2016-05-12 / Guest Column

Relieving Anxiety By Being Lovable

By Michael Feld, L.C.S.W.
Certified Psychoanalyst
Licensed Psychotherapist

We all like the feeling of being loved. But some of us need excessive and insatiable love, approval and acceptance. Such people use love as a protection against feelings of anxiety. Early in life, these people learned that by subordinating themselves, they could earn the affection of others. All their aggressive or hostile feelings had to be suppressed or denied. Devotion to others and being lovable became important to these people. In return for their goodness, they expect to be safe from the hostility of others, and from their own anxiety.

Psychoanalyst Karen Horney called such people “self-effacing.” What she meant by this term was that they literally try to make themselves smaller than they are—smaller than others. They try to make themselves inconspicuous by making little of themselves. To be self-effacing is to try and erase yourself, to make yourself of no significance.

Self-effacing people draw little attention to themselves because to do so would terrify them and consume them with anxiety. They believe that if they assert themselves, other people will not like them. They fear that once they are not liked, they will be exposed to the hostility of others.

In order to ward off their anxiety, generated by the feared hostility of others, they try to be compulsively and rigidly self-effacing and self-belittling. This means they try desperately to be good, kind, unselfish, generous, sympathetic, cooperative, obedient, ingratiating, endearing, compliant, conciliatory, appeasing, helpful, subordinate, selfsacrificing and quick to excuse others when they are unkind or abusive.

Self-effacing people cultivate and exaggerate their helplessness and suffering. They believe that by being helpless and because of their suffering, people will feel sorry for them, will not harm them and may even rescue and protect them. They fear and avoid criticism, rejection, disapproval, anger, fighting, friction with other people, arguing, hurting others and in any way standing up for themselves. This results in their not being as successful as they could be. It causes them to lose in games they might otherwise win and keeps them from moving ahead at work, in love and in life. They always settle for less so as not to offend anyone.

Self-effacing live their lives for others. They would sooner do for other people than for themselves. They openly dislike aggressive, cruel, and ruthless people. But secretly, they admire them for being able to do what they cannot. They are often in relationships with aggressive people, hoping to be protected and guided and to live vicariously through them. The self-effacing person cannot tolerate being alone. Being alone makes them feel unwanted and unloved, and this easily triggers their self-hate, which would include feeling guilty and unworthy of love.

Since love and acceptance are such important needs for the self-effacing person, all people must be seen as being nicer than they are in reality. This automatically requires them to indiscriminately like and trust everyone, and to suppress and deny any angry feelings. Because they deny their anger, they cannot fight well when they have to, and this makes them vulnerable to the abuse of others.

The suffering they experience as a result of being abused further confirms their image of themselves as good and saintly. In addition, their suffering serves as an outlet for their own anger, and is used against other people to manipulate them and make them feel guilty,

Self-effacing people are truly lost souls, not living their own lives, living for the approval and love others. They go through life ignoring their own wishes and desires because of their insatiable need for love. They have attempted to escape from anxiety by suppressing all assertive attitudes and making self-denying, self-refusing and self-renouncing trends predominant.

In psychoanalytic psychotherapy, self-effacing people learn to own and integrate their assertive trends. In doing so, they become more whole and functional in life.

Prepared as a public service from the office of Psychotherapist Michael Feld, L.C. S.W. (718) 444-8560

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