Friday, April 14, 2006

Agoraphobia Support: Ten Things Not To Do

Here are ten things not to do if you are trying to be a good support person for a friend or loved one with agoraphobia:


1) Try to fix their problems with reason or logic

The anxiety and panic that come with agoraphobia come from irrational fear. Trying to use reason or logic to help will only make your friend or loved one with agoraphobia feel like you think he or she is stupid. If reason and logic worked, most people with agoraphobia would be better already. If a person with agoraphobia is sharing irrational thoughts with you, try active listening (hearing and making reflective statements about their feelngs) to let the person express emotions.

2) Try to force them to try any one recovery method

You may think you know best what they should be doing, but trying to force your way will only undermine the recovery process. Part of recovery has to do with the person gaining a sense of mastery or empowerment in his or her own life - and taking responsibility for oneself. You might suggest options, offer incentives, but don't try to force your way on someone with agoraphobia. Never use words like "should" or "shouldn't." Feeling trapped into having to so something with no other options is one of the psychological contributors to agoraphobia in the first place.

3) Try to solve all of the person's problems for them

If you try to do everything for someone with agoraphobia that he or she is afraid to do for himself or herself, you are just enabling the person and making the disorder too convenient for them. In extreme cases, the person will start enjoying the care and attention you are giving them and lose incentive to recover. The idea is to encourage, but let the person with agoraphobia take responsibility for his or her own life.

4) Question the person's desire to recover

Most people with agoraphobia want to recover. Most people would not choose to live through the nightmare that agoraphobia can be. Though the avoidance behavior and paralysis from anxiety might make someone look like they aren't trying or don't really care about recovering - believe me, they do. Questioning this is only hurtful and humiliating. Someone with agoraphobia doesn't need to be spending energy convincing others of their desire to recover. They will need all of their energy for the recovery effort.

5) Set time limits for their recovery

Let the person come up with his or her own goals. Setting recovery goals for a person with agoraphobia that are set in time only puts them under added pressure and stress. For instance, don't tell your spouse she has to get well by summer or she will ruin your vacation to the Bahamas. People need to be internally motivated to recover, not pressured by someone else.

6) Set goals for or evaluate the person's progress toward recovery

Remember, they are recovering for themselves, not you. Guide them to make their own evaluations but don't make it about pleasing you. People pleasing is already a problem and source of anxiety for most people with agoraphobia. Whatever you do, don't compare their progress with someone else's. Every case of agoraphobia is different and to a different degree. Feeling the need to compete with others in recovery just adds needless anxiety.

7) Try to get them to be spontaneous or do something unexpectedly

For someone with agoraphobia, this is highly likely to trigger panic or at least an escalation in anxiety. One of my worst memories as an agoraphobic was when my parents tried to get me to take a trip out of town on short notice. I felt suddenly overwhelmed and out of control.

8) Accuse them of wanting to have agoraphobia for selfish reasons

Having your motives questioned is the worst if you have agoraphobia. My parents used to accuse me of wanting to be sick to be able to stay home from school. I can tell you from experience that no one would decide to suffer from the horrors of agoraphobia to stay home from school, work, or anything else. Questioning motives humilates the sufferer and put the focus on having to convince others of something rather than the recovery process.

9) Psychoanalyze

No one likes to hear someone else's speculations about what's wrong with them. Keep your guesses to yourself, especially if you are not a psychologist or mental health professional. Its ok to help the person in the process of self-discovery or listen to a person analyze himself or herself, but under no circumstances act like you've figured them out. Sufferers of agoraphobia don't need more advice. They will get that from everyone who tries to fix them. The best thing you can offer them is understanding - that's what they really need from you as a support person.

10) Criticize

People with agoraphobia are already too hard on themselves and are usually perfectionistic. being critical only promotes this sort of thinking. Only criticize if you are doing it constructively and the person knows it is because you care.

Oh, and one more thing.......never, ever, ever give up on them. Your friend or loved one with agoraphobia needs you to keep believing in them, even during times when they lose confidence in themselves.


At 5:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen! For those of us that suffer from this " mental health issue" that many fail to realize is a life
threatening ordeal for the person who has agoraphobia, it is very important to show lots of support
emotionally. Not much fun having someone tell you " you can drive down the freeway" when the person with agoraphobia knows that this type of situation throws them into the worst panic stricken nightmare that no one would want to live through.

At 12:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am agoraphobic. I do not want to be "cured". Furthermore, I don't think I have a "mental health problem". I think our sick, twisted society is the problem - not the recluses! I want to stay in my home and not leave for a reason. I am quite happy to avoid having to deal with the overwhelming amount of cruel, selfish, mean-spirited people that seem to comprise society's majority; be it school bullies when I was young, backstabbing selfish co-workers who don't care what eceonomic harm they cause others when they cost them their jobs, or all the self-serving jerks who think women are only objects and not people whose needs are subordinate to theirs...All that is worth leaving my house for? Not! I do quite well when not forced to go out, thank you. And for all the sanctimonious control freaks out there who really think they got a handle on reality by trying to force someone into a situation they cannot cope with, you're the ones with the bigger mental health disorder.

At 5:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree! I once again tried to work and well I got fired. Not because I am not a hard worker yet because I don't join in on drama and back stabbing. I also feel people look at me as though I am stupid, yet I attend college now 4 years. It's the only place I feel half safe going to. Probably because everyone has to shut up and listen.

I just can't see why I need to go out into this world and be treated in all the ways I have already been treated by others in the past. Why give them the chance! I meet people now and well different face, voice, and yet I can tell exactly who they are, what their like, and where their headed and yet they all think they are so unique.

I love vampire movies!!! A few years ago my daughter was dating a man who was agoraphobic and note my daughter a narcissist, well I always found myself sicking up for him after she would batter him about not keeping a job. Okay vampires, I sat with him one day and he was telling me how he felt so alone, as though no one knew what he was going through and how he loved the night. WOW!!! He was saying what I had always felt. He was telling me about how he loved vampire movies and why. I could truly relate and started to think about how a vampire searches for other vampires, yet so hard to find because they have to hide from people that want to hurt them, that's agoraphobics. If we could just find each other and treat each other with respect and love,how great could that be!

In Sociology I learned that people were suppose to be caring and had they all remained as so what a better world this would be. If anyone is special, I believe agoraphobics are it! We just care to much and that makes people hate on us and well treating others bad will get you farther in this world, with that Ill just sit here in my lil room.

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