Before I suffered from an agoraphobia many of my relationships were based on fear. I feared the disapproval and rejection of the people that mattered most. I was afraid of not meeting my parents’ expectations for me in the classroom. I was afraid of not meeting my own expectations in sports. I was afraid of not meeting the expectations of my peers and getting rejected at school. Worst of all, growing up in a religious family, I feared the disapproval and rejection of God.
When I was suffering from agoraphobia, hiding in my house every day, and afraid to go outside and suffering from relentless panic attacks, one night I turned to the Bible for help. It fell open to these words.God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. - 1 John 4:16,18
These words helped change my life.
Like many agoraphobia sufferers, I was prone to feeling an excessive need to please others and an equally strong need to win their approval by living up to their expectations (or what I thought they expected of me). I feared losing relationships if I failed to meet certain expectations. Fear of losing relationships caused me a lot of anxiety.
To overcome the anxiety that comes with needing to please people and fearing rejection, I traded my fear-based relationships for relationships based on unconditional love.
When I first read the words of the Bible passage above, I took them at face value. Plainly and simply, they told me that God loved me and that if I let God love me there wouldn’t be so much room for fear in my life. I didn’t need to fear God’s judgment or worry about what God thought of me.
Please understand that this passage meant a lot to me because somewhere in my religious upbringing I had understood God as someone that could be angry with me and might punish me for something if I didn't do everything right.
God's unconditional love spilled over into my relationships with others. As I gained confidence that God loved me, I was able to love and accept myself. I became less needy for the approval of others. I still wanted to please others. I just wasn’t motivated by anxiety from a fear of being rejected. I was just motivated to share God's love.
I stopped feeling the anxiety of trying to get love from other people and started feeling the joy of giving love. With God's love in my life, there was plenty of love to go around.
Besides changing my orientation in relationships, I also made some changes in my closest, most significant relationships. I replaced fear-based relationships with relationships based on unconditional love. In some cases, as with my parents, I changed the nature of existing relationships. In other cases, I had to replace old relationships with new ones.
Feeling loved by God, loving myself, and loving other people was very freeing. I began to surround myself with people who really loved and accepted me for who I am, people for whom I didn’t have to constantly perform to earn their approval. My most significant relationships no longer produced anxiety.
Do you need to change your relationships?
If your relationships with others are based on fear of what might happen if you did not live up to their expectations for you, then it is time to make some changes.
You may need to have some serious talks with people in your life and tell them directly that you will no longer live according to their expectations for you. (Be nice when you do this). You may need to cut some people out of your life altogether. You may need to surround yourself with more loving and accