Conditioned anxiety is linked to those situations that generate some anxiety in us, without really causing any danger or risk whatsoever. In the area of social relations, one can show a kind of fear when it comes to bonding with others.
It is important to note that conditioned anxiety is not shyness, although those who experience it may be seen as shy or reserved people. In this case, it is not a question of temperament. The point is rather that in the past we have learned this fear and have not tried, or succeeded, to understand and overcome it.
When we experience conditioned anxiety about social relationships, it is very difficult for us to connect with others as well as form friendships or fluid bonds with our co-workers. Of course, this also ends up preventing a possible project from forming a couple.
The first way we try to relate to others is through attachment. At birth, we are not independent individuals of our mother. The baby thus seeks the maternal figure because it serves as a protective support, and at the same time as a point of reference for growing up and knowing the world.
Attachment is the defining emotional bond in the early stages of childhood. It is fundamental in the future development of a person. There is a direct relationship between this initial bond of attachment and an individual’s mental health. A mother who is fundamentally available and sensitive to the needs of the child during the first years of life is a guarantee for the mental health of the adult.
During these early stages, separation anxiety arises. It is a fit of anguish that occurs when we move away from our mother or protective figures.
When these experiences of anxiety are severe or they generate great instability, a first form of conditioned anxiety is also configured. Conditioning consists of the fact that we cannot trust our surroundings, because there will not always be someone to take care of us and protect us, despite our vulnerability.
During childhood and adolescence, we further develop our process of physical and mental maturation. During these stages, we also develop new ways of relating to others. Between 3 and 6 years old, play becomes the center of our world.
Anyone who plays with us is our friend. By sharing the game with others, we learn the first notions of rules and standards, as well as their usefulness. We also get an idea of the dense and strong aspect of our circle of social support.
Between the ages of 6 and 11, we come to understand that we are part of a culture and that social relations are regulated by standards. Sometimes we are taught this with love and understanding. Other times, with serenity and tyranny. In the latter case, conditioned anxiety arises. We come to believe that we are the object of constant censorship and not learn to feel the fear to act.
The teenage years are final. We need a balance between the ego that lives as a family, the ego studying at school, and the ego that forms a nucleus of peers and begins to forge its own identity.
The difficulty in connecting with others begins to be evident to an individual during their teenage years. Indeed, it is at this time that a set of deficits may have accumulated during the previous stages. Especially when attempts to come together or expressions of affection have been punished. Thus, one enters the territory of conditioned anxiety about relationships with others.
This is when we begin to automatically expect that we will be rejected, hurt or excluded. Thus, we come to behave like people rejected, injured or lacking. We feel the fear of the other and we can give rise to relationships where we show a great submission or a strong dependence.
On the other hand, in this area, it is common that when we face a social situation, worry invades us. We solve it “by disappearing”, by being exclusively condescending or by employing strategies aimed at dissociating.
Something as natural as the bond with others thus becomes a complex issue. Conditioned anxiety leads us to put up barriers and prevent things from going well and naturally. This generates various consequences on our mental health. Despite everything, we must not forget that everything that has been learned can also be unlearned: there are also paths that can allow us to reconstruct what in the past was not built on solid foundations.