Unmasking the shame of anxiety

I got a call from a woman the other day who wanted to talk about her panic attacks and general anxiety. She is in her early thirties and lives with her husband and kids in a small town.

She told me how anxiety and panic attacks were destroying her quality of life and everyday was turning into a pitch battle.

She used to travel all around the world for work, but today she finds it hard to step out the front door for fear of having a panic attack. She has two small kids and they have needs to be met. She has to get over this for their sake. That’s why we are are talking.

I asked her if she had told anyone else about  anxiety problem besides her husband and doctor.

She explained that she had let a few friends know, but in general she kept it to herself, fearing others might start to gossip about it behind her back. I then asked her what it was that really troubled her the most about her anxiety.

She got a little irritated and said “haven’t you been listening to me? I cant leave my home because of this and I have kids to look after. What could be worse than that?”

“No, I get that”, I said “but what REALLY troubles you about your anxiety?”

There was a long silence. Then after a moment she said, “not leaving home is just the half of it, the other stuff I could never admit to anyone, -I am too ashamed of it”

Well try me”  I said “I am pretty much a stranger to you and I don’t imagine we will ever meet in person. You have nothing to lose.”

Okay…so deep down I fear I am losing my mind. Like I am losing  touch with reality. I am not present with my children because I am the whole time thinking about how I am thinking, if that makes any sense?”

“Sometimes I have such disturbing anxious thoughts  of a sexual or violent nature that I truly shock myself” she said as her voice broke with emotion.

Then another brief silence…

 “Random ideas flash across my mind that only a deranged  person would think of…”

“For example?” I asked

“Well, just this morning, I was feeding my little girl and I had this violent thought come to mind. It disturbed me so much I had stop feeding her and lock myself in the bath room for five minutes because I was shaking so much. I mean what kind of mother would think such a thing?”

“I am so ashamed and scared of myself. I would never act on these thoughts but how could I even think them in the first place! That’s what really upsets me the most, I feel I have no control over it”

So I bet you think I am nuts right?

“No not at all”, I said, “in fact I think you are perfectly normal. You are a sane normal person suffering from an overly anxious mind mixed with exhaustion and an active imagination. It is perfectly normal. It is not one bit pleasant but it is normal”

I told her that people can often admit to their doctor or close friends about the panic attacks or general anxiety, but they rarely admit to the things that really upset them the most about their anxiety. They hide their greatest fear so deep and suffer in silence because they fear being told they have a real serious problem.

It is normal for example, for such people to be afraid to pick up a kitchen knife in case they go nuts and stab someone.

Or they get anxious at times behind the wheel of a car, for fear of swerving uncontrollably into coming traffic.

Or they hate to stand on a balcony in case they suddenly decide to jump off it.

What these people do not realize is that what they are going through is much more common than they think. These intrusive thoughts are fueled by a cocktail of high anxiety, exhaustion and an overactive imagination. A lot of people suffer from them (even people you know) but they would never admit it. These type of thoughts come with a feeling of deep shame for even having such thoughts in the first place.

In order to end shame you have to unmask it.

You have to admit it first clearly to yourself. You need to be clear in your own mind about what it is that you could never admit to another. Then the healing can occur.

If this is applicable to you and your anxiety, then post anonymously (or with your first name) about it below. When you start to unmask this shame it lessens it’s power over you.

Posting your story will also help others to open up about their own story. So much of getting over all anxiety is about learning to normalize what feels totally abnormal. When you normalize anxiety you drop your resistance to it and that in turn releases the inner tension you feel around it.

If you do not want to post about it, then at least write it down on paper somewhere and expose it to the light of day.

Unmask it now so in time you can gracefully let it go.


P.S comments posted below are moderated and will take 24 hours or more to appear on the site.


15 replies on “Unmasking the shame of anxiety


    I have OCD and panic attacks. As a child I would wash my hands all the time along with other rituals.
    I would look at a object and think it looked like a penis, I would feel guilty for thinking that. The anxiety would get so bad that I had to tell someone, it was always my mom. Once I told her everything was just
    fine until the next time it happened which was not long after. I have gotten my OCD under control but I have panic attacks only if something major happens in my life that I can’t control. Change is hard.

