Ask The Therapist: “I am a very sensitive person…due to this behaviour I am burning a lot of bridges, which I know isn’t healthy but I don’t know how to cope with it.”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“I am generally a very sensitive person, and I am not sure if it’s a good or bad thing. For example, it hasn’t been easy being an art student when the teacher doesn’t like your work which you spent nights completing. I spent the whole day in bed. Or if someone critically analyses me, for example they say I am not decisive, I don’t take that very well. This is affecting my personal and professional life a lot. And it makes me question my worth, I go into this cycle of anxiety, hopelessness and lashing out. I hate disappointing people that I care about, but due to this behaviour I am burning a lot of bridges, which I know isn’t healthy but I don’t know how to cope with it. It’s taking a big toll on my mental health. Please help.”

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

I can really connect to a lot of the things that you’ve mentioned in your message. It sounds like it’s an enormous challenge, especially when you’ve put in so much effort in your work, only to have it criticized at the end. Let’s explore what might be going on for you, and see if we can help you stay grounded, especially in the face of the anxiety that you experience.

Anxiety and Academics

One of the most common sources of anxiety for any student is their studies. On a cultural level, there’s this belief that most people carry, which is: I need to score well in order to be good enough. There is a great deal of pressure that one tends to place on themselves when it comes to studies. As a result, a link is formed between performance and self-worth. People tend to move away from the mindset of learning from mistakes, and embracing criticism as “growing edges” and they go towards a much harsher attitude, where they do not have permission to make mistakes, and as such, if they do, they are not good enough. 

Making mistakes and receiving feedback, especially in an academic and professional environment, is central to growth. You will often hear: you learn the most from your mistakes and failures. Which is absolutely true. With anyone who is successful today, they stumbled hundreds of times before they got it right. Your mistakes are not a definition of who you are. The question I would ask you is: how would you like to move forward? I want to take this time to remind you that it is okay to be disappointed, it’s okay to be sad – and once those feelings have been acknowledged and tended to, it might be time to forward and towards something more. 

What Would Happen?

Anon, you mentioned that you hate disappointing people you care about, and I wonder what it is about disappointing others that contributes to that anxiety? What is the underlying fear there? What would happen if you disappointed them? 

When it comes to matters of how you relate to others, it might be helpful to recognize what it is that you are avoiding through their disappointment, and what disappointment means in itself means for you. In order to move forward with certain things, it is important to recognize the mechanisms behind the anxiety.

Anxiety: The Role It Plays

Anxiety is the body’s way of recognizing and responding to danger. Overtime, our bodies learn to identify certain things as a threat, and it might not always be something life-threatening. You might experience a great deal of anxiety before a test, before giving a speech, or even before a social gathering. Each person has a different relationship with anxiety, and each person will have different triggers. 

There’s a lot of negativity and judgement around anxiety, when in reality, the intention behind it is to keep us safe from what we perceive to be danger. As children, we begin to develop an understanding about certain things around us, and more than anything, we teach ourselves to survive. As we grow older, so does our sense of understanding of the world, as does our autonomy and sense of personal power. As such, we have the potential to heal from our wounds from the past.

How To Cope

  • Therapy: if you’ve been experiencing constant anxiety, talking to a mental health professional would be a great way of working through it. A trained therapist will be able to hold space for you to talk about what you’re experiencing in a safe and non-judgmental environment.  
  • Mindfulness and Self-Compassion: learning to cultivate compassion towards the self is an enriching experience. This practice aims to help you foster this sense of forgiveness, acceptance and compassion towards yourself. It is especially helpful for those suffering from anxiety, low self-esteem and high levels of self-criticism. 
  • Exercise and Body work: whether it’s yoga, qigong, dance, running or just meditation, finding ways to move or even connect to the body, and releasing the energy that has built up is something that really benefits those who struggle with anxiety.

Anon, I know how hard it is to accept criticism. It can be extremely painful, and it can be very triggering. However, as I said earlier, you are not defined by the mistakes that you make. Remember, you are so much more than that. You have all the tools you need in order to heal living within you, all you need to do is reach within and find them. I know you can do this. I wish you all the best in your journey towards healing. Best of luck and stay in your power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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