lou walsh, lcpc

30 n. michigan avenue

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chicago, illinois 60602

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Love is the Answer - What was the Question?

I was going to write an article about anxiety, and how it leads us to seize upon a love object to compensate for the emptiness we feel inside.  It sounds majorly dweeby,  and yet is an accurate description of anxiety - a sudden emotional pothole that must be filled right here, right now.  It is a sense of loss, or impending loss, that drives a desire for immediate action.

There are many forms of anxiety, some so debilitating that we may seek medication to find relief.  There are people who are prone to chronic worry and the accompanying stress.  There are moments when we all suffer from attacks of anxiety so strong that we would be willing to undertake anything to alleviate the discomfort, even if it means doing something completely out of character for ourselves.

Most literature on anxiety is not generally about the condition but about methods to avoid or reduce it.  My not-favorite but most practiced response to felt anxiety usually involves finding myself talking to someone about a difficult subject, then spending weeks reflecting on the emotional fallout and kicking myself for not being more glib in the moment.  “Oh yeah?  Well, I think this and that about you, so there!”  I never come up with anything glib.  Just imagine the anxiety of regret I would feel if I had come up with a great zinger, and then actually used it.

I call my method of dealing with anxiety my “not-favorite” because I do not have a favorite.  This is because there is nothing smooth about handling  anxiety - it is a circumstance that leaves us in a mess and is only in our lives to be lived through.  Is there any comfort in knowing that no one handles it well?  I hope so.

There are people who handle stress well.  That is different.  Stress is our relationship to the many obligations, responsibilities or life situations that we find coming at us.  Some people perceive that stressors are overwhelming and impossible to handle, and other people carry on as if they are just playing through.  “He handles stress well.”  Do you know someone like that?  There is even good stress, called “eustress”, that would be , for example, like having a baby.  It is stressful, but at the end, you get a baby, so it’s a good thing.  Las Vegas is “good “ eustress, right up until the point that you are deposited at the airport with only 15 cents in your pocket.  No, of course I don’t know anybody that that happened to.

In my field, we talk a lot about attachment anxiety, about abandonment issues.  In families where the primary communication is through pain or rejection, people learn to overcome their anxiety with external relievers, like cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, food, slot machines, sex, etc.  This leads us back to the idea of love as a hedge against anxiety.  Is it really love if we use the person in our lives to help us avoid looking at the meaning behind our particular worries or concerns?

The kind of love that is more like addiction works for a time, just like other external relievers.  Then, like other addictions, it stops working and becomes part or all of the problem.

The only way to stop any addictive cycle, whether it is a love addiction or otherwise, is to pull yourself out of the moment.  Instead of fighting with your partner over the same old things, or pursuing someone who never leaves you feeling good about yourself, take a minute.  Stop doing the anxiety-driven behavior and ask yourself, “What is it that I want?”, “What is it that I don’t want?”  Consider the actions you may or may not take, and the possible outcomes.  In addition to figuring out a workable reaction, hopefully slowing yourself down to reflect will also reduce anxiety and save you additional headaches and heartaches down the road.  The most important thing to realize about anxiety, after all, is that it can disappear as quickly as it arises.