  • Joe

    I have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for several years now, and even at times mild depression.The anxiety and panic attacks occurr primarily in the morning upon wake-up. Up until about noon I have this fear of I don’t know what, then generally for the rest of the day I am pretty good until bed time when I start to fear what the morning will bring. I currently take 1.5 mg of Lorazepam upon waking to help me face the day. I don’t usually need any more for the duration of the day unless something I perceive to be threatening to my hard fought peace of mind occurrs. My doctor wants to put me on anti-depressants but so far I have refused as I hope to beat this by myself.I don’t see improvement on a day to day basis,but if I look back to last year and before I can see that I have improved a great deal, so I keep pushing forward.I’ve started looking at Cortisol management as another possible tool.

  • Rena

    I hav just hit a bad bout of panic attacks dat make my life totally unmanagable ….and has left me questioning who or what i really am …i lived in an abusive environment for 19 yrs ..during which time i fell to below rock bottom …i was frightened of everything …a cup …a plate ..everything in life became threatening to me …i shook constantly from head to foot …couldnt eat and had thoughts of ending my life as it had become too difficult to struggle through every day ..when a day felt like a year …now whenever i get emotionally hurt in life i fall right back down to the same place ….and fear that i will again fall to that level …i lose trust in myself ..in my decisions …in even doing small household chores …my inner peace just flies out the window …and im left wondering if this time will it fly back again or just get lost in the wind and never return …and having realized that im doing exactly what my mom did …im worried that i will inflict this cross on my children …which i cant carry myself sometimes …so after a lot of soul searching im ashamed to admit that i feel my emotional development arrested when i was 14 …when i got a vicious beating from my dad ( i have forgiven him and he has moved on to the next world rip)..i was just in the process of finding myself …when i got a subconcious /consious message that i was “bad” “wronged” “judjed” and thrown to the wolves without me even being able to voice my innocence …so i “lost” my voice …became a “people” pleaser and passive instead of assertive …and have remained that way for yrs …im now 55 !…speaking without a “voice”! So now i NEED to face the challenge of becoming assertive …learning to trust me and stand on my own two feet and believing in myself …just writing it down creates fear in me …and questions …can i do it ? am i stong enuf? am i too weak?will i fall down again to rock bottom and have to be hospitalized …so this is where im at ..any help dat doesnt cost money …as im a seperated parent with two kids …will be truly appreciated …thank you

  • Katie

    I have had panic attacks for 20 years but recently being getting awful obsessive thoughts, first they were about death and dying then about my family dying its awful I don’t want these thoughts and I’ve never admitted them to anyone until now!!

  • colleen

    I have had anxiety panic and deoression for a very long time. I recently was fired from a job for a stupid mistake; however, I know it really had more to do with my attendance and tardiness. I haveahorrible time getting ready to go anywhete. I get very anxious and draw out the simple tasks of washing face brushing teeth etc.. it takees hours. I get so panicky I get confused,breathles I scream its like there is something pushing me down. i am unable to just get dressed and out the door. I am immobilized i guess its fear. Once at work i am fine. i then have a difficult time leaving work to gI think its insane and i dont know what to

  • Alberto

    My name is Alberto, and I am 23 years old.

    i (believe) have always been emotionally more sensitive than others. But real panic attacks and anxiety episodes happened two years ago. I noticed the quality of my life started to diminish, and that made me very sad and angry.

    Anxious bodily sensations in my case, get triggered when I am surrounded by many people (like in movie theaters, Malls, church..etc). My stomache and throat feels so tight it was dificult for me to breathe and even eat. (when i am at home or someplace “safe” i don’t have this problem)

    This was sooo frustrating, i started to feel sad, vulnerable and helpless… 🙁

    When i discovered this program, i realized it was anxiety causing it. I started to apply what the Book taught me. I have improved soo much! I feel i’m gradually winning my life back. However, when there is a setback, it is still difficult for me to accept and process. Now that i read this story, about shame…I think shame has triggered anxiety in my case. Yes, i feel ashamed and scared that people start suspecting why i behave a certain way sometimes (I do things to cover up anxiety). I feel ashamed of what anxiety has done or is doing to me. I don’t want people to find out because they will start to gossip.

