Do You Give Too Much?

A Lack of Assertiveness Can Erode Confidence

Panic attacks in and of themselves are powerful agents for eroding confidence. Suddenly, you feel unable to do all sorts of things you used to do, all sorts of things "normal" people do. On top of that, you feel as though you've lost control of your own body, something so basic to your sense of self that you probably never even gave it a second thought before the attacks hit.

Panic sufferers often describe themselves as "people-pleasers" who find it extremely painful to risk others' dislike or disapproval. They may agree to others' requests, suppress their own opinions, and put the needs of others before their own - sometimes to the point that they almost lose touch with their own wishes and feelings. As one woman put it, "I'll turn myself inside out for you if it will get you to say just one nice thing about me."

There are many reasons why people find it difficult to assert themselves. One important reason relates to fears of loss: you may feel you'll put a relationship at risk if you assert yourself too forcefully. Or you may lack the confidence and self-esteem to express your own wishes, perhaps seeing them as unimportant.

Maybe you're so tender-hearted that you can't bear to refuse anyone anything. Or you may have become so accustomed to the role of "giver" in your family of origin that it scarcely occurs to you to refuse.

Many panic sufferers describe themselves as perfectionists who feel it's a sign of "laziness" or "weakness" or "selfishness" to refuse another's request. And still others hold strong religious beliefs about the importance of giving that makes it hard to know where to draw the line. In short, for any number of reasons, you feel obligated to give and give and give some more - even when you feel there's nothing left, even if it leads to resentment inside.

In addition to losing confidence as a result of panic disorder, many panic sufferers say they struggled with feelings of inadequacy before their attacks first began (and sometimes with a need to rely too much on others as a result). If you're someone who's battled with a lack of confidence in the past, it's worth spending a few minutes to consider the sources of those feelings, so you can fight back more effectively.

Adapted from Master Your Panic and Take Back Your Life! Twelve Treatment Sessions to Conquer Panic, Anxiety and Agoraphobia (3rd Ed.), by Denise F. Beckfield, Ph.D. Available at online and local bookstores or directly from Impact Publishers, PO Box 6016 , Atascadero , CA 93423-6016, www.bibliotherapy.com or phone 1-800-246-7228.

Page last modified or reviewed by athealth.com on February 3, 2014