11 Things Your Mom Might Have Done That Contributed To Your Anxiety
Anxiety has roots in many things, so it's not always possible to point to one cause, and call it a day. It's often due to a mix of biology (as it is with generalized anxiety disorder), your environment (maybe you have a super stressful job), as well as how you were raised. All of it might make you more prone to anxiety.
Take your relationship with your parents — and especially your mom — for example. "From the day you were born, she was the one who protected you from danger, gave you food, and provided comfort during countless moments of distress," Dr. Kevin Hyde, a licensed psychologist, tells Bustle. "That bond can be wonderful, but also leads you to follow her patterns and ingrain her voice into your conscience." So if your mom raised you to be anxious, or was anxious herself, there's a really good chance you might be anxious, too.
That doesn't mean, however, that you have to live with anxiety forever. "Anxiety is a well-ingrained habit, like all other habits, that once you learn them, you never forget," psychotherapist Susan L. Taylor, LMSW, DBH, tells Bustle. "Therefore, new learning is absolutely vital in learning how to prevent anxiety, deal with it when it happens, and allow normal anxiety to be in your life as a guide for safe behavior rather than a detriment to living." If your mom did any of these things listed below, experts say you may have a greater chance of developing anxiety. But it is possible to move past it, with a little extra effort.
1. She Avoided Being Uncomfortable
Your mom is a human, so you can't really blame her if she avoided situations that made her uncomfortable. It is important to note, however, how it may have affected you.
"If your mom never put herself in situations that made her uncomfortable, she was inadvertently teaching you that being uncomfortable is 'bad' and you shouldn't have to tolerate it," Dr. Crystal I. Lee, clinical psychologist and founder of LA Concierge Psychologist, tells Bustle. "However, anxiety is strengthened by avoidance behaviors. So by teaching you to avoid anxiety-provoking situations, you never learned the necessary distress tolerance skills needed to manage your anxiety."
Sound familiar? Although many factors might be at play, this may explain why you have a low tolerance for stress, and thus lots of anxiety, as an adult.
2. She Was Anxious, No Matter The Situation
Similarly, if your mom was an anxious person — regardless of the situation — it may have rubbed off on you. "Children look to their parents for cues about how to interpret situations, especially new or ambiguous ones," Dr. Lee says. "So if your mother was always exhibiting anxiety, as a child you would be more likely to believe that the world is generally unsafe."
This is something that can be unlearned by going outside your comfort zone now that you're an adult, and doing things you know your mom would never do — just to prove to yourself that you can "survive." It may also be helpful to see a therapist, who can help get you outside your comfort zone.
3. She Was Inconsistent
Anxiety can also crop up when a parent raises their child in an inconsistent environment. "If your mother was nurturing and attuned at times and insensitive, emotionally unavailable, and dismissive at other times, then you are more likely to have an anxious attachment," Dr. Lee says. "This is because, as a child, you didn't know what kind of treatment you'd get from your mother. As a result, you develop an anxious attachment, which results in you feeling insecure, anxious, and clingy (as a child and then in relationships as an adult)."
You might notice this playing out in your romantic relationships, where you never feel sure about anything. It's something that can be worked on in therapy, and by recognizing where the tendency comes from.
4. She Was A Helicopter Parent
While it's great that your mom cared and wanted to make sure you were safe, there's a chance she went overboard and entered "helicopter parent" territory. And if she did, it can explain a lot.
"If your mom was a typical helicopter parent, you're more likely to develop anxiety as a result," Hyde says. "When she always swoops in to save the day, it's much harder for you to believe you are capable of handling a stressful situation. As a result, you begin to show an anxiety reaction to new and challenging situations when mom isn't around to help."
You might have noticed your inability to cope after high school, or when you entered college. Oftentimes, people who grew up with helicopter parents don't feel ready for the "real world," and have to go through anxiety before they find their way.