    Now i understand why i feel uncomfortable in public places, I feel ashamed of how i feel and that others with judge or talk about me if i show some kind of “weird behaviour”. I feel ashamed when my stomache gets tight or my breathing gets shallow, and i tend to compare myself to others. This only increased anxiety and the sensations. It makes perfect sense now!

    Thank you for allowing me to discover this about myself. I refuse to give up. I have noticied i’m slowly getting my life back, but Setbacks sometimes make me feel like I haven’t progressed at all. But i have progressed enormously, and i refuse to give up.

    To all of you who are going through the same situations, lets not give in to anxiety. Let’s unmask, accept and embrace how we feel and who we are. Lets embrace our mental chaos into our life, and slowly chaos will loose its power over us. We all deserve a life free of anxiety. Cheers to everybody 🙂

  • Mike

    I have had really bad anxiety for 20 years. I was criminally abused in a religious mental hospital for almost three weeks. I was shamed, guilt tripped, blamed, punished, treated like a child, yelled at and threatened with shock treatment and seclusion. I was told I was paranoid and that I was non functioning. They really tried to break me down. I resisted and called my lawyer to get out. But I suffer from the damage they inflicted on me. I am afraid of my own mind. I fear going out of control. I fear the police pulling me over and me getting out of control and then them shooting me. I fear things I didn’t used to fear. I was really affected by the hospital staff. They wanted to convert me to their religion. They used brainwashing and they did it by force. They had no principles. They violated my boundaries. It was like the mental equivalent of being raped. Cults have a term for it. It is called mind rape. I know this is outside the range of normal human experience but it does put me in the category of persistent anxiety. I wish I could disarm the part of my brain that was affected. I don’t want that experience to overshadow my life in the present. But I do take Ativan and Klonopin. I just want to be the person I was before that hospital stay. I hope I can return to the wan I used to be.

  • Juanita

    I can definitely relate to the woman in your story, Barry! I’m afraid I’m losing my mind and that I’ve become so selfish and narcissistic that no one will love me anymore. I’m afraid to be around people (social phobia) because I’m so much in my own head that I can’t think of things to say to have normal, spontaneous conversations. When I speak, most of what I say has a negative slant to it because I think negative so often. My voice is no longer strong and confident, but weak and loaded with hesitation and fear. Things that I want to do even with my relatives (adult children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, mother, sister, cousins, etc), I’m afraid to do because I don’t think I relate well. I’ve become very isolated and tend to stay in and hardly go to the grocery store unless we’re absolutely out of practically everything, then only want to stay out for as short a time as necessary. I cook less and less because my cooking has totally gone downhill (maybe because of the anxiety and lack of self confidence I have in myself). I take Trazodone to sleep, as well as Celexa and Wellbutrin for the anxiety and depression, but they don’t seem to be working well. In fact, I think I’m getting more anxious and depressed by day. I really wish I could find a way out of this. My life is becoming so closed in and unsatisfying. I feel helpless and hopeless. Any comments or feedback would be appreciated. I haven’t been able to work for a year now because my anxiety interferes with my ability to feel confident doing my job. I’m almost broke and dependent on my mother’s help. My face has gotten an almost constant sad and worried look, and I’m getting more and more worry lines. I need help!

