When Fear Rules !

Tag: Panic

Rebecca’s Story / Conquering Panic Attacks

by on Sep.07, 2015, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

Growing up, no one warned me about how much pressure and scrutiny an 18/19 year old was put under. I always just assumed that by the time I graduated high school I would know exactly what I wanted to do with my life. But graduation came and went, and I still had these huge life decisions hanging over my head. “What are you doing with your life,” “Where are you going to college,” “You know that career doesn’t make enough money to support yourself,” “You better start now or you’ll never go back to school.”

If it wasn’t difficult enough to make these decisions while pleasing myself, imagine the horror of making these decisions while trying to please every single person I ran into that asked these exact questions. Having the adaptable, people-pleasing personality that I do made these choices even harder. How would I please everyone? Hearing the disappointment in people’s voices when you tell them you aren’t going to college or you don’t have a major picked out can really eat at your brain; it sure did bother mine. Should I just enroll in college because it will stop the badgering of questions? I mulled these thoughts over often. I never could seem to escape the questions. It didn’t matter if I was at work or at church on Sunday; they always seemed to be there. And don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the questions were coming from those with pure intentions, but I also don’t believe older people really understand the disapproval they show when you are 19 years old without a mapped out plan of what you are going to be when you grow up. It also didn’t help the fact that I seemed to be the only one my age who was having these issues. All of my other friends had left for school in other states, leaving me feeling alone and confused.

So there I was, 19 years old, not enrolled in college and working 30 hours a week at a job where I was not very happy. I decided to drive to the gas station after dinner one night in March. Gas was cheaper the next town over so I made the extra 10 minute drive, not thinking anything would happen. Everything was fine until I let my overactive brain cloud my judgment. Driving gives you time to think in silence, which can be good, I guess. For me it just gave me time to think about how much of a failure I felt as a daughter and person. I mean I thought my whole life was supposed to be put together already, I was so behind.

“I can’t breathe” I thought as my heart started to beat out of my chest. Staring at the dim brake lights in front of me I tried to focus on driving as my sweaty palms tightly choked the steering wheel. I didn’t know whether to pull over and turn around or keep driving. My throat tightened as it became hard to swallow and I sat in my car terrified. What the heck is wrong with me?

That became the new question. Obviously, I made it home safety and I would love to tell you that that was my first and only panic attack, but I wouldn’t be writing this article if it was. 
Shortly after that incident, driving in general became something of complete difficulty. It didn’t matter if I was driving three minutes to church, being in the car felt like an eternity. I battled with the thoughts that something was seriously wrong with me. I even made a trip to the emergency room one afternoon because my throat felt like it was suffocating me for hours on end with no relief. They sent me home with a packet on anxiety and some judgmental looks.

Anxiety. Panic attacks. How could this be happening to me? I’ve always done the right thing. Why would God allow me to go through this? What did I do wrong to deserve anxiety?
The pressure from home didn’t help my mental state. I love my mother dearly, but she didn’t and still doesn’t understand panic attacks and the effect they had on me. I could tell she was disappointed in me and herself for not being able to “fix” my problems. The thoughts of being a failure to her made my panic attacks even worse. I would cry at night – the idea of suicide entered my head more than once, but I knew it wasn’t the answer.

Life became very dismal and along with my anxiety came his buddy depression. I could barely make it through work and back home and my social life quickly diminished. Before too long I became house bound with panic attacks, no longer sleeping through the night, and deathly afraid to be left alone in fear that the next panic attack would leave me dead and alone.

By the grace of God, my story doesn’t end there. Life seemed impossible but somehow I was given the strength to keep fighting. During my sleepless nights I did a lot of research on panic attacks and methods to reduce them. I also began searching for some medical help. I met Psychologist, Gene Benedetto in the summer of 2013. After months of suffering alone, I was finally ready to reach out and try to figure out why this was happening to me. Talking to Gene helped put things into perspective. I realized that unlike what my brain was telling me, I wasn’t crazy and another people were dealing with the same issues I was having. I worked through a lot of personal issues sitting in his office. Although my mind was always somewhat distracted by the clock; waiting for what felt like an eternity for that hour to be up and to go back to the safety of my home. I visited Benhaven on and off over the next couple of months. It was difficult to see him regularly when I could not make the 15 minute drive myself. After Christmas, I decided I would not return. I had been put on Zoloft for my anxiety and it seemed to be working. The constant overwhelming feeling of choking had subsided enough to where I felt I could live a little and no longer felt the need to seek out help.

I didn’t realize until later on that I had stopped going to see Gene because I wasn’t ready to change. I wasn’t willing to put the effort into stretching and desensitizing myself to my anxiety symptoms. And I certainly wasn’t ready to open the can of worms that was causing all my issues to begin with. Anxiety became my new normal. I knew the limits I could live within to feel comfortable and as long as I stayed within them I could live my life just fine.

But after a while, fine wasn’t good enough. I was healing slightly, but I still didn’t feel like myself; just an anxious, unhappy version of myself that I really didn’t like too much. You see, if you don’t ever work on the root of the problem, the symptoms aren’t ever going to really disappear. Anxiety gave me an excuse not to answer the questions of my future, but having never dealt those issues never made them truly go away.

So time passed slowly as I adapted into a new “normal.” It had been a year and a half since I started having panic attacks and nothing had really changed. My meds did soften the effects of my panic attacks, but I was never willing to put myself in any situations where anxiety might arise.

That was until my boyfriend dumped me. It really is crazy how some of the worst things in life turn out to be for the good. So there I was alone, yet again. My first love, my best friend, my confidant left me without a reason to be seen. And I was crushed. I had so much banking on our relationship and I didn’t know what to do with myself anymore.

