Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
My niece is a beautiful and smart young lady but also very anxious. I think it is because she goes out of her way to please everyone and in doing so I think she forgets to take care of herself. Her mom is the same way- completely spoils her good for nothing husband. So my question is: could this tendency be genetic, or could my amateur analysis be correct- it’s her own behavior causing her anxiety?
I think it’s always a combination of both. Personality is a mix of different temperaments and can include a predisposition towards certain traits (for instance, curiosity, boldness, timidity, irritability etc…) added to practiced behaviors over time. Thus we become what we do. What we do is usually based on role modeling that we have been exposed to. We can only know what we know. What we see becomes what we do; when others react, behavior is reinforced, redirected or extinguished.
Now here’s what I find interesting. Let’s say that a person’s temperament is both independent and curious, but they are also socially attuned and like to be acknowledged by others. Such a person would go out of their way to please others and anticipate their needs. But what if these other people didn’t really ask for help and are not paying any attention to these silent good deeds? Or what if these other people have no sense of personal boundaries? This would cause a dilemma in which two different and opposing rule sets are trying to function at the same time. The Good Samaritan would then have to choose between endlessly sacrificing- or self preservation. It would be like trying to keep two doors open at the same time- difficult if not impossible to do. Anxiety, frustration, and anger could result.
I think that your niece’s behaviors contribute to her condition, but she knows no other way. The solution to her anxiety is in communication and learning to be open about her feelings. If one can clarify, question, and explain what one is doing and why, there are probably ways to merge the two rule sets or at least know that you tried and did your best. Your niece was never shown these skills or she would already have them. She can learn them in therapy. Anxiety can sometimes be lessened by agreeing to disagree or using the polite form of no-“I don’t think so”
I recommend your niece read Elizabeth Hiltz. She has some good books on the matter.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: beauty and intelligence never stopped anyone from being anxious. I have no scientific analysis to offer, but I hope your niece turns to therapy instead of medication. One can learn new coping behaviors from therapy. All one learns from pills is how to swallow what someone else has given you.