  • Suzie

    I can relate to the article. I hate driving because I am afraid I will suddenly, out of control, turn the wheel to the side. There were times where I was afraid to look in the mirror. My feelings were so weird, I was afraid to see sth that was not there. Like in a horror movie. To me the weird feelings are biological, due to some imbalance in the body system, hormones etc. I picture the happiness hormones being blocked by toxins.
    My anxiety started after an unsafe amalgam removal 3 yrs ago and I recently tested posive on mercury. My baby daughter developed autism at the same time and also tested positive (I nursed for 3 yrs, she got it over breastmilk). So I am pretty sure, that mercury poisoning is one cause of my anxiety, as well as my childs autism. We will chelate with dmps in a few weeks and I am so excited, since I read many success stories on dmps, both on autism but also other mental problems. This program is really helpful along the way to recovery and further because it teaches you to not take thoughts and feelings too serious. To see the bigger picture. I really appreciate your work on panic away. xoxo

  • Nicholas

    My story started 3 or so years ago, when I court my wife cheating on me, I was devastated beyond imagination and just out of the blue, I heard a pop sound and had a sever panic attack and that was the start of the whole process of anxiety/panic. For me the anxiety has come off in layers, as I would make peace in my heart regards an issue so it would disappeared, i truly feel and know that after 3 years i am at the end of it. The thing that bothered me the most is the violent thoughts I would have towards my wife, oh yes we are still together and are more in love now than we ever were, strange? She is my soul-mate, I had a dream many years before I met her that i would be marring this woman and when we met it wasn’t long and we were married. Anyway the violent thoughts are the last of it, i am not a violent person but it scares the bleep bleep out of me when these thoughts pop into my mind about hurting her and it is something I have kept to myself as I don’t want to scare her, as I know I wont act on those thoughts. I discovered though that I had not dealt with the anger I had towards her for what she did and decided to talk to her about it and since then the fear has lost its sting, I still have the odd thought but the power it had is fading.

    I would like to encourage you guys, don’t hide how you feel, find someone to talk to and you will see the monster has no teeth and will slowly fade away.

  • Jeremie Keithley

    My name is Jeremie. I have ‘lived’ with panic attacks and generalized anxiety since my fiance died from cancer almost 3 years ago and I experienced my first full blown panic attack. Prior to that time I was a driven, outgoing, lighthearted, fun and energetic person.
    The daily feelings of anxiety, heart palpatations, weakness, foggy head, tension headaches, body aches and more have led to a very hard to shake fear that something is wrong with my heart. This of course has led to shame that I feel I cannot or am not the man the my now wife and kids need in their lives and am not providing security for them. I have been checked out and am in good health. The thought patterns are the hardest things to change. These negative pathways in the brain are so very hard to replace. This of course has led to more struggles in life that my now negative brain focuses on instead of being able to see the wonderful and positive of life.
    This program has given me a new way to go head to head with my anxiety. I rarely have a panic attack anymore. My generalized anxiety is becoming lower, although I still have really rough days, and I am slowly retraining the pathways in my brain so that I look at the positive side of each situation.
    My goal is to be able to continue to pull back the use of lorazepam and over the next few moths end its use all together.
    Thank you Panic Away for providing a new way to go head on with panic and anxiety and to start to take back the life that is stolen by this crazy adversary!

  • Tim

    For many years I kept all my emotions bottled up. Not being honest with others for fear of being exposed as not genuine in my Faith (I understand how foolish this was but I did not deal well with conflict and have been anxious as long as I can remember). Needless to say this only works for so long without consequences. I was finally honest and my Family was hurt. I was left with no friends two of my sons not seeing me. Nothing left but living with the consequences. I developed Tinnitus two years ago at the worst of my anxiety. I am going to counseling and trying to work through things but each morning I wake up anxious with the tinnitus and regret. Then when the anxious feelings start I feel out of control and all my anxiety and focus switches onto the tinnitus. Virtually everyone habituates to tinnitus but I have not been able to. Find myself sinking into myself. Trying to fall back and control my anxiety by trying not to think about it, which is futile. I am afraid because I feel at times completely hopeless. I am afraid of failing to get better for what anxiety will that cause my sons. I wake up feeling anxious first thing in the morning, and short of staying busy there are few peaceful moments. I am afraid of not being able to control my anxiety or deal with it. I am afraid of being this way the rest of my life.