I was again faced with the question of what I would do with my life; no longer able to hide behind a stable, hardworking man who was willing to drive anywhere for me so that I was never uncomfortable. But this time, I was ready to answer that question. I was finally ready to push myself to do something. Not because my mom, my friends, or the random lady from church wanted me to, but because I felt confident in myself.

I quickly signed up for a dental assisting program in my area. I traveled back and forth to school the weeks before classes started, filling out paperwork and trying on scrubs. Most of those trips started and ended in phone calls to my mom who assured me I could finish those drives by myself. As I continued to make the drive to classes something miraculous happened, the drive no longer seemed overwhelming or impossible. I was finally able to start trusting myself to get in a car and drive places. I even began driving to my boyfriend’s house, after we started working through our previous issues.

Six months later, I finished my dental assisting program at the top of my class. It was a tough 6 months, but worth the effort. I also pushed myself to go on several interviews way outside my 20 minute drive comfort zone. I had never been more proud of myself than I was in those months. I had done this. I had made a decision and stuck with it, no matter what anyone else thought.

With that program completed and a job lined up, I finally felt ready to return to Benhaven Counseling. I was finally mentally ready to make the steps needed to continue to push myself into becoming a stronger person.

One of the first lessons I learned from Gene was breaking everything into steps. Choosing not to look at myself as a failure for not being able to drive to California and back by myself, but taking reasonable bites often until they built up to longer drives. I also began to take steps to learn how to distract myself. Couponing and donating the items to a local charity became my way to calm my fears before pushing myself to go further on a drive. I continue daily to make the conscious decision to push myself, not allowing my anxiety ever to control me again.

The journey has been tough and there are still many twists and turns in the days ahead, but for the first time in my life, I’m not completely worried about my future. I have learned that I can trust myself to make decisions and that it is okay not to listen to everyone’s “advice.” I encourage all those reading to take the first step if you haven’t. Confide in someone you trust about what you are going through. You are not alone in this and there are so many people around you that want to help.

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Destroyed by His Words !

by on Aug.07, 2015, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD, STOPPING ABUSE

Destroyed by His Words !

He is a Narcissistic Sociopath, and although he is very real, I will give him a fictitious name, Lucius. Upon my exposing him for what he was, he actually bragged and boasted about the “tools” he possessed that allowed him to control and manipulate people, both in business and in his personal life.

Lucius recognized as a teenager, that the things he said and the way he treated people caused them to be “like putty in my hands, allowing me to mold them into thinking and doing what I wanted”. As he became an adult, his awareness of his power over people grew by leaps and bounds. No one was safe from his manipulation, even his own daughter.

Being an attorney who specialized in medical malpractice suites in which he was ruthless and gained a mind-numbing reputation, Lucius would explain how he got a dopamine rush, a surge of adrenaline, realizing the power he had over people. He used that power not just in building a rather successful practice, but systematically taking control of his wife, their sexual interactions and her life by making her a victim of abuse that weakened a once strong woman with a career of her own, turning her into an emotionally weak, dependent blob.

My stomach turned and I felt nauseated as I knew that there had been many a victim who fell prey to this man’s initial charm and gradual degrading of their self-esteem as he manipulated his potential victim’s thoughts and behaviors by using tools such as blame, shame and guilt. Oh he was good at it, and he knew it. The smirk on his face said it all.

Lucius knew that I was aware of what he had done to destroy his own daughter’s will to live, and what he was now attempting to do was use his skills of manipulation and control to shut me down. He calmly said,
” You do not know who you are dealing with ! I can and will destroy you ! No one will believe anything you say anyway ! ” He was using fear tactics, which he was quite accomplished at due to his lack of conscience.

Then he said something I will never forget. “Everyone has made mistakes. Every man and woman on the face the earth who has a conscience has something they regret, or have done or avoided something for which feel shame or guilt. I know how to find out about a person’s past, and I will find a way to take advantage of whatever weakness or fear that a person has and I will use that knowledge to take control ! ”

Yes, he was a narcissistic sociopath, but what is critical to understand is that the only real control he would have over his victim would be if he or she gave into their fear.

Someday soon I will share the rest of this true story.

Something I learned from all of this over time, and now forty years of practice, is that there are far many more borderline or full-blown sociopathic personalities among us breathing the same air we do, every day of our lives. Their narcissistic and self-absorbing care for themselves and superficial show of care and concern for others is of course a tell-tale sign. But their ability to lie to our faces, and effectively try to find and take full advantage of the weakness in anyone who would challenge them, has at times made them all powerful. One of the primary strengths, and at the same time weaknesses in some of us that make us potential victims to manipulation is that some we have a conscience, are capable of feeling guilt, and have less of an ability to recognize evil in other people.

When many of us come up against people like Lucius, we just want to walk away , avoid them.
What can you do to defend yourself from such people ?

First, be aware that many such people exist. Watch for the signs, as they can lie to your face without flinching. If you can feel something uncomfortable, don’t ignore what you feel.

Don’t be mesmerized by what other people say about this person, think for yourself ! There have been many times in history where the minds of intelligent people have been paralyzed by the charisma of a charming, well-spoken person. All the while, below the surface may smolder the agenda of a selfish, control-seeking personality. There are many instances in history, where a person with a charismatic nature, who speaks well and seems to have their act together, takes over the minds of others who may know better but avoid being the one to speak up. Although I admired much about John F. Kennedy, the “Bay of Pigs” issue comes to mind where it is reported that many in his Cabinet had serious issues and conflicts with his decisions, but never expressed their warnings.

