“In my clinical experience, the greatest block to a person’s development is his having to take on a way of life, which is not rooted in his own powers.”
Rollo May (American psychologist)
Today a story about an old client of mine named Kermit. Yes, that was his name, why his mother named him that I never ventured to ask but Kermit came to me because everything made him nervous. He carried a ‘man purse’ because he needed to keep his props with him at all times. A flask with alcohol, chewing gum, a hat that “brought him luck” and other items he said he couldn’t leave the house without.
Meeting people, making small talk––just looking them in the eye––made him nervous.
Because of this, he avoided interacting with people as best he could. The big challenge was that he worked for the government as a Russian translator. That made it impossible to avoid people.
Before attending social functions he drank alcoholic beverages at home to calm his nerves. He didn’t drink in public as his religion forbid alcohol. So he did it in private.
Whenever he had to give a presentation at work, he’d buy a pint beforehand and drink it in the men’s room. Then he chewed gum so his workmates wouldn’t smell the booze on his breath. (Of course he wasn’t fooling anybody.)
No matter where he went, he’d take whiskey with him. That made it easier to cope. He was living a secret life––one he didn’t want––so we worked on his inability to cope with people, noise, intimacy, dining in public, authority…anything that forced him to deal with his life without props.
Kermit’s case isn’t uncommon. Whether taking alcohol or illegal drugs, medication, carrying objects, doing certain behaviors or needing someone with you, many anxiety sufferers rely on props to give them support. Recently I learned about a woman who traveled on planes with her comfort dog. But after it was no longer allowed (due to size or behavior) she still had the empty travel case on her lap so she could stroke it for comfort. These things may sound too odd us, but for those who need them,they are important. They provide what the individual needs to make situations bearable.
How about you? What do you rely on to help you through difficult situations? Baseball fans turn their caps inside out––they call them rally caps––during nail-biter situations when their team needs to score. Day traders keep the first lucky dollar and rub it for luck. Some folks have to be seated with their backs to the wall in public places. Others only feel safe in the exit aisle on airplanes.
Can you go anywhere without anti-anxiety medications or your partner? Do you take props? If so, you should know that many people go through this. It is not uncommon.
More importantly, many overcome it with counseling and go anywhere and do anything they like, worry-free.
Once you discover how to get rid of a security reliance you can, too.
You will be able to do whatever you want… whether it’s going to social events, walking in public or giving presentations.
The reality is relying on something or someone all the time prevents you from recovering. Not having faith in your own ability will keep you from being strong and independent. Talk with a therapist, get into a program and you too will be free of this anxiety-ridden behavior.
“Life which is not rooted in your own powers is not a place to live your life.”
Rollo May nailed it.