  • linda

    i have been dealing with panic attacks for the last several months.. one night i was opening up to my husband about what i had been going through and right away he said that i was going crazy.. just like his first wife. well, this sent me into a panic attack right then and there. fear gripped my heart. i began to think what if start hearing voices and what if i start to think that people are watching me… it was awful.. in addition, anxiety has magnified the tinnitis (ringing in ears) and sometimes i obsess that someone is calling my name. (i know that it’s my own scary thoughts) but it complicates this matter. i am seeing a therapist but have been too ashamed to share this because i think she will send me to a physc ward or something. i am a mother, grandmother and work full time. i feel that i have improved but this is bugging me. i just want the anxiety to go away so i can go on with my life. (signed embarrassed)

  • Alex

    I want to start by saying that I have been using the DARE response for two weeks and every day I feel myself getting better. I am SOOO thankful to Barry and his team! As I continue to progress through this healing journey new things pop up in my mind that I realize I need to work through in order to get to the next level of success- luckily reading the DARE book has prepared me for all of this, though, of course, it isn’t easy. The toughest part that I really think will help me the most with my healing process is talking about how much shame I feel in regards to my intrusive thoughts. I have been accepting them and allowing them with good success, but once I’m feeling normal-ish again or having a “good” day my anxious mind sometimes likes to tell me, “wow, you thought all of that horrible stuff, you’re f****** crazy!”

    Like others on this page, I am seeing a therapist who I trust and who has been very supportive of me and excited about my success with the DARE response. But, I’m still scared to tell her the nature of my intrusive thoughts. I am hoping writing it here will give me the courage to talk with her more openly about my thoughts, so here it goes…

    My weird thoughts are about doing something that will harm myself to the extent that it would end my life. I HATE these thoughts. I know I would NEVER do these things. But man, they are freaky. Like I said, accepting and allowing has helped me with the ability to let them in without manifesting the fear response. But I still can’t help but feel shameful for having them in the first place.

    Barry is the only person who has made me feel normal even amongst these wacky thought patterns. So Barry, thank you so much for your pure compassionate understanding and lack of judgement. I know I am getting better and I refuse to believe that I won’t end my anxiety loop for good- nothing can stop me! So, I guess the current step of my healing journey is accepting not only the thoughts, but the shame I have for them. Any help or advice is greatly appreciated.

    Now for some positivity- this is an amazing community and I am so grateful to have stumbled upon DARE. I fully believe in the success of this program and am experiencing the benefits daily. I am going to keep pushing and working through everything and I encourage others to do the same! Xxxx

  • Disturbing Thoughts

    I’m 20 years old. I’ve been dealing with anxiety for years, and my biggest fear for years was the fear of getting a heart attack. I thought there was something wrong with my heart. But, somehow, that fear vanished, but a new one kicked in. And that one is a frightening one. And that’s the fear of killing myself. Notice that this fear kicked in when I heard that a man I never thought was depressed or something, tried to commit suicide. That’s when I started having this constant fear that someday I’ll just decide to kill myself. And that thought terrified me. I’m afraid that I might lose all control and kill myself. I’m also afraid of becoming depressed and killing myself. I’m extremely afraid of potentially becoming suicidal and committing suicide. I’m afraid that I’ll get sick of anxiety and kill myself. But I REALLY DON’T want to do that, that’s something I’m extremely afraid of. But those thoughts really bother me, I’m in constant fear that I’ll do something I don’t want to. Sometimes I feel as if I’m losing touch with reality. And that’s when I start panicking even more. Those feelings are so frightening that I sometimes think that I might act on those thoughts. But I really don’t want to. I just want these thoughts to stop occurring.
    I just wanna be happy. I don’t really have any reason to be depressed or suicidal. I have wonderful friends and family, I’m in college and everything should be fine. But it’s not, those thoughts really bother me. But when I’m with my friends and keep my mind occupied, I’m really fine and happy, and I forget that I even have anxiety. But when I’m alone, those thoughts start running through my head, and I feel as if I’m going crazy and losing my battle. But then again, when that episode ends and I’m calm again, those thoughts stop occurring.
    I just reaaaally hope Panic Away or DARE will help me stop these thoughts altogether.
    And I’m also glad to see that I’m not alone and I believe we can recover from this.

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