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You're Not Weird: Stuff People Tell Their Therapists

I often say to clients that anxiety makes you egocentric. It makes you think that people are thinking about you all the time when the reality is that no one is thinking about that comment you made at the staff meeting that you now think was embarrassing. Anxiety makes you think that your particular worries and fears are different than everyone else's. Anxiety makes you think that everyone else is doing great and you, for some reason, just can't hack it. In short, if makes you feel a bad way.

I've noticed a few common themes with my clients. Every time someone brings up one of the topics below, I think 'I wish everyone knew that this is not weird. This is actually very common.' Chronic anxiety has a way of eroding our self esteem leaving us with only self doubt and an entire mountain of cognitive distortions about ourselves. We start to see ourselves only through the lens of the anxiety, our worst fears about ourselves confirmed.

Here are the top three things that people say all of the time that are actually quite common, not weird at all, and not something to be ashamed about - even if your anxious brain tells you that you should be embarrassed.

  1. "I've never had a relationship."

People tell me this very frequently. It's often not necessarily the issue that brought them to therapy to begin with. It usually is something they tell me a few sessions in. I have had many clients in their twenties and thirties who have not dated or had sexual contact with another person. There are many reasons for that but honestly the most common one seems to be something that is entirely beyond the individual's control - the changing nature of the dating scene. Anxious people often hate the apps. They find them superficial, impersonal, unsafe, or ineffective. Unfortunately, the reality is that a huge proportion of people seeking a relationship these days are using the apps. So where does this leave you if you would rather meet someone the old fashioned way?

People feel a great sense of embarrassment if they have not had relationships by the time they're in their twenties. When it comes up in therapy, people are often very ashamed and immediately assume the issue is that they are unlovable in some way. They also consistently believe that other people in their age group do not have these issues with dating which is simply not true. No matter what age you are, it is not weird if you haven't had a relationship or dated. But it's also not weird if you feel embarrassed about your lack of experience. Many people feel this way but this is largely because as a society we have not normalized being single, being asexual, or simply the idea that everyone moves at their own pace.

2. "Everyone is more successful than me."

This one is the millennial anthem. Where gen z has, in many ways, opted to change their definition of what success is, shifting it away from professional life and more towards personal happiness, millennials continue to feel a sense of competition with each other about professional and personal accomplishments. The problem is that there are far too many systems issues in this country that prevent millennials from achieving the goals that the generations before them were able to achieve. Millennials often cannot afford to own a home or to even rent an apartment without five other roommates. They often are living at home with their parents and they're marrying later.

I consistently hear from clients, often women clients, that they feel that they are behind where they should be. They feel as though they should be more successful in their career, in a long term relationship, purchasing a home, getting married, or having a baby. They talk about their friends Instagram posts depicting weddings, baby showers, and smiling photos of happy couples hiking the Appalachian trail. Even though social media is highly curated and often flat out lies, it triggers anxiety. People see their friends posts and they feel inadequate. They begin to obsess about their lives and doubt whether they will ever be as successful as they want to be. We need to normalize the idea that it's okay for you to be in whatever place you are in your life at whatever age. We don't all hit milestones and have accomplishments on the same time frame. But you're not weird if you've been feeling like you don't measure up compared to others. It's a very common feeling.

3. "I don't have any friends."

It's often said that people struggle to make friends after college. This is true to a large extent, especially now that more and more jobs are remote and the opportunities for office friendships are dwindling. All of the friends that I've made since college have been work friends and, now that I work remotely, I don't see a clear path to making more social connections.

This isn't necessary what people talk about in therapy though. What I hear from folks time and time again is not really that they don't have friends, it's that they don't know how to connect with the friends they have. Everyone wants to be the gang from New Girl or Friends but it turns out that most friendships aren't like that. But it is possible that people could be closer to their friends.

One thing I hear from anxious people all of the time is that they don't feel comfortable sharing their emotions or opinions with anyone - including their friends. They are embarrassed about their anxiety, which often increases in social situations, so they withdraw or focus entirely on their friends needs and neglect to share anything about themselves. I often hear from people, "I don't want to share what's going on with me because I don't think anyone will care".

People often think that if they don't have a strong friend group or if they aren't particularly close with any of their friends that they are weird. Much like the dating scenario I mentioned above, everyone assumes that they are the only one feeling alone when so many people are having the exact same experience.

Recognizing that we are not alone in our experiences doesn't necessarily make those experiences less painful or anxiety inducing. However, it does take the sting out of feeling like you're weird for worrying about not having a partner or not having friends or not having achieved your professional goals in the timeline you had expected. These are all extremely common anxieties which are all based off of non-existent rules. There is no rule about when you start dating, when you buy a home, or how many friends you have. If these are goals you have for yourself, that's perfectly okay, but there is no need to feel inadequate for not having achieved those goals yet. There is always time and if you're feeling as though your thought patterns and behaviors are obstacles to you being able to achieve those goals, there's always a therapist out there who would be happy to help you.

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