One of the many things I’ve had to learn to deal with as someone with a mental illness is labels. In every area of our lives, we take shortcuts in our attempts to figure someone out. We label people who wear nice clothes as professional, folks with glasses are labeled smart, and so on.
When people know my diagnosis of bipolar and anxiety disorders — and given my line of work, most do — they tend to assign all of my actions to said diagnosis. Confrontation and disagreement, as an example, turn into signs that I am escalating to a manic state state or having an anxiety or panic attack. But anxiety disorder and confrontation don’t exactly go hand in and hand.
What People Don’t Know about Anxiety Disorders and Confrontation
I have found that people think being confrontational is easier for me than other people because I have mental illness (What Is Stigma?) Society, as a whole, sees disagreement and confrontation as aggressive. They see them as the verbal equivalent of fighting and, certainly, as the escalating step before physical violence.
What leads them to this conclusion is what people don’t know about anxiety disorders. The stereotype of the mentally ill being mere steps away from violence contributes to this, but people also seem to think that aggressive behavior in any form is just comes naturally for the mentally ill. We are often seen as self-absorbed and unable to comprehend another person’s feelings.
What to Know about Anxiety Disorders and Confrontation
What people should know about people with anxiety disorders is that confrontation, debate, and disagreement are some of the most difficult life skills I’ve had to learn. I may have become good at confrontation, if that is a measurable skill, but I do not enjoy it. In fact, I used to avoid confrontation by any means necessary.
In school, I was bullied for many reasons, but I never fought back. I was scared, timid, and just wanted the confrontation to stop. My classmates would taunt me and I wouldn’t say a word in my defense. I would sit there and provide no resistance whatsoever.
When I reached adulthood, I discovered that the schoolyard bully existed as a workplace bully and in many other forms. Aggressive coworkers, manipulative customers, and angry competitors all poured into my office looking to take advantage where they could. Any ground lost by me was gained by them.
The thought of having a panic attack over a confrontation was too great a risk, so I seldom fought back. My fear of this is so great that I sometimes have a panic or anxiety attack if someone doesn’t answer the phone when I call.
My Anxiety Disorder Doesn’t Teach Confrontation Skills
I had to learn how to stand up for myself and for others. It does not come naturally. Confrontation was a skill I had to learn. In fact, it is very difficult. To this day, I have to take a deep breath before a confrontation starts and often will have an anxiety attack when I “come down” from the situation.
Being able to stand up for what I believe in is important and being able to set boundaries with others is equally important. I would much rather give everyone what they want, never say no, and always give in. This, however, will not make me happy.