Anxious feelings come from fearing the unpredictability and continuous change of our world. What cannot be controlled or predicted is so frightening for some of us, anxiety becomes the perspective from which we view everything. Even families, which we would like to be a source of solace, are often riddled with tension stemming from the unpredictability of life, love, and relationships.
Why the Anxiety?
In a family, some members are highly predictable. Others may relate in different ways at different times, depending on their mood. People who are predictably angry, needy, sad (or whatever) stir anxiety because everyone anticipates their angry or needy actions.
Changeable people who are maybe accepting in the morning but critical in the afternoon, cause anxiety because no one knows what to expect. However, whether predictable or not, these people constitute our family, and most of us care about our family despite its imperfections.
Caring can lead to anxiety also. What we care about we dread losing. When anticipating the loss of loved ones, no matter how annoying they may be, we become anxious. This is not a mystery. Coming to terms with a family member’s death might take months or years, and the process can be excruciatingly painful.
Every family develops habitual patterns of communication. The fabric of families are sewn with these patterns or threads. Without intending to, parents and children can create fabric that is threadbare in places, worn with anxiety.
Sometimes family anxiety is a chain reaction event. One or both parents, tired and stressed from work, snap at each other. An argument follows, and the youngest child begins crying. The older child then runs off to the bedroom, slamming the door shut.
In some families, one child may unwittingly take on the role of anxiety-absorber. This child might eventually act out, or shut down emotionally, and appear to be the source of the family’s problems. However, their actions are a symptom of deeper family issues.
Blaming self or others solves nothing, and no blame is being given here. Children need to be held accountable for their actions, or they cannot learn from them. However, parents (or other care givers) can best serve their family by looking at how they communicate with each other, and with the kids. This is not easy to do, and why family therapists exist.
Signs of Family Anxiety
- When a parent(s) is controlling, to the point of preventing their children age appropriate discovery and development, the parent(s) is usually anxious. It is a parent’s duty to keep their children safe but also to let them become increasingly self-sufficient.
Over-controlling parents frequently fear the loss of their child, or they may be bent on shaping the child to suit their own needs, instead of getting to know the child as he or she is.
- One family member being singled out as the source of family troubles indicates an anxious home. The problem person needs to express their thoughts and feelings effectively but doesn’t know how or is afraid of sharing them, or both.
It never helps to blame this person, or to tread lightly around them. What’s necessary is looking at the family’s ways of talking to each other.
- Everyone walking on eggshells around one or both parents indicates family anxiety. A parent can attempt to get their own needs met using controlling behavior and the energy of their darker moods and feelings. Though the parent’s needs are real, they will not be met since the parent is alienating the other family members.
Children may use behavior like this to get attention or get their way. The behavior should not be rewarded, but the child’s needs are real and must be discovered and met.
- Any home that exhibits constant conflict is obviously full of tension. Those that appear perennially perfect are likely living in a pool of anxiety as well.
The family unit is venerated by many and that can keep us from looking at our own clan realistically. Families meet our need for belonging and we can get used to accepting fear and anxiety as the price we must pay for that belonging. If nothing changes, the anxiety producing behaviors pass to the next generation.
Temporary periods of anxiety are inevitable, but anxiety is harmful as a way of life. The first step in changing habitual anxiety-producing family patterns is becoming aware of them. This requires courage as it involves looking at our foibles, but we all have them. They don’t indicate a bad person, parent, or child, just a human being.