ASK ABDI: HOW DO I SHAKE MY ANXIETY AS A GROWN MAN?
QUESTION: How do I deal with everyday life, while feeling like a little kid trapped in a grown man’s body? I’m a 6’2″, 295 lb, 35-year-old man that can’t shake the anxiety.
I was always shy as a kid. I was the “nice sweet kid” in school. As I got older, I became the “loner”. I was teased for my weight, darker skin color, and obvious lack of money, to be “cool”. I never went to parties, never hung out with friends on the weekend, no dances or school activities. And I moved around too much to have neighborhood friends. I had sports and my little brother, which I was happy with.
At home, my father was always big on respect and discipline. I grew up scared of him. Once I became the same size, my fear became anger. I became angry at the world for a long time. I shut myself out. Stayed close to my family instead.
Then my family started to break down. My parents had a lot of problems. They split and I became my Mom’s rock. I watched everything and everyone, and found knowledge from that. So I would say things that were probably too grown-up for my age but seemed to help her. I became a protector and helper for my family. Soon, I would be that for a lot of people.
The area I grew up in didn’t help either. A shy kid in a city full of “badasses” wasn’t easy. I couldn’t beat them, so I tried to be them. But it really wasn’t who I was. I made some decisions that showed me some bad things and people, and I didn’t like it, scared me to be honest.
In my early 20s, I was going through a bad time and decided to try meditation. I had listened to a popular psychic at the time. It helped a lot! Some really cool things happened. But as time has been going on, I have started to feel like the shy kid again. I don’t feel like everyone else, I feel out of place. My perspective doesn’t match the outside world. I try to accept everyone, but I get the opposite from people.
I struggle with keeping jobs, feel like people are always talking about me, I shrink with confident people around me, and I am constantly nervous. People expect me to be a certain way because of how I look and my size. Once they find out I’m not “that” guy, it’s open season on the nice guy. Which then makes me kill myself inside because I feel like I’m not a “real” man. I guess this is my first time actually asking for help instead of being the helper for everyone else.
ANSWER: The act of reaching out is huge. So good on you for that. The fact that you are so in touch with your anxiety is also amazing. Do understand that most people just run around keeping every second of the day packed so they don’t have to feel it. Anxiety can not be shaken, it has to be faced, felt, and tolerated. That is the only way that it heals. And that is a long process, but really the only thing worth doing since it is then, and only then, that we can taste our lives fully. Do know that all of us deal with varying degrees of anxiety. That is why none of us ever sit still in our lives or minds.
The nice guy and badass routine are two sides of the same coin. They are both defense mechanisms in the face of helplessness. They are externally referent, meaning that they do not come from our center but from what brings acceptance from people around us. Dangerous business as you have found. We are all scared shitless until we sit down and start a relationship with that little child inside of us.
The “being a rock” is so harmful since it is the most dishonest we can be with ourselves and our little child. It is a tap dance that we learn to do as we beg for crumbs of love. As you have also learned, it is impossible to be fed on that. It is not an honest way of relating, since our needs are never met and this can only lead to a deep rage. No matter how well we might think we are masking our needs, that inner child is watching us whore ourselves every minute of the day. He will react to you until you pay him the attention he needs and deserves.
You are a real man, my brother: real men and women start by having the courage to take an honest inventory of what does not work in their lives. They stop working their will and the phony ways that they thought they should live their lives. They have the courage to put down the old ways, to live for a while in confusion, and to feel their pain and anxiety until new ways reveal themselves. So you are on your way.
Start every day with making some time to feel your feelings. Observe yourself, your grief, anxiety, and shame. Feel as if you have a young son. How would you treat him? Given your experience, what advice would you give him? You are more clear than you realize. Real men and women are not born. They are made as they respond to their wounding with mindfulness, kindness, and softness towards themselves.
There is nothing more badass than a gentle giant.