Entanglements


Learning Objectives

  • Understand the concept of entanglements and how they affect anxiety.
  • Recognize the connection between anxiety, anger, depression and self-perception.
  • Learn about the impact of other negative emotions on anxiety and stress levels.

Entanglements are the opposite of acceptance. Entanglements pull you in to strong negative reactions that keep anxiety going.

Entanglements with Anxiety

Entanglements with anxiety represent reactions to your anxiety. Note that the verbiage here is a little suspicious. Linguistically, it treats anxiety as something independent of you, an oppressive foreign entity that has taken up roost in your mind, causing all your symptoms. This is not really accurate, since anxiety is something that you do to yourself.

Anger is a frequent reaction to anxiety, and anxiety and anger frequently cross-fertilize. Self-talk like “I hate my anxiety” obviously expresses intense enmeshment with anxiety.

Anxiety and depression may be thought of as existing on a continuum, rather than as discrete diagnoses. When anxiety becomes embedded enough and severe enough, you may feel resigned to a diminished life. You may feel helpless to cope with the symptoms, and you may feel hopeless because the symptoms follow you everywhere and are so intense. These emotions represent a transitional region where anxiety and depression begin to shade together.

Entanglements with the Self

We’re used to talking about relationships with other people. What’s less widely appreciated is that each person also has a relationship with their own self. Like any relationship, this self relationship has certain qualities, for example, harsh versus kind, approving versus condemning, encouraging versus discouraging, loving versus hateful, and so on. In all of these relationships, the self is objectified, inspected, evaluated, and reacted against.

Unfortunately, self-reactions tend to be especially harsh, probably because the person is comparing their own level functioning with anxiety against some ideal, a comparison by which they fall far short. Almost no one thinks, “You know, I’m doing really well in my given that I’d had this anxiety to deal with. I’ve achieved a lot, despite my symptoms. Im really proud of what I’ve done.” Instead, negative self reactions involve some complex mix of blaming yourself, being angry at yourself, being disappointed with yourself, feeling ashamed in your own eyes, pitying yourself, feeling frustrated with yourself, and so on, all because you have anxiety and react to it as you do.

Because entanglements represent negative reactions to yourself, they obviously have a particularly powerful effect on self-esteem. Here are some examples, as represented in self-talk, the internal narrative used to describe and explain your behavior to yourself: “If I wasn’t so damn weak, I’d be able to shake this, I hate it that I’m so damn weak” and “I can’t let anyone know I have this anxiety, it’s so embarrassing, I’d never live it down.” Entanglements can even manifest in the course of catastrophic thoughts. “What if I have another panic attack at work? People will know. They’ll absolutely know. I’ll never recover from the embarrassment. Never. I hate myself for being at the mercy of these attacks.”

What sustains negative reactions to the self? Attentional narrowing, the same mechanism that helps sustain anxiety. So, when anxiety is especially intense, that’s when you’re most angry at yourself, feel most ashamed, feel most like a failure, and so on.

Think it’s not powerful? Imagine that your spouse or best friend or parent voiced the same judgments that you use on yourself, it would be harsh.

In fact, it’s unlikely that you’re even aware of the negative judgments you heap upon yourself. In the West, we live in a society where every single thing is put in a pecking order according to its worth. We do it to ourselves as automatically as we do things brought in a store. As such, much of your recovery involves recognizing this stream of self reactions—usually with mindfulness meditation—and re-focusing your self talk to be more kind and compassionate, the way you might treat a child or friend with anxiety.

A variety of self-reactions are possible. You might be angry at yourself, you might be disappointed with yourself, you might feel guilty that you let anxiety waste years of your life, or that you missed out on significant opportunities.
One of the most powerful self-reactions is shame, shame that you have symptoms, shame that your symptoms might be noticeable to others, shame that anxiety has affected your life. Shame is an aversive, complex emotion caused by self-consciousness following a negative evaluation of the self. With shame, one feels distressed, exposed to scrutiny, and vulnerable due to the judgments of others. The results of shame are powerlessness, worthlessness, and a desire to hide, due to fear that others may evaluate you as you evaluate yourself.

Entanglements with Other Negative Emotions

Stress and anxiety are amplified by any negative emotions we might be experiencing, by the whole emotional context of our lives. Some of these emotions may be intense on their own, so intense that they stimulate the body’s stress response, resulting in the release of cortisol, which can trigger the fight or flight response. Among these emotions are anger and its associated desires for revenge, envy, frustrated striving in life, and guilt. All of these emotions create a sense of incompleteness, whereby the emotion prompts us to supply something more before the emotion is satisfied. Anger, for example, is satisfied by revenge. Envy is satisfied by increasing the status of the self. Frustrated striving is satisfied by achievement. Guilt is a burden satisfied by forgiveness. These emotions can become parasites in their own right, sucking away at our coping energy and leaving us less able to cope with anxiety and stress. Felt acutely, any of these emotions could become the trigger for a panic attack.


Reading Comprehension Questions

1. What are entanglements in the context of anxiety?

  • A. Positive reactions that help reduce anxiety
  • B. Negative reactions that keep anxiety going
  • C. Neutral reactions that have no effect on anxiety
  • D. Unpredictable reactions that can either increase or decrease anxiety

2. What does the term ‘self-reactions’ refer to?

  • A. Reactions from others about our actions
  • B. Reactions to one’s own behaviors and emotions
  • C. Reactions to external stimuli
  • D. Reactions to physical sensations

3. How does attentional narrowing contribute to anxiety?

  • A. By increasing awareness of the present moment
  • B. By reducing awareness of negative self-judgments
  • C. By focusing attention on negative thoughts and feelings
  • D. By creating distractions from anxiety-provoking stimuli

4. How is shame connected to anxiety?

  • A. Shame reduces anxiety by encouraging self-reflection
  • B. Shame increases anxiety by leading to negative self-evaluation
  • C. Shame has no effect on anxiety levels
  • D. Shame transforms anxiety into other emotions

5. How do other negative emotions impact stress and anxiety?

  • A. They decrease stress and anxiety by providing an emotional outlet
  • B. They have no impact on stress and anxiety
  • C. They amplify stress and anxiety by increasing the body’s stress response
  • D. They transform stress and anxiety into more manageable emotions

Answers

1. B. Negative reactions that keep anxiety going

2. B. Reactions to one’s own behaviors and emotions

3. C. By focusing attention on negative thoughts and feelings

4. B. Shame increases anxiety by leading to negative self-evaluation

5. C. They amplify stress and anxiety by increasing the body’s stress response