Realize that many controlling and manipulative people will say what you want to hear, but do what they want to do. So listen to their language. Do they follow the rules of respectfully dealing with others, or do they have some uncanny way of creating diversions and chaos, and then do their deeds amongst all the chaos and before the smoke clears ? When questioned, do they really answer the concerns others express or turn to comments that are an attempt to make you feel that if you do not agree with them, you are somehow a racist, a bigot, or an uncaring person ?

Life can be hard at times, but good hard work and effort to better yourself builds pride and character. If someone offers you something for nothing, it is a pretty good sign you will end up with nothing,

If you are an adapting or approval seeking personality, you are easy prey for the narcissistic, manipulative personality types. They can smell the want for approval and acceptance in other people.

Once a person gets sucked into the space of the narcissistic sociopath, a dependency is formed on that person’s approval. Then, after becoming a victim, you may not be willing to admit to yourself that you were suckered, so you say nothing, and that avoidance causes you to feel even less in control of your life, which makes you even more vulnerable.

This phenomenon occurs in business as well as personal relationships. How many people do you know that are stuck in unhealthy marriages, where one of the partners shames. blames and guilts the other to silence their legitimate complaints ? Why do so many remain in those unhealthy, esteem destroying relationships for so long ?

Express yourself and your feelings about persons that your gut tells you are manipulative, controlling and lying, but don’t spew hatred. Speak respectfully and repeatedly, saying as an example “ I appreciate your thoughts and opinions, but I do not agree with you !” Then don’t get dragged into defending yourself as the other narcissistic or sociopathic personality type will surely try to convince you that you are wrong. Just repeat yourself !!! In this way you are respectfully expressing an opinion without feeling the guilt of being hateful or mean, thereby not triggering so much shame within yourself. I have had many a client who was a victim of emotional or sexual abuse, whose abuser would try to turn the shame and guilt machine on them big time by saying, “ See, you are feeling so much anger towards me right know, which makes you feel dark and ugly inside, so you are no better than me !”

So, think hard about this as the abuse may be more subtle, but it is still abuse when a person uses words to manipulate you. Don’t allow fear to rule your life, you deserve better than that.

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
The Benhaven Group, LLC
www.RuledByFear
www.FearRulesYourLife.com

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Feeling Out of Control !

by on Apr.13, 2014, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

Feeling Out of Control ?

Sheila had not driven on a freeway in twenty-five years, although she had never been in a major accident. Her anxiety and fear of having a panic attack had seriously limited her options and choices for both a social life and a more desirable career as she was always searching for alternate roads to travel.

Chuck was so caught up with his obsessions over germs that it all but paralyzed him from doing anything to explore his desire for a meaningful relationship or a more challenging career. How could he even think about making changes in his life with all these anxiety-driven fears dominating his thoughts ? What girl would give him a second look when she realized his life was ruled by these fears of contamination ?

Rick was a productive guy with a potentially awesome career, but his anxiety and compulsive rituals of checking everything from doors being locked to “repeatedly” searching for errors in his work had negatively affected his performance to the point that his job was now in jeopardy.

Patricia loved her job, but all of a sudden her ability to travel was threatened by these panic attacks that came out of nowhere !

So, if you have ever experienced panic attacks or the companion symptoms of obsessive-intrusive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, I do not have to tell you how overwhelming these symptoms can become and how much they can affect your life. Panic attacks, which often seem to come from ” out of the blue “, can quickly become an all consuming and draining experience as they leave one feeling such a very real sense of being out of control.

What could be the reason or a source for these life-altering symptoms ? Not wishing to over-simplify, but to at least get you thinking about why this might happen, I would offer the following points for you to consider. One of the common elements with each of the examples I offered above is the issue of being an adapting personality type. In my opinion, being an adapting person, one who is aware of and sensitive to the reactions, thoughts and feelings of others around them, is a gift but can feel like a curse. While being aware and sensitive is a characteristic that could enhance one’s personal life and career, depending on the depths one has “learned” to bend and adapt to please others, one can lose their sense of self because of their dependency on approval and acceptance. In too many situations, there are many of us who have “learned” to depend too much on the approval of others to measure their personal worth and value, and their sense of identity.

Dependency breeds a sense of doubt in oneself. What do I really want to do with my life ? Am I truly exploring what I want, or putting all my energy into what I think people expect me to do ? Do I just settle, and stay below the radar, or do I challenge myself even when others say I should be happy with what I have now, so don’t rock the boat ?

Do I stretch and put more energy into being there for others while ignoring or seldom expressing my own needs ? Do I conform to the “shoulds” or do I experiment with potential options in my life ? Do I avoid conflict at all cost ? Do I push myself to prove my worth and value but hesitate to reward myself for a job well-done ?

If you have experienced panic attacks or obsessive-compulsive symptoms, please just consider that there are most often, in my humble opinion, reasons why this is happening to you. You may need to feel more in control of your life, which, if lacking, may cause you to experience panic and OCD which creates a more immediate sense of loss of control and at the same time may distract you from what is really going on.

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist / Coach

CEO: The Benhaven Group, LLC

Blog: www.RuledByFear.com

Newsletter and On-Line Support Groups: www.OneStepataTime.com ,
www.PanicAttacks.com , www.Self-Esteem.com

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Were You Manipulated by Somone Lately ?

by on Mar.17, 2014, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

Were You Manipulated by Someone Lately ?

Let me ask the question a little differently. Did you ” allow ” yourself to be manipulated or controlled by another person today, or this past week  ?

Over just the last month I have heard some all too frequent and painful words pass by the lips of some half-dozen new clients who were experiencing Panic Attacks or Obsessive-Compulsive symptoms.

These anxiety symptoms can easily be over-whelming, and not surprisingly, had caused each person in their own way to avoid doing things in their lives that many would take for granted, like driving on the freeway, going into a large-box store, 
enjoying a social life, making changes in their careers or just leaving their homes… for fear of having an anxiety attack..

