Are you fully aware of your behaviors when you are stressed or anxious?

Roberta Gilbert highlights in her book, “Extraordinary Relationships – The New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions” six anxiety binding behaviors.  Typically, these behaviors are learned from when we were young and play out in our lives as adults. They can show up in a variety of areas such as our family, friends, at work or in social settings.

I have listed the six behaviors below with context from Roberta’s book about how they may present in your life and ways to change the pattern.

1. Over functioning

Over functioning can present as the following:

  • Advice giving
  • Doing things for others that they could do for themselves
  • Worrying about other people
  • Feeling responsible for others, knowing what is best for them
  • Talking more than listening
  • Having goals for others that they don’t have for themselves
  • Experiencing periodic, sudden “burnouts”

Ways to change the pattern:

  1. What is my contribution to this pattern?
  2. Invest in learning how to become responsible for self and only for self
  3. Thinking, planning and being concerned more of the time with self and the management of self vs. others

2. Under functioning

Under functioning can present as the following:

  • Asking for advice when what is needed is to to think things out independently
  • Getting others to help when help really is not needed
  • Acting irresponsibly
  • Listening more than talking
  • Floating without goals much of the time
  • Setting goals but not following through with them
  • Becoming mentally or physically ill frequently
  • Tending to become addicted to substances

Ways to change the pattern:

  1. What is my contribution to this pattern?
  2. Invest in learning how to become responsible for self and only for self.
  3. Taking responsibility for all feelings good or bad resting solely with self.
  4. One’s thoughts and behaviors resting solely on self.
  5. Only ask for help when it is in fact needed.

3. Conflict

Conflict can present as the following:

  • Become critical when anxiety is high
  • Become embroiled in blaming others for perceived problems
  • Project our own problems on other people
  • Focus more on the other than on the self
  • Fight vs. switch, have fun or anything useful
  • Behave abusively

Ways to change the pattern:

  1. Focus on self vs. other – What am I experiencing in this moment?
  2. Calm, thought, careful watching. STOP, LISTEN, RESPOND in a reasonable way.
  3. Get curious about the relationship with conflict in your family.
  4. Committing to improving one’s own emotional functioning.
  5. Step back and look at the bigger picture.
  6. Reflect on other choices that can be made to respond

4. Cutoff

Cutoff can present as the following:

  • A distant posture carried to the extreme due for a variety of reasons such as:
  • An employee is let go or fired and never heard from again
  • Yourself or a family member moving elsewhere and never contacting the family again
  • Only making contact for major events such as holidays, weddings, funerals
  • A person becomes the scapegoat in a community and leaves for good
  • Religious differences break families or friends from any contact

Ways to change the pattern:

  1. Recognize and be aware it is occurring
  2. Ask, what is my part in the cutoff?
  3. What is my part in inducing the intensity of feeling that made the cutoff occur?
  4. Is there anything I might do to bridge the cutoff?
  5. Is there a way I can work to lower my emotional intensity so cutoff will not be inevitable in the future?
  6. Invest time in working with the anxiety than the behavior
  7. Look at the bigger perspective of what is happening
  8. Engage in activities such as exercise, relaxation, sports or hobbies.
  9. Take steps within your family and take responsibility for your part in the cutoff?

5. Triangling

Triangling can present as the following:

  • Talking against the boss, leader, teacher to people other than the boss, leader or teacher
  • Gossiping or talking about someone who is not present
  • Having an affair
  • Taking a morbid interest in other people’s problems
  • Thinking more about a child or anyone else than about one’s marriage or oneself.

Ways to change the pattern:

  1. Stay calm
  2. What is my contribution to the pattern?
  3. How am I triangling?
  4. How do I go about changing my part of the triangle?
  5. What do I need to do to get emotionally neutral and still communicate with both other parts of the triangle?
  6. Have open communication with other people involved.
  7. Learn how to manage oneself emotionally in and through triangles
  8. Work on emotional neutrality

6. Distance

Distance can present as the following:

  • Excess periods of non-communication when one is emotionally reactive
  • Workaholism
  • Overuse of substance such as drugs or alcohol
  • Excess time spent on hobbies
  • A tendency to be quite when anxiety rises
  • Talk that includes nothing of personal importance
  • An inability to relate to some of the people in one’s immediate or original family

Ways to change the pattern:

  1. How do I distance from my extended family?
  2. How do people in my family distance from each other?
  3. How many distant relationships can I find in my family of origin?
  4. How do I distance from my colleagues at work?
  5. How do I distance from my friends?
  6. How do I get them to distance from me?
  7. What is the origin of the intensity that leads to the distance or makes it necessary?
  8. How effective is distancing at managing the anxiety?
  9. Finding ways that work for engaging in simple, calm, person to person contact.(ex. a conversation, a phone call, a hug, going for coffee, going for a walk)
  10. Initially taking small steps to make contact and progressing over time


  1. “Extraordinary Relationships-The New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions” by Roberta M. Gilbert, M.D
  2. Clearmind International Institute

Be proud of yourself for reviewing this material. It says a lot about you and your commitment to evolve and change as a personYou have invested in yourself in this moment which can bring rewards to your life today and into the future. Way to Go!

Below are some questions you can answer related to this article plus some ways you can obtain additional support.

1.     Which Anxiety Binder(s) resonates with you?

2.     How does it feel to become aware of one or more of them?

3.     Review and complete the questions relating to changing the pattern.

4.     What one step you can do immediately to improve your relationship to your anxiety?


Support is available to you in many ways.  Here are some ways to obtain support for your anxiety and/or stress.

1.      Courses

2.      Workshops

3.      Coaching

4.      Therapy such as counselling

5.      Support groups

6.      Your benefits provider through work

7.      Your family physician

8.      Family and Friends

Coaching, Counselling and other Resources available at:

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