fear attached to it. You just deeply care about a person, a place, an animal, or an idea. You love it and act in a way that demonstrates this love.
Anxiety-care is when caring goes to another, more toxic level. We tell ourselves that worry is ok because it demonstrates caring. We can even fall into the trap that this kind of anxiety-based caring makes us good people! Right? We feel like good parents because we worry so much about our kids. But the truth is this kind of anxiety-caring doesn’t benefit ANYONE.
I’d like to differentiate this kind of caring so we can all be set free!
So true caring does not produce anxiety. That is the main difference. True caring produces energy. Anxiety-caring drains it.
As our kids get older and start making their own adult choices, a lot of us (including me) experience this anxiety care perhaps more than we ever have in our lives up to this point. I mean, how much energy do you expend worrying about your older children and the choices they are making? (or not making)
Society fosters this anxiety.
I just went to a required lecture given by the local sheriff’s department at my 16-year-old son’s school, so he can get a parking permit. Literally, we spent two hours watching videos of teens making disastrous decisions resulting in death, imprisonment, maiming, etc. Life-altering moments that if only they could go back and change their choice, their life would be a whole lot different.
This is anxiety care at its most extreme. We fear our kids are going to drink and drive and kill someone or end up paralyzed or god-forbid commit suicide (it’s suicide awareness month, so we hear a lot about that too). Even writing these words is causing me a surge of anxiety in my body. I can feel it.
But is this worry helping anything?
Absolutely not! Is my worry going to change my kids’ choices? No.
Can I do anything about their choices?
Well, indirectly, I can. But that comes from the other kind of care. This is what I’m calling “authentic caring.” This is the deep caring that comes from within. There is no anxiety around it, it’s just pure love. When we can relate to our teens from this place of pure love, we can get our messages across so much more effectively.
I see the difference in how my kids respond to me when I am in a state of “anxiety-care” vs. authentic care. Anxiety care makes them blow me off. They roll their eyes and say, “oh, mom! gimme a break.” But when I come from a place of authentic care, they hear me.
Authentic care runs much deeper and feels much more grounded in the body. Our kids can experience our care as much more meaningful than when we are coming at them from a place of fear.
Anxiety care comes from our own trauma.
We fear something happening to our loved ones because we fear suffering…and rightly so! Who wants to suffer? Anxiety care comes from wanting to protect ourselves, control our world, and reduce uncertainty. This is normal and the way our species has survived. But it comes from outdated survival consciousness that throws us into a fight or flight response when we no longer need to fight OR flee. We’re running on outdated software that causes harmful dysregulation in our nervous system when it’s actually not serving us anymore. And it’s not serving anyone else either.
I have been caught up in this kind of anxiety care a lot these past few weeks. Just recognizing it and bringing it to my awareness has helped me to free up a lot of energy that is simply unproductive.
When I care about something from a place of love, I want to take the right action (which can be, paradoxically, doing absolutely nothing). When I “anxiety-care” about something, I go into paralysis. All I can do is sit around and think worrying thoughts. I don’t do anything productive at all. I might say the wrong thing because I’m simply trying to discharge the anxiety. It’s not a very evolved state. But it happens to all of us from time to time.
Since I made this realization, I’ve felt much more freedom.
When I notice I’m in “anxiety care,” I turn inward instead of outward. I look inside and try self-soothing rather than acting out the anxiety with other people (primarily my kids), and I can say to myself, “what would love do?” in this situation and act from there. It’s a much more integrated way of being.
I’m not there yet, by any means, but at least I’m noticing more and more how this impacts both my own nervous system and the people around me.
Next time you find yourself worrying about your kids, the planet, or our world, see if you might be in this anxiety-care state. See if you can shift into authentic care and ask, “What can I do to be of service in this situation?” Or “What is mine to do here?”
See if this helps to move you from anxiety care and into authentic caring. See if this frees up extra energy and resources to actually do what is yours to do (or not do.)
What about you?
Have you thought about this before? Is it useful to think about?
Do you find yourself in endless worry about things you care about? Does this help you to release the unproductive anxiety and move into service and love?
And if you want to explore more deeply the underlying cause of that anxiety care (which, of course, is trauma!), reach out, and let’s get you scheduled! I’m here to support you on your trauma-healing journey.