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Brené on Anxiety, Calm + Over/Under-Functioning

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Duration: 30:28
We all have patterned ways of managing our day-to-day anxiety, and these patterns often reflect the roles and expectations of our first families. In this episode, we’ll talk about over and under-functioning in anxious times, why anxiety is contagious, and how we can cultivate a calm practice.
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We all have patterned ways of managing our day-to-day anxiety, and these patterns often reflect the roles and expectations of our first families. In this episode, we’ll talk about over and under-functioning in anxious times, why anxiety is contagious, and how we can cultivate a calm practice.
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So before we get into Harriet's work on over and under functioning, I want to talk about anxiety in general. It's important to note that today I'm talking about day to day anxiety, not diagnosed anxiety, which is pervasive in our culture. In fact, I just read a recent study a 2015 study that said that one third of all U. S. Adults will be affected by an anxiety disorder in their lifetime and that the prevalence of most anxiety disorders are twice as high in women as in men. So if you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, know that you're not alone and also know that today we're going to really focus on day to day anxiety when we think about kind of general day to day anxiety. I have found it incredibly helpful to develop himself awareness about how we show up in anxiety and how we move through it. And let's start with what we know about day to day and anxiety. First thing. When I first learned this, it made so much sense, but it was new data for me. First anxiety is one of the most contagious emotions that we experience and many mental health professionals and researchers believe that because anxiety is so contagious, it's rarely a function of individuals. It's normally a function of groups. For example, have you ever been in a situation at work when things are stressful, but your team is doing okay? Everyone's holding it together until one person's anxiety just flares up, and within minutes it spreads like wildfire through the team. That's the contagion of anxiety. We even see it in our families. We even see it in groups of friends. When everyone is under pressure and things are hard, like dominoes, what's one person's anxiety flares up. It's really hard for it not to spread its just the contagion. The other thing that I think is really important to understand in addition to anxiety, being incredibly contagious is that we all have habitual ways of managing anxiety that often stem from when we were kids. These are patterns of dealing with anxiety that we developed in our first family. So in Harriet Lerner book The Dance of Connection, Dr Leidner explains that we all have these pattern ways of responding to anxiety that she calls over functioning and under functioning. And if you're a student, of Bowen Family systems. A lot of the origin of this work came round of Bowen Family systems, so you'll recognize it there, too. So let's talk about over functions and under function. Urz over function Ear's tend to move quickly to give advice. Rescue, takeover, micromanage, get in other people's business. Rather than looking inward under function, Ear's tend to get less competent under stress. They invite others to take over and often become the focus of family gossip. Concern worry they can get labeled as irresponsible or the fragile ones, the ones who can't take the pressure. Harriet explains that understanding these behaviors as patterned responses to anxiety rather than deep truths about who we are can help us understand that we can change. This is where my shame research really comes into play. For many of us, the descriptors people used to label are patterned Responses to anxiety can be incredibly shaming. You know, shame is all about unwanted identities. I don't want to be perceived as shame is how we see ourselves through other people's eyes. So, for example, Hi, my name's Bernet. I'm an over function, er, a serious over function. Er, I don't want to be labeled or thought of as the micromanaging control freak in times of anxiety. Those are shame triggers for me and for almost all the people who under function and anxiety, they don't want to be known as unreliable or flaky. This is what's interesting to me. I don't think we have enough data to talk confidently about birth order theories. But I will say that in rooms where I ask people to raise one hand if their firstborns, then I asked them to raise their other hand. If they're over function Ear's. I see a lot of folks assuming the double hands up roller coaster position. I'm an over function er, the oldest of four code named Sister Superior. The same is true for youngest in birth order. You know, when I ask, people raise your hand. If you are the youngest or the baby. Sometimes even if you're the middle child, raise your other hand. If you under function under anxiety, you see a lot of people saying Yes, that's me. It doesn't always follow that pattern. We mostly have anecdotal evidence here, but I can tell you in my family that's absolutely how we functioned until we all gained awareness around it and started naming it. I want to drill home this part, Break this sentence down. We have patterned ways of managing anxiety that we developed in our first families, possibly around birth order. But it's how our families function. It's how, even if it's not birth order, it's certainly our roles. And of course I'm an over function. Or like I am the oldest of four. When you grow up hearing things like Brain AA, don't leave the toilet lid up. Your little sisters could drown or burn a pick up that piece of paper. Your little brother could fall on it and break his neck, which is that emotionally flammable language is what I heard. A lot growing up. Worst case scenario language. You grow up with an inflated sense of trying to control everything, take care of everyone and jumping to the in charge mode. I think when you're the youngest and you grow up getting a lot of reinforcement, don't worry your sister get it. Don't worry, your brother can handle that. Oh, you know, you don't need to take care of that. I think birth order and no birth order, family roles and family functions play a huge part in this