Here is just a sampling of what I have heard :

     ” I just feel numb emotionally, I just don’t feel joy anymore. When did I stop thinking, feeling and doing for myself. I am certainly not selfish, but I have really gone so far the other way on my life because I have been so dependent on approval from others. I hate this feeling !”
     
     ” I feel overwhelmed, and it is paralyzing as if I cannot move forward. And I am now realizing it is because I have conformed and run my life based of what I felt other people expected of me or needed from me. How pathetic is that ? ”

     ” I am so angry, actually more angry with myself for allowing other people to control my life and not doing anything about it .”

     ” I feel this sense of depersonalization, like a loss of awareness as to who I am and what I really think or feel because I have spent my life seeking approval from others. What am I, chopped liver ? ”

     ” I am “adapted out” …I am like a chameleon, conforming to the needs of others, putting my energy into them and with very little coming back to me.”

     ” I don’t trust myself because I have made bad decisions in my life, and each time I feel like moving forward in any area of my life, my anxiety symptoms get worse. ”

There are many  people out there who are selfish, self-centered and lack empathy for others. They are often those personality types who just like control, and possibly without realizing it, do not listen to you or consider your thoughts and feelings. They may take you for granted, may feel entitled or in other ways show disrespect. While I might argue that some of these very individuals have deeply buried insecurities themselves, these are personality types that often take advantage of, and consciously or unconsciously would manipulate and control you for their own agendas.

As you might have gleaned from the above comments, most of the people I deal with as a therapist are experiencing significant anxiety, mostly in the form of Panic Attacks or Obsessive-Compulsive thoughts and behaviors. In my opinion, at the heart of why many are experiencing  these mind and body numbing symptoms, is conflict. They are, no doubt, feeling overwhelmed by their symptoms, but at the source, more often than not, there are ongoing personal / emotional conflicts that are more fundamentally overwhelming, but being ignored or avoided. As they navigate through the sometimes choppy waters of life, attempting to not just survive, but find a meaning and purpose, they must make fundamental choices. In the case of the majority of my clients, they are more typically adapting personality types, Caregivers, Conformers, Perfectionists and Peacekeepers.

These adapting types seek approval, a sense of belonging and a feeling of acceptance and appreciation on one hand while at the same time trying to realize and care for their own needs to feel worth and value, a purpose and meaning for who they are and what they do with their lives. Often, they come to realize that their  dependency on approval has blinded them, causing them to ignore what they really think, feel and want to accomplish. The result is that they are not feeling emotionally  in-control of their lives.

Now, as suggested before, most do not realize this at first as they are coming to me initially focused on finding an immediate way to eradicate their symptoms, and I certainly understand why that is their priority ! However, once I am able to open the door for them to see that there is, most often,  a reason for all these ugly and dark symptoms, reality comes rushing back and stares them in the face which is why I hear the comments above.

So, stop and think: 

How many times were you controlled or manipulated today ?

How many times did you think something but said nothing for fear of rejection or embarrassment ?

How many times did you go along with someone you disagreed with only because you wanted to avoid a conflict or keep the peace?

How often did you find yourself going over-board to do for others, but did not express your needs?

How many people are there in your life that you really do not like but you still go out of your way to do for them because you want them to like you ?

How much have you given up of your self esteem and confidence because you have allowed yourself to become dependent on others for that approval or acceptance?

How many times did you join in on gossip even if you knew it was hurtful to someone else,  but found yourself sucked-in just to fit in and be accepted ?

How many times did people around you seem to dismiss your opinions, and just turned the discussion around to what they thought and felt ?

How many of your apparent friends tend to find fault or otherwise blame, shame  and guilt others, including you, when someone doesn’t agree with their position ?

How often have you allowed the  ” just be happy with what you have ” comments by others, even family, to interfere or totally derail some personal or career option that you dared to have a thought to explore ?

Why not take a personal inventory of your friends, family and others that you interact with in your life. How one-sided are some of these relationships ? How much emotional conflict is there in your life that you are just over-looking ?

Could you be allowing people to manipulate or control you ? 

If you dare to explore taking greater control of your life, I invite you to join us in our free on-line Support Group Sunday evenings at 9 PM, ET at www.OneStepataTime.com

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist / Coach

CEO: The Benhaven Group, LLC

Blog: www.RuledByFear.com

Newsletter and On-Line Support Groups: www.OneStepataTime.com ,
www.PanicAttacks.com , www.Self-Esteem.com

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Why Panic ?

by on Jan.26, 2014, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

I have often said that one of the more challenging pieces of the puzzle that truly needs to be understood and dealt with is finding the source for the panic attacks a client is experiencing, although I fully realize that the primary focus of the client initially is just getting rid of these anxiety symptoms and being comforted by hearing that this is not a sign that he or she is going crazy. 

Not knowing the source, which amounts to not understanding why this is happening, leaves a person feeling vulnerable and out of control. Not surprisingly, feeling “out of control” is how most people explain how the symptoms make them feel. Medications may lessen the severity of anxiety symptoms, but the haunting thought of them returning is anxiety-producing in and of itself. ” What if the medications wear off or just stop working ?”

As the therapist, I focus intently of listening to my client, getting a feel not only for a peek into their personality and its needs, but also to pick up on bits and pieces of his or her history to see if I can identify emotional conflicts that are more often than not an indicator of the source of the PAs. At times the conflicts and issues are easy to pick up on as I listen not only to my clients words, but more so, the emotions behind the words. At times I meet a client that is harder to read, not because he or she is resistant, but because the client’s personality is such that they tend to habitually blow things off, minimize issues because they feel it is just how life is for them. It is what it is !

