3 Simple Communication Skills to Help You Let Go of Fear, Anxiety, and the Need for Approval

I was always the type of kid who cared about what other people said and took everything personally. Pleasing other people and doing whatever it is that other people wished we did and staying true to what we truly want to do will always be a conflict that results in unhappiness and other negative consequences. I will never forget the day that I stopped binging and purging. I was 24 years old and had been struggling with an eating disorder for over 10 years when I had the biggest realization, which might be obvious for some people but clearly was not obvious to me at the time. I realized that the way that I was behaving was happening mainly because I was constantly seeking acceptance and approval from other people. When I had the realization that there was a huge gap between what I truly wanted to do and what I actually did in reality, it was like a lightbulb turned on in my head and after that day I never binged and purged again.

For the next several years, I had to learn to speak with myself in a more loving, compassionate way and find ways to accept myself exactly the way I was. Well, what I thought was the end of my eating disorder was just the beginning of a much more challenging journey where I had to actually face my demons and get real with what was happening to me. It was as if I was now standing naked in front of thousands of people and I couldn’t move. My job from that day on was to work on myself and learn to just stand there and get better at being me without all the layers of “dirt” that I had collected over the years from my environment (other people’s opinions, societal standards, cultural norms and expectations). Then, I had to learn to recognize my negative thinking and redirect my thoughts to a more productive place and learn other skills that can allow me to feel better and be more confident. Because I had been bottling my emotions up for so many years, it was the most challenging thing that I had to do.

This was not a simple or a short journey. How can anyone do all those things without the right skills? How was I supposed to overcome my fears, anxieties, and whatever else that was happening that I didn't even know how to name? What I realized during that difficult process was that as much as I wanted to get better, I didn’t have the right skills. So what did I do instead? I cried and I felt sorry for myself and I kept asking more and more questions that I wasn’t equipped to answer. Why me? What is wrong with me? Why does it feel like I have no control over my thoughts and emotions? What would other people think if they knew that I was having all these crazy thoughts in my head? Am I really crazy? What if I am? So many questions, so many nights staying up, and no answers while I cried and screamed inside for help.

Over 20 years and many therapy sessions later, equipped with education and extensive training in cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy among other modalities, I am astonished that none of my therapists taught me any of the strategies and techniques that I have now studied and practice with my patients. It might have been because psychological techniques may seem complex if they aren’t presented in the right manner or maybe some therapists believe that talking will solve all the problems. Whatever the reasons are, one thing is obvious to me. Clients suffering from eating disorders, anxiety, depression or any other psychologist disorder need guidance and support, but most importantly, concrete skill.

While it is nice to have the approval of others, the best way to get it is by having self approval and self respect. How can you have that? There are lots of ways, but in the interest of keeping this blog short, I will give you a few steps that can get you started.

As a sort of continuation of my last blog in which I gave some tips on overcoming fear, I thought that it was important to offer some simple communication skills that you can use with yourself to help you feel validated and more secure. Yes, you read it right! I am actually going to convince you that talking to yourself will help you alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and allow you to live a happier more fulfilled life. You might be wondering what self validation is and how to do that. Self validation is your ability to recognize and acknowledge your own internal experiences and agree with or accept your thoughts. This might sound confusing, but once you try it on yourself or others and see how well it works you will change your mind. 

When I think about relationships, the most important relationship that I think of is our relationship with ourselves. Relationships are complicated and since we don't have a guide for the best relationship with ourselves, it’s one I like to focus on a lot. What is it that you are telling yourself when you are anxious? Let’s take the example of going to a new college or starting a new job. You might be anxious because you will be in a new environment and be meeting new people. You might tell yourself the following: What if no one likes me? What if I can’t perform well at school or at my new job? What if people judge me and don’t accept or approve of me as a new team member? So many questions race through an anxious mind and most of the time we don’t take the time to answer them. Why do you think that might be the case? Write down some of your answers for now.