5. She Relied On You Too Heavily
Once you're an adult, nothing's better than having your mom as your best friend — someone you can hang out with, confide in, etc. But if she relied on you too heavily when you were a kid, and either tried to be your friend or expected too much of you, it may account for the anxiety you now have as an adult.
As licensed psychologist Kate Balestrieri, PsyD, CSAT-S tells Bustle, "When this happens, children often feel a mix of privilege and overwhelm to be there for their mom, which can result in a hero complex, an absence of a distinct sense of self, poor boundaries, and chronic and debilitating anxiety in adult relationships." This is another issue that's often best dealt with in therapy.
6. She Was Overly Critical Of You
"One major way your mother could have increased your chances of having anxiety is being overly critical of you," GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle. "Being criticized, minimized, put down, and dismissed at a young age are all major ways people develop anxiety in adulthood."
The good news is, you can re-build your self-esteem as an adult. By surrounding yourself with positive people, and seeking advice from a therapist or other loved ones, it will be possible to move past this type of negativity.
7. She Was Super Unpredictable
Was your mom unpredictable? "If she was explosive, intolerant, disciplinary, or had a short fuse, the fear of her reaction as a child can cause a person to develop anxiety in adulthood," Guarino says.
To move past this instability, you can begin by establishing "your independence and autonomy," Guarino says. "Your mother was a major influence in your life growing up, but now you are your own person. You have the power to create boundaries and change the way you see yourself and the world around you. It takes time and practice, but developing confidence will help you unlearn all of the habits that have caused you to develop anxiety."
If your mom is still in your life in a healthy way, that's great. But if she continues to be toxic, it's OK to move on and forge your own life, away from your family.
8. She Had Specific Phobias
Again, you can't blame your mom for struggling with her own issues. But it may be insightful to realize where your phobias come from, if you have any now that you're an adult.
Take a fear of driving, a fear of spiders, a fear of heights — anything your mom might have made a big deal out of, or avoided, as you were growing up. "It becomes a vicious cycle of a feared situation, avoidance of that situation, and then generalize that fear to another similar situation because of the anxiety it causes, and then avoidance of that situation," says Taylor. "As you can see, this can easily become very impairing for kids and adults."
9. She Didn't Trust Your Judgment
"If you heard, 'that's not what you should be doing,' a million times while you were growing up, you're likely to hear it when you're on your own," Hyde says. "That internal voice often leads to doubts about your own abilities and therefore an anxiety reaction."
When you feel like you can't trust your gut, anxiety often isn't far behind. The good news is this is something that can be worked on and improved, often with the help of a therapist.
10. She Made All Your Decisions For You
"If your mom made all your decisions for you — what to wear, what to eat, who to be friends with — that may be a contributing factor to anxiety as an adult," Raffi Bilek, marriage counselor and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Bustle.
In doing so, she also may have accidentally sent the message that you can't think for yourself, or that your decisions are wrong. It is something you can overcome, though, with patience. "To counteract this influence, start by making really small decisions, and take note when nothing terrible happens," Bilek says. "Build up to making bigger decisions as your confidence in yourself grows."
11. She Downplayed Your Emotions
If your mom occasionally told you you were overreacting to a situation, she was probably right. We've all had moments growing up where we got a bit dramatic. But if she made it a habit out of downplaying your feelings, it likely had a lasting impact.
"When our parents minimize, dismiss, or tell us to 'get over' something ... we learn that we are wrong to feel negative emotions," therapist Julie Williamson, LPC, NCC, RPT, tells Bustle. "So, as we grow up and experience negative emotions, we judge ourselves for them. Someone might do something that makes us feel angry, but we feel anxiety instead because we are judging ourselves for having a feeling of anger, a feeling we were taught was unacceptable to have growing up."
These are all things you can work through as an adult, and move past if you feel like it's giving you anxiety. Anxiety is something that can be biological, as well as something that can stem from the way we were raised. By seeing a therapist — or reminding yourself that you can rethink how you act in certain situations — it will be possible to move past anxiety.