One such client came to me as he was obviously in significant emotional pain over having these anxiety symptoms and it was seriously effecting his performing his job. That was a problem, especially because he was a very high-achieving young man, and had responsibilities for a wife who wanted a family. He had to get his act together, but just did not see why this was happening to him.

I pressed him further, and although a rather modest guy, he had in past years created business of his own and had been quite successful. However, although he did well for five years making six-figures and garnering considerable respect in his field, his company was subjected to the fall-out from the banking and housing crisis and the banks stopped lending, and his business died a sudden death. He moved on, because that is what you are supposed to do, and took a significantly lower paying job just to be a responsible person. When his very successful business ended, he was able to pay all debts, so he did not feel guilty, or a failure. I could hear something in his voice, and when i asked him whether he thinks of starting another business since he had proven to be quite good at it, his response was, ” Well, I have thought about it many times, but now I have a wife and we do want to start a family. I cannot take that kind of risk. I mean, I would love to do it, but it would not be fair to her.  And besides, every time I allow myself to dream about starting a business again and being my own boss, the symptoms get worse. How can I seriously think of creating my own business again when I am having these anxiety symptoms ! ”

Now there is a hint that would slap you in the face unless you had your head buried deep in the sand. Once we talked about it, he realized how conflicted he was between giving up on himself as an entrepreneur, and doing what was “right” for his wife and future family. And when he heard himself say that the anxiety symptoms seemed to increase in frequency or intensity whenever he thought about starting a business again, I could see the look on his face that said, ” Did I just say that ? Could my anxiety symptoms be a way of keeping myself from doing what I really love to do, be my own boss again ?”

Oh yes, he got it ! So besides working with some tools we discussed to deal with the anxiety symptoms whenever he felt them coming on, he realized that his best weapon against anxiety was to focus on the source. He needed to make a compromise rather than a sacrifice, a deal with himself to develop a plan and gradually create and take steps to build his business, but step by step so there was less risk.  His wife could be a part of his business. He was in conflict because he was giving up on a very critical piece of who he was and is, instead of focusing on doing what he wants and needs to do to feel in control of his life, but taking appropriate steps in palatable bites rather than leaps as he did when he had no other responsibilities.

What about you ?

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
Benhaven Counseling, LLC

The Benhaven Group, LLC

Blog: www.RuledByFear.com

Newsletter and On-Line Support Group: www.OneStepataTime.com

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Challenge Your Fears or Settle

by on Jan.20, 2014, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

Have you ever felt frustrated with nagging private thoughts because you have avoided doing things in your life that you always told yourself you would…only to put them off again and again ?

Have you always imagined speaking up for yourself but mostly go along to avoid conflict, only to feel anger within yourself for being weak ?

Do you pride yourself on always being there for others but feel that those whom you put energy into seldom seem to think that you have needs too ? Maybe it is because you dare not express those needs for fear of appearing needy !

Do you find your thoughts at times drifting back to earlier years when you made a few bad choices, and maybe when you find yourself contemplating some change or challenge in your life, those thoughts seem to appear to come to the surface more often and with more intensity as if to shut down any chance of moving forward ?

Do you find yourself dwelling and obsessing over issues and situations that seem irrational, so foolish, but seem to take control at times ?

Are there times when you feel the need to carry out some ritual like checking, doing things the same way all the time, or needing to repeat certain behaviors before you can move to something else ? Does the obsessing or the rituals seem to be interfering with you moving on in your life ?

Maybe this is happening due to anxiety and conflicts in your life. Maybe fear of failure, rejection or embarassment is a factor behind that anxiety or those conflicts. You and I have a choice, an option to really understand the forces of fear in our lives, and to create a game plan to face our fears and take control of our personal growth rather than avoid challenges and change so as to not nurture fear !

A large percentage of good people in our society experience significant anxiety, panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive behaviors that all but rule their lives, holding them hostage to their thoughts and symptoms. They avoid doing things outside their limited comfort zone due to their fear of having more anxiety symptoms. The very aware individuals may see that whenever they allow themselves to dare think of moving forward in their lives, the panic attacks become more intense or the intrusive thoughts grow louder.

As a recent client put it to me, ” I have had a few successful experiences, and they felt good, but then I so easily fell back into my old way of seeing myself as weak, and then feel no motivation to stretch, to grow, to challenge. I want to better my life. I have frequent thoughts of doing more, but then I turn around only to see I am still in the same place I was before, comfortably-uncomfortable.”

In my mind, it is all about fear, and the choices we make, or do not make, which is of course, a choice !

It is a very uncomfortable issue to face, but realizing the degree to which our lives can be ruled by fear is the first step. We can blame our genetics,our environment and experiences of childhood, or other traumas, yet the stories of individuals rising above their handicaps, trials and tribulations, to attain great personal growth and sense of purpose always catch our attention and inspire, if only for a few minutes. However, isn’t fear mostly learned ? So why do some find themselves overcoming their fears to achieve, while so many others give in or use their anxiety symptoms as an excuse ?

I was discussing this with a fourteen year old girl who I am so proud to know, and who never ceases to amaze me with her ability to adapt and overcome, including at one point being homeless by herself on the streets at the tender age of ten, and being physically and sexually abused more times that I can even talk about without still choking-up. Yet just recently, she expressed how very happy she is now and what a wonderful Christmas she had with her new family. At one point she could imagine no future, expecting to die on the streets as every day was an exercise in survival. When on the streets, there was no time to give into fear because it was all about survival. Each day she had to choose to do whatever it took to survive, to find food, to find a safe place to sleep. Whether it was hiding in the library until after closing so she could sleep among the less-used rows of reference books that night, or finding a refrigerator box behind Home Depot that she could drag to some alley and use for that night’s shelter from the cold, she was strong and feisty because she had to be ! She made choices because there was no one to make them for her ! She spoke her mind because if she didn’t, she would be perceived as weak and she would not make it through the night. She did not have the option to avoid, and she knew that being personally strong was the only way.