when we dress, rehearse tragedy, these air the calls we dress rehearsal. I received one of those calls that brings time to a standstill and without warning, kind of violently reorganizes everything. And it was my sister Ashley, and she was screaming, Something's wrong with Mom. Something's wrong with Mom. She's passed out in the driveway. Something's wrong, something so wrong. And I have to say that I'm someone who chronically and compulsively rehearses things like that, assuming that then I'll be prepared when it comes that did not work. I think I also practice it just to be honest with you, because I think that if I constantly stay on ready and scared that that's the price I'll have to pay. You know, that's my deal with the devil, basically, that I'm always kind of scared and worried, so nothing really bad could happen because I'm always prepared. But, you know, the devil never pays up. So all I felt in that moment when Ashley was saying that was sheer terror. I just remember thinking nothing can happen to my mom. I won't survive it. Nothing can happen to my mom. I won't survive it. So 30 minutes after that call I'm in the emergency room with Steve and Ashley were huddled together, waiting for someone to tell us what's happening to our mom behind those big, heavy, scary doors. And there was no doubt in my mind that it was serious because there was just too much commotion behind the doors. Plus, it was written all over Steve's face. The good news in these situations is that Steve's a doctor so he can translate What's happening for us. And the bad news is, I've been looking into those eyes and that face for decades, and I know when he's scared or worried. And again, I just remember on repeat saying, no one can come through those doors with that look on their face. I refuse to let anyone come through those doors with that look. I refuse to accept that outcome. I cannot do it. No one can come through those doors with that look on their face. I just can't do it. Finally, a nurse walked out and without breaking her stride, she said something to Steve about getting my mama heart catheter and something else was gonna happen. And Steve started explaining Tow us how? Ah, heart catheter works, and then the doctor came out, and apparently my mom's heart had stopped, which is why she had passed out in the driveway. And the doctor explained that the electrical system that controlled her heartbeat had shut down. And the default condition, I guess, of our body is this very low heart rate and that they were moving her to the cardiac intensive care unit. And of course, this made no sense to me at all. My mom was healthy. She's young, active, work, full time, lived on black beans and spinach. It just was not possible. So the doctor explains that they scheduled her surgery for the next morning and that it would be a least a couple of hours before he could see her that afternoon. So we stayed at the hospital and waited while my other sister, Barrett, who's Ashley's twin, arrived from Amarillo. And then we put my brother, you know, on standby in San Francisco in terms of when he should fly in. One of the things that started happening to me slowly in that moment, outside of my awareness, is that my physical stance became very resolute. I don't know if it. Waas My response to my own pain are watching my younger sisters in such deep fear. But it was definitely a stance that I have known in the last couple of weeks. During co vid teeth clenched, jaw hardened eyes narrowed with focus tears stop right away. My hunt shoulders. Straighten up, the armor begins toe lock into place. It's a Siris of barely perceptible movements that have definitely been choreographed by my history. Very quickly my arms will slide around my younger sister's. I grow taller. I become the protector very much takes me back to who I was growing up when my parents would fight, and I would gather my brother and my sisters in my room. It's the same protector who intervened with my parents when I thought one of my sisters and my brother was in trouble unfairly. And so I slide into this role of protector and co parent, and while I'm in it, I'm fierce. You know, nothing bad can happen, and unfortunately I start over functioning at the highest level possible again. As an over function er, we tend to move very quickly to advise rescue, takeover, basically get in other people's business rather than looking in at what's going on inside under function. Er's tend to get less competent under that stress, and they often invite people to take over. And often not only do they invite people to take over, but in addition to whatever is causing the stress and anxiety they become. The focus of more stress and anxiety on the outside is an over function. Er we can appear to be very tough and in control, and sometimes the under functions can appear to be irresponsible or even fragile. When we were finally allowed to see my mom, my sisters did their, you know, their very best, but they were barely holding it together. I, on the other