Leading From Anxiety


Brian is a good manager, his people like him, feel supported by him and trust him in times of conflict. Brian gives everything to his employees; always willing to take calls at any time, going above and beyond with praise and incentives and rewards. On the flip side though, Brian constantly feels like he has to be, "on". A racing pace or a totally off pace are the only modes he knows. At times Brian can even feel resentful towards his team, like they didn't appreciate him enough and take him for granted. He especially hates it when he feels someone on his team disappointed or sees them under performing and he knows he'll have to confront them. In normal language Brian says he is a "pleaser" and that that is what keeps him always scanning people and places to make sure others are okay. This, he says, helps him feel good about himself.

Brian has a strategy for relating that would fall in the anxious/pre-occupied attachment style (see more about this in this post: .http://analogcounseling.com/therapy-blog/why-do-i-do-what-i-do-attachment-styles-explained). He leads from a place of serving others to the detriment of his own independence and needs. On the surface this is because he feels better when he gets the reaction from others that they like having him around. Underneath, when Brian lets himself think about it briefly in the shower or on his commute, he fears losing others, being rejected and being found not good enough. When Brian gets in social situations he can often feel insecure, like he will be found uninteresting and/or incompetent. To combat his fear of experiencing rejection and shame he compensates by automatically tuning into others needs over his own. He doesn't bring his own needs up because he secretly feels that if he were to do so at best people wouldn't be interested in them and at worst they would be put off by them.

Brian grew up in a home where he felt he didn't fit in. He was quite and his family was loud. He was into reading and computer games and his family was into sports and always being on the go. His parents were good people and loved him the best they could but Brian struggled to feel understood and validated in his natural self. So he adapted, early on, he started getting interested in what his parents were interested in and he noticed he could sustain their attention this way. He also became good at listening to his mom when she was having a bad day. He could agree with his dad when he griped at the news or other drivers on the road. Brian adapted in order to do a really health thing, find security. However, as an adult, when the pressures of life mount up through work, spouse, kids, activities, etc. his strategy for relating exhausts him and at times either causes him to shut down and totally retreat or blow up or become depressed. All of which leave him feeling bad.

Brian's work is to tune into himself and re-train his brain to assume something different about other people. This is both a solo and a relational work. Meaning, this will take both learning about himself and applying himself to new ways of thinking and relating but also, and more importantly, it will take new relational experiences in which Brian can learn by experience that what he assumes is not always the case. This is a work that is MUCH easier said than done. However, it is possible with many people to make a significant change in this area. An anxious attachment style is an adaptive strategy that says something like, "I know I like it when people are there for me and they are there for me sometimes but at other times they're not. I can't stand the rollercoaster of the "will they/won't they" so I'm just gonna assume the highest standards all the time with people, that way I have a better chance at getting the connection I need." While this anxious approach helps Brian not feel his feelings (which would only get in the way he thinks) and to secure himself with others it's not sustainable for a happy life. Brian is working on two steps:

  1. Feeling his feelings when they occur and understand what they mean for him.
  2. Learning to trust people with his feelings/needs.

A manager who is more in that ball park will still be able to attune to and satisfy his team while also feeling more balanced and whole on the inside.