So she could not be spoiled. She could not allow herself to be pampered, or become dependent. She did not have the option to be comfortable. If she screwed up, she took on the responsibility to admit to it, if only to herself, and then to learn from that experience.

And most importantly, she had a plan. She was going to somehow get an education, and get off the streets. That plan was her focus, and every step of that plan gave her more strength to take the next step. She never gave up her faith in God, did not blame God or mankind for her trials, and knew it was and is about having faith in yourself that comes from DOING what makes you stronger, not avoiding.

What is your plan ?

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist

The Benhaven Group

Blog: www.RuledByFear.com

On-Line Support Group / Newsletter : www.OneStepataTime.com

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Out of Control !

by on Nov.10, 2013, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

Out of Control !

One message I have often repeated in my blog and newsletter is that significant anxiety symptoms, especially in the form of panic attacks or obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, often tend to sneak up on their victims. This is why, in my opinion,  so many of my clients have said, ” These symptoms just seem to have come from out of the blue ! ”
 
Well, I truly believe that these symptoms have a cause and therefore need to be treated not just with medications, but with a structured game plan  where therapy helps the suffering individual realize and deal with the causes as well as the resulting fears and symptoms.

The symptoms can be very overwhelming to be sure, and the natural want to control those symptoms leads most clients to medications. I fully understand and appreciate that fact. However, medications, although sometimes helpful, may curb or limit the symptoms, but I seriously question that they are actually treating the cause unless there is found a true medical source for those symptoms. Even when there are thyroid issues, hypoglycemia or other conditions that may predispose a person to anxiety symptoms, while those conditions need to be treated medically, I have not found that the panic or OCD stops after such treatment. Make no mistake, if true medical or neurological conditions exist, by all means they should be treated. I have just not found that to be the case for the vast majority of especially the panic attack or OCD  clients I have worked with during the past forty years.

As just another yet very vivid example of how anxiety symptoms can mask or distract a person from the  true sources for the pain they are feeling, I offer the following :

What I observed of this woman as she sat across from me for the first time was the look of full-blown terror painted on her face and of course  her tears of frustration and hopelessness. She  was feeling totally out of control physically and emotionally, and her husband sitting next to her felt helpless.

No, her focus was not on her panic attacks which she hardly mentioned. Understandably, she was focused instead on the horrible withdrawal symptoms she was experiencing week after week after she stopped taking Xanax. 

She seemed obsessed with making sure I understood that the symptoms she was feeling were real, that she was not making them up, so I just listened at first.
She felt her skin crawling, she could not stay focused  on any one thing as her thoughts ran away from her. She physically and mentally felt out of control, and was dwelling on whether she had some kind of brain or nervous system damage due to previously being on Xanax, at 3 mg. a day.

I knew I had to bring her to a point where I could help her to focus on why all this was happening, but that was a challenge as anything I said was not being heard over the dominant fear-based chatter going on in her head. I realized the withdrawal symptoms were real, but her fears and resulting anxiety were making all her symptoms worse.

So after listening to her intently, and showing acknowledgment and respect for all she was going through, I asked her…. ” Why were you put on Xanax, especially that high of a dosage, to begin with ?” She had to collect her thoughts and wipe her tears, and I could see that look on her face that almost cried out, ” What does that matter ? ” However, after a few seconds and with her spouse’s urging, she related a story of being  a rather perfectionistic wife, mother and loyal friend who was just helping neighbors through a difficult crisis in their lives when ” this anxiety just came over me ! ” She ended up in the ER, then being seen by the hospital’s house psychiatrist, and was placed on the rather significant dose of Xanax. From that point on, it became all about her unreal feelings while taking the medications, and the horrible withdrawal symptoms once she stopped the meds.

I brought her back around to the reality that, as the doctors had told her,  the medications would gradually work their way out of her system, and she should continue working with her PCP regarding her physical symptoms, but that I wanted to refocus on the true source of the anxiety, as her withdrawal symptoms had all but distracted her from the real problem.

So then she listened as I told her about herself, where I described her perfectionistic and caregiving personality which had run unchecked and unbridled for many years leading to her gradually overwhelming herself, and creating anxiety and panic attacks. In essence, I was describing a good person, well-meaning and caring, who was burning the candle at both ends. She sat there acknowledging that yes, she did tend to take on too much, and rarely could say no to anyone’s request for her help. Why not, it felt good to be needed and see herself as useful and well-liked ! How could that be a problem !

I could see her husband’s facial gestures and eye-rolling that all but said that his wife was minimizing the extent to which SHE OVER-EXTENDED herself all the time. She was addicted to pleasing !  However, without boundaries, that need to be needed and fix others had become a self-sabotaging path to disaster.  I expressed to her that this is less a disease, and more of a reaction to her habitual, compulsive pattern of overwhelming herself because her very positive personality characteristics had run amok and caused her to unravel.

Once she realized what had happened and truly embraced it, and that took some time and soul-searching, she learned to set healthy limits and boundaries. She learned she was not broken, and that she could be better than she was before, as she could still be who she was, but would make smarter choices. Her pain taught her to take better care of herself. Unfortunately, without pain, she would never have seriously considered change. Would you ?

She had to realize that all she had been through was not a sign of weakness, but a sign that corrections needed to be made where she created a greater balance in her life between being there for others and being there for herself. She was not needy, but she had needs. She was not selfish, but needed to take care of herself. She could be there for others, but knew where to draw the line so that the energy she put into others was better matched with the energy coming back.

