Panic attacks spoil your wish to be superior than your baser emotions
You pride yourself on doing things the right way, being punctual, polite, well turned out and the perfect friend. You can’t abide people who are lazy, don’t make the effort and don’t seem to care how they come across. You watch your every move and plan your every step. You want to be the calm rational person instead of the reactive person who can’t get a grip on themselves. You want to be above your baser instincts. Then along comes a series of unexpected panic attacks. Your confidence in managing your life is shaken. Suddenly the whole premise and foundation on which you lived your life is destroyed. You are subject to emotional experiences beyond your control and can do little to prevent.
Abusive relationships take away the normal control you have over your life
The problem is that you were trying to manage the things in your life that were under your direct control, but were unaware of the harm being done to you by those on whom you were depending on to treat you right. Lacking control to change others because you need them to be in your life is a major cause of persistent and pervasive panic attacks.
Feeling abused and mistreated but not being able to fight against is an example of being powerless to change the people you are dependent on for love, self-esteem, security and a sense of self-worth.
Panic attacks may be the only safe way to express anger at someone you are dependent on
If you are in a situation where you feel the need to stay in a relationship because it brings security and a sense of belonging, the only safe way to express the anger and resentment against being powerless is to have panic attacks. But once you understand where the panic comes from and what its purpose it, you have the chance to counter the fear and anger, and set yourself free from panic and the embarrassment it causes.
Bethany keeps getting involved with abusive men and suffers panic attacks
Bethany longed to have a stable relationship with a man and live a normal, loving and fulfilling life. She had bad luck with men. The ones she got attracted to seemed nice when she met them but once in the relationship she found that they were manipulative and uncaring. She was devastated each time, giving her bouts of panic attacks when ever she recalled the hurt and her own naive trust.
Abuse was nothing new to Bethany. Her mother had always blamed her for any and everything that went wrong in the house, be it the cat throwing up or the fridge being empty. She was the butt of her mother’s anger and was too scared to fight back. Bethany wanted her mother to see her in a good light. The only way to get noticed by her mother was to be perfect and that meant keeping her opinions and feelings to herself. She dare not challenge false assumptions or inaccuracies. Her mother’s way was the only way, leaving Bethany in a terrible quandary.
Fear of going it alone kept Bethany trapped in panic attacks
Could she use her own experience and be a person in her own right without the support of her mother? Bethany believed she couldn’t. Bethany needed her mother’s help with rent while she was attempting to make it in the world of work. She couldn’t afford to cross or upset her mother. So she tried to be the perfect daughter, to stay connected. But it wasn’t who she was or wanted to be. Her freedom to explore her life and expand her world was severely limited by the dependency on her mother.
Panic attacks evoked care from her mother in ways that brought concern without having to be perfect. The panic attacks gave Bethany a justification for her feelings of dependency. But it also stunted her growth and kept her from making healthy relationships with men. They resembled her mother in the way they would ignore her feelings and ride rough shod over her. Bethany would then retreat back into the fold of the maternal relationship and remain dependent and afraid to step out on her own.
Panic attacks express Bethany's dependence on loved one despite their abuse
The purpose of Bethany’s panic attacks was to keep her dependent on her mother to maintain the relationship, abusive though it was. However, there is also a healthy aspect to the panic attacks. Bethany’s attention was focused on her dependency and sense of powerlessness. That focus motivated her to seek a way of having a connection with her mother that wasn’t so demeaning, giving her space to grow and become less dependent.
Facing the fear and finding her strength helped Bethany avoid panic without loss of connection
Learning to use her voice and her own mind was difficult and not without risk. At first Bethany could only do it in tiny amounts in a safe therapeutic context. With practice and an enhanced sense of entitlement to her views and experiences she practiced telling her mother what she thought and felt. She worked through the storms in therapy, realizing that her mother was as afraid of losing her daughter as Bethany was of being independent. As the relationship became healthier and less abusive, Bethany no longer needed panic attacks to maintain the connection. She developed a sense of empowerment that propelled her into wanting a life of her own rather than fearing it. The lessening of fear together with a desire to experience a mutually dependent healthy relationship helped her to find and feel attracted to more suitable men.
With a strong voice and a firm sense of her self-identity, the panic attacks faded away.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Dr. Jeanette Raymond is a psychologist and relationship expert. She helps individuals and couples understand their fears and worries that get in the way of healthy connections so that they don't have to suffer the shame and distress of fear and panic when things go wrong.