hand, was in my unflinching mode. What do you need from home? What can I do? Who do I need to call from the office? What needs to be done? My mom is also a massive over function, or so over function or toe over function Her my mom and I came up with a long to do list When the doctor came in, he reached across my mom to shake hands with her husband, but I intercepted the handshake of course, introduced myself and began drilling him for information. My mom's husband just took a step backward. Let me run the show. Afterward, we regrouped on the first floor of this hospital. I have to tell you this. We were at an amazing hospital, Houston Methodist Hospital. It's weird downstairs in that hospital because it's very beautiful. There's big fresh flower arrangements on top of tables and sculptures and a grand piano. It's wonderful, but it's weird. And every time I walk through it, I always struggle to reconcile what feels like the lobby of like, I don't know the Hilton with all of the wheelchairs and people in Scrubs, and it just is always seems, no, no jarring is that the right word may be jarring to May. So I'm standing next to the grand piano and I pull out the list that my mom and I had made and began to kind of delegate the assignment. So Ashley, go to Mom's house and get all over medicines, put him in a baggie, including her vitamins. Barrett called Jason. Give him the update. That's our brother. We also need to get mom's and lightweight cotton. Ujaama's I started writing down everyone's initials next to what their task was. And then as the task started getting taken over by everyone and the list started getting shorter, I started getting panicked and nervous, and I finally just said, You know what? Let me get Mom's medicines. I know where she keeps everything. Barrett, let me call Jason. He's scared. He's so far away. It will be a tough conversation, and I'll also run by and get the pajama. Is that button up the front? I know what she likes. I was looking down the list. I was changing all the initials from my sister's initials to my initials and rank ordering. What order? I should do all the chores in, and this is better. I'll do this myself. And in that split second, it took me to change the initials and make the notes to myself. My sisters had stepped back from our talking circle next to the piano, and we're whispering to each other. When I finally looked up and saw them, they were holding hands and looking straight at me, and, you know, you know that feeling. If you've got sisters or friends that are like no bullshit straight talkers. You know, it's a terrible sense of dread and relief, but mostly, I guess, dread. So I said, What's wrong? What's wrong? What is it? What's wrong, what's going on? And then Ashley very quietly said, You're over functioning. Bernet and Barrett jumped in and said, We can help. We know how to do this. We know what to dio and the hard story to tell, to be honest with you, even though I've written it. And the minute Ashley said, You're over function and Barrett said, We can help You know what to Dio. My body gave up. I just went limp, and I dropped the list on the floor and I fell into the chair behind me and just started sobbing. But I mean sobbing, inconsolable, sobbing, and I know people cry in waiting rooms, but it felt weird to be crying in the fancy lobby, and I'm sure I was making a scene, but I couldn't stop. My sisters had pierced the armor, and in that moment it was as if 40 years of doing instead of feeling, had caught up with me. Actually, embarrass started crying, but they held me and they kept saying that we were going to be okay and that we're going to take care of each other. And David was there. My mom's husband, I apologized to him and we divvied up the list. And when you look it over functioning and under functioning through a vulnerability lens, it's easy to see that both ways of functioning are forms of armor. You know. They're learned behaviors for getting out from underneath fear and uncertainty over functioning. I won't feel I will do. I don't need help. I help under functioning. I won't function. I'll fall apart. I don't help. I need help. So the good news for my mom surgery is that everything was successful, and that afternoon we were back with her in the hospital room. Someone brought her this pamphlet that explained her news pacemaker, and the cover of the brochure had this silver haired couple in matching pastel sweaters riding bikes, I guess like E don't know Martha's Vineyard or something. My sisters and I just could not stop giving her shit about her sweaters and her bicycle writing, and so we were all laughing until we cried. But then we actually got kicked out for making too much noise. So I think for me this story is about how we all have pattern ways of managing anxiety that come from roles that we played in our early families or our first families over function. Er's like me if we can name it and own it can work on being more vulnerable in the face of anxiety and under functions can work to amplify their strengths and competencies. And on top of all that both under and over function Er's can work to develop a calm practice that I think centers us and keeps us from defaulting into these patterned ways of behaving. So when it comes to calm, I consider myself to be nouveau calm. It does not come naturally to me. I was not. I don't know that I was born calm, but I have made it a priority over the probably the past since Elin was born. I made a commitment when I was pregnant with her that I wanted to be a calm parent, and so I started reading and studying on calm and I define com based on the data that I've collected as perspective, mindfulness and the ability to manage
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