Oh, she would still screw up at times and have little setbacks as old habits are hard to break, but she would catch herself and readjust. That’s how it works !

Just a thought or two !

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist / Coach
dba, The Benhaven Group, LLC

Blog: www.RuledByFear.com

On Line Support Group: www.OneStepataTime.com

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Fear Grows in an Atmosphere of Avoidance

by on Aug.18, 2013, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD, STOPPING ABUSE

Personal Growth comes only when we stretch, explore and challenge our own personal status quo. Many of us do not realize how much time we spend AVOIDING options or choices to grow, as avoidance can become a habit as it is often the result backing down from fear, which in turn leads to a feeling of weakness and self-doubt, leading to more avoidance.

Some may just be lucky that they are either “wired” for success or grew up in an atmosphere that nurtured the idea of taking risks to grow and not be as  vulnerable to the fears of failure, rejection, ridicule or embarrassment. But then, there ate others whose early years were so fraught with challenges that they used all their mental energy to escape being ever again so vulnerable to fear. Don’t we marvel at the person who, against all odds, comes through life so motivated to take on challenges and build empires ? In some ways, these individuals were forced by the dark side of life, and some of the darker people they came up against to see evidence that they could persevere, that they were witness to the fact that what they did to survive demonstrated an inner strength. That inner strength created a momentum that was hard to stop, as they were not ruled by fear.

Then there are the rest of us mere mortals, good people all in all, from loving families, maybe somewhat over-protected and under-challenged. We may not be Supermen or Wonder-Women but we CAN ACHIEVE GREAT THINGS if we can escape our fearful thoughts, which although often meant to protect, most frequently detour many of our efforts to grow outside what is comfortable,  leaving us comfortably-uncomfortable.

So how do we achieve great things when up against our fearful thoughts, and the self-doubt ?
First, we might recognize that many of the anxiety symptoms, panic attacks, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors we experience might just be a reaction to feeling trapped in our so-called comfortable lives. When we give into our fears and avoid, we feel a sense of inner weakness, a feeling of not quite being in control of our lives. Could that feeling possibly trigger an anxiety reaction, which then in itself creates more of a sense of being out of control, just maybe ? But once truly recognized and with a carefully laid out plan, we can step by step, with a support team around us, begin to challenge our fears.

The following are comments from a client who has experienced significant anxiety in the form of Obsessive- Compulsive symptoms but has begun to seriously explore why he was having these anxiety symptoms that all but paralyzed him in his life. He asked that I share what he has experienced as he talks himself through his fearful and sabotaging thoughts :

” I hate this job ! I think this is a euphemism for I hate myself for being in this job. 

Whoa, let’s look at reality ! I am disappointed that I am not doing more to change my situation, but that is no reason to hate myself. Besides, I am now taking steps. They might not seem like much, but they are steps. I am taking a class this Fall to give myself a bit of a challenge and get my feet wet. I am starting to read a Calculus textbook to refresh myself. I am making plans to contact a past college professor, to see if he has any suggestions on how I can achieve my new goal of teaching at the college level.

I am the one who is living my life. If I am not happy then I should do whatever I can to make myself happy. If others do not approve, are skeptical or negative about what I want to do to make myself happy, then I need to realize that while I am sorry they feel that way, it is my life, my happiness that I need to pursue, not theirs.  So they can either help or get out of my way. If they cannot be supportive, I must go around them as they are symbols of the fears and negative thoughts that I have allowed to hold me back.

I am intelligent. I am capable. I care about people. I can do this !!! ”

It is hard work, but aren’t you worth the effort to do more of what you are capable of doing with your life  ?  The more you avoid, the more conflict you feel within yourself, the angrier or more frustrated you become. You need reasonable goals with reasonable steps, and then allow each step to motivate you to the next move. 

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
Benhaven Counseling, LLC

Blog: www.RuledByFear.com

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Intrusive Thoughts Paralyze

by on Mar.17, 2013, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

I spend much of my time as a therapist helping people who have Intrusive Thoughts, where a person obsesses over something, often an irrational thought, to the point that it can paralyze them from getting anything meaningful done for hours if not days.

For some, the focus of their thoughts is on some health issue, and most often not an actual physical issue they are dealing with but one they fear might arise. Every ache or pain triggers the fear of something more serious lurking around the corner.

Others find themselves spending vast amounts of their energy avoiding germs, not necessarily because they have had some disease, but they experience this urge, this unexplainable need to wash their hands repeatedly, or to shower multiple times before they feel comfortable enough to move on.

Still others find themselves checking their work over and over for fear that there is something they are missing that could lead to a disaster, failure or rejection.

A person can find himself obsessing over anything and then compulsively needing to carry out some repetitive behavior like checking, reorganizing and repeating some behavior while his day is passing him by. The nature of the thoughts and the resulting rituals know no boundaries, but they can be paralyzing.

If you have not experienced a form of obsessive-compulsive behavior, you may think it odd that others do. Certainly, some individuals who do find themselves trapped in the endless pattern of obsessing and carrying out rituals are the butt of jokes and sitcoms. But the reality is, many people suffer from this anxiety disorder and it is quite emotionally painful.

Having had a turn at obsessive-compulsive behaviors of my own,  I enjoy working with these individuals in therapy, because I understand them. Of course I find them intelligent and truly wanting to find an avenue to control their thoughts and rituals. They are most often driven to find answers. There are most often sensitive, empathetic, adapting and caring people.

