Anxious In Love: How To Speak Up For Yourself
I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety that I carried since childhood, and I recognized that advocating for myself feels difficult- It might always feel difficult. Even in safe relationships, my body is on high alert, signalling distress. If I wanted healthy communication, then I needed to develop skills to balance my anxiety and wants of clear communication.
I’m not an expert, but I am an advocate. Here are my tips on advocating for yourself when your body tells you not to.
The Body Comes First
Take time to rest, drink water, and eat. Before entering any situation that could feel particularly difficult, take proactive measures by taking care of your body first. When I take care of my body, the mind’s wellness follows.
Check that your partner(s) take care of their bodily needs before big conversations too!
Ask For Availability
Ask your partner(s) when they’re free to talk about your feelings. Do this in as personal a way as possible (not over text) by talking to them in person, video chat, or the phone. Ask for consent to have a deeper conversation first before jumping in, “I’m having a really hard time processing X, do you think you’d have time to talk with me sometime soon about it? I really would love your support.” This allows your partner(s) to join in on supporting you instead of feeling attacked or defensive by a surprise serious talk.
Don't Expect a Negative Response
With my anxiety, I recognized that I cannot believe every thought in my head- and just because I think a thought, doesn’t make the thought unequivocally true.
Use self-talk to avoid assumptions. start by challenging the assumptions in your head about your partners' responses and reactions before a discussion. When I practice self-talk, I remind myself, “I may feel worried that my partner will react badly, but that doesn’t mean I can predict my partner’s feelings.”
Use “I Statements.”
You might have heard ‘use I statements’ before - but they’re surprisingly hard to do correctly.
One tip is to try to be as objectively descriptive of what occurred as possible, then state the feelings the event induced for you. Don’t assume intentions in your statements. This helps conversations go more smoothly without assumptions.
Start With What You Want, Not What You Don't Want
One of the worst things you can do when practicing self-advocacy is telling your partner “I feel hurt - so you’re not allowed to (*insert action to prevent you from feeling hurt ever again*)!” The fact is- that hurt is inevitable. Controlling what your partner can(’t) do isn’t going to make you feel more in control.
The Difference Between Boundaries And Rules
In order to state your wants or needs, they should be framed as boundaries and not rules.
Rules are telling your partner(s) what to do “or else” there will be consequences (such as losing the relationship). Not all rules are unreasonable, but it can lead to unhealthy relationships.
Boundaries are about your body, time, and space. Boundaries are about bringing agency over your mental and physical health. You are the only one who has a say over your boundaries.
Rule: You can’t sleep over at anyone else's house but mine.
Boundary: When you plan to sleep over at someone else's house, I would like to talk about ways we can support each other first.
In sharing boundaries, focus less on controlling exactly how your partner(s) meet your needs. Instead, open up space to allow them to step up as you step back. Brainstorm together. “I need to feel supported and reassured to feel safe in a relationship” is a boundary, and you and your partner(s) have endless ways of providing that for each other. Be real and vulnerable with each other.
Make a Clear Ask of Your Partner, Community, and Yourself!
As a relationship anarchist who wants to change the white-supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy, I acknowledge that western ideology of individualism often isolates individuals. It is your responsibility to work through your emotions, but you don’t have to be alone in that. We heal better together.
Make clear asks for support. Collaborating with your partner(s) to become co-conspirators in love is key. Reflect, “what can my partner(s) do to help me feel secure? Could I ask my friends/community to help? Could I do some of this reassurance work with a therapist?”
Take initiative in your healing by asking for help when you need it!