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Anxiety and Personality Style

Anxiety as a Disguise for Other Emotions

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Updated February 14, 2009

Anxiety as a Personality Traits & Disguise for Other Feelings

Anxiety can come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors. Sometimes anxiety is like a little pinch that can propel you to do something you've been avoiding, and sometimes it can be an overwhelming crush of terror. But most of the time it is somewhere in between. There is an array of explanations for what causes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). One that gets overshadowed by biological explanations is that anxiety can be a learned style for how someone deals with feelings and the world.

Personality Style

Although there may always be some biological/genetic influence in how psychological problems develop, exploring how a person first learned to deal with the world can also uncover contributing factors. If someone was taught either directly or indirectly that becoming anxious helps produce successful outcomes or is the "default" feeling to experience, anxiety could easily become part of a person's disposition in dealing with work, relationships, the future, etc. In this sense, anxiety can be thought of as a personality trait or even a personality style.

Disguise for Other Feelings

Anxiety can also often be experienced in place of other feelings. For most people, anxiety is part of experiencing fear. However, feelings that are uncomfortable or difficult to express can be transformed into anxiety. Three of the most common feelings that can be disguised by anxiety are anger, guilt, and grief.

Many people struggle to absorb, process, express, and understand these feelings and honor their intent (to express dislike, ask for forgiveness, accept a loss, etc.) In turn, they can become anxious about the same situations or things that may seem less deserving of attention (e.g. every detail of how an event will go).

What Can be Done?

People with these experiences, which includes a subset of people with GAD, must look within themselves to see what real feelings exist and may be disguised by anxiety. They must also determine whether or not changing an uncomfortable part of their personality may be something to try. Both of these can become part of treatment for GAD, and you should ask your provider about these if they resonate for you.
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