But what I also find is that they are people who have experienced emotional  conflicts in their lives, where they are caught between doing what they feel they should, what is expected of them versus doing what they want, what is personally satisfying. It might be a child  experiencing her first taste of rejection at the hands of a new student that she attempted to befriend, only to find the new friend bad-talking her to others. It might be an adolescent experiencing normal sexual urges but also being sensitive to what he has been taught about being responsible and respectful, what is right and wrong. Does he follow his basic urges, does he experiment and take risks ?  It might be a young man raised in a perfectionistic environment where he feels nothing he does is good enough, yet he gives up being a child to do all he can to please his parents’ expectations.

Emotional  conflicts often cause much frustration and anger, but the emotions are suppressed for fear of rejection. Suppressed emotions can do harm.

Conflict and conflicting emotions, especially anger, tends to create a sense of not being in control. Anger especially can ramp up ones brain chemistry so the person has strange feelings, even panic attacks. Not feeling in control, and not understanding the emotional turmoil that is brewing below the surface only adds to those feeling of not being in control.

This is when the person may find himself having intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, momentary yet irrational thoughts leading to an urge to carry out some ritual, some compulsive behavior. Carrying out the compulsive behavior may give some relief, create a sense that ‘If I do this, I will feel better “, thus creating a temporary sense of control. Then  the compulsive behavior becomes a habit.

When a client is willing to do the work to uncover the emotional conflicts, and also make some changes in how they deal with issues and people in their lives, they can in fact learn to challenge and take control of their intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. The trick is to be able to guide the client to see the true causes and triggers, and offer the needed support while steps are taken to face changes. What these people need most of all is understanding and support. If you know someone with OCD, remember that !

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist
Newsletter and Support Group : www.OneStepataTime.com
Blog: www.RuledByFear.com
Facebook: www.Facebook.com/groups/RuledByFearhttp://www.dreamstime.com/-image20924564

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Broken Merry Go Round

by on Feb.10, 2013, under Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD

While taking my puppy Izzy on a ride through the park this morning, I found myself intently listening to the lyrics of a song, ” Merry Go Round ” , by singer Kacey Musgraves…

” Mary Mary quite contrary,We get bored so we get marriedAnd just like dust we settle in this town.On this broken merry go ’round and ’round and ’round we go,Where it stops nobody knows…And it ain’t slowin’ down, this merry go ’round…

We think the first time’s good enough,So we hold on to high school love,Say we won’t end up like our parents.

Tiny little boxes in a row, Ain’t what you want it’s what you know, Just happy in the shoes you’re wearin’.

Read more: http://artists.letssingit.com/kacey-musgraves-lyrics-merry-go-round-vlwdr26#ixzz2KVwrcQL7
LetsSingIt – Your favorite Music Community

I had been thinking all week about a few clients who, despite some significant efforts on their parts to escape their past sabotaging thoughts and self-limiting perceptions of themselves, seemed to be stuck on that Merry Go Round, where any real change in their lives was thwarted by their negative self-talk, reinforced by fear.

One man in particular had made some very real efforts to change, to escape his boring life and take some risks. He actually quit his go nowhere job, and went back to school to seek at least an associates degree in alternative energies, something he felt some passion about. He actually did quite well, not only excelling in his classes, but being recognized by fellow students who requested tutoring from him, and then being recognized by a professor as being an exceptional student. Of course seemed proud at the time of what he accomplished and the accolades.

The anxiety symptoms and especially his rather severe obsessive-compulsiuve behaviors that had previously been ruling much of his life began to weaken some. He was surprised and I was extremelypleased at his progress. I knew much of his OCD was the result of his frustrations and conflicts with himself, so I did expect some decrease in his symptoms.

After two semesters, he had to return to work to pay bills, hoping to return to school in the near future. Sadly, within two months of being  back at work and away from school, all his anxiety symptoms returned and his OCD was wreaking havoc. He was again stuck on the Merry Go Round of his previous life, going nowhere and being ruled by his  self-defeating negative thoughts.

As we talked about his loss of momentum, he struggled a bit to explain his thoughts and feelings, but then he uttered  an illuminating comment. ” I Never Embraced the Changes I was Making !”

Over those two semesters, he did experience what felt very new and different. He did “witness” that he was actually knowledgable, and was in fact able to help other students. But the whole time, it was like he was another person in some make believe world. He never really accepted, adopted, or presumed to be that person. Those two semesters were no match for his previous lifetime of ” that’s good enough”, “don’t make waves “, ” just be content with what you have and who you are “. ” I realize now that I dummed-down my good experiences so as not to rock the boat.” So even though his boat was going nowhere, the risk and fear of failure, rejection and embarrassment over-ruled his good experiences, all but erasing them from memory.

The bright side of this story is that there is a good chance that this young man can still get off the Merry Go Round. Since together we are not allowing him to forget what he actually did achieve, and armed with the realization that it takes continued, persistent,repeated experiences to break free of the ” gravitational pull ” of his past, he can plan his next steps to more effectively project himself into the world of his potential.

He can change, by taking steps, one at a time, but not allowing dust to settle on his efforts.You cannot take breaks from your efforts at personal growth. You must become ” obsessed ”  with that growth to truly get off that Merry Go Round of the past, and never give into the urge to avoid. You must be ready to talk out loud about steps you are taking to grow. You must share your experiences with all who will listen, and not be detoured by non-believers. You must actively build a support system of like people. I believe this man will make it if he has the needed support and knowledge of how real change is accomplished.

“Tiny little boxes in a row, Ain’t what you want it’s what you know, Just happy in the shoes you’re wearing’.”

How about you ?

Gene Benedetto, Psychologist

Benhaven Counseling

Blog: RuledByFear.com

On-Line Support Group: OneStepataTime.com

Facebook: Facebook.com/groups/RuledByFearhttp://www.dreamstime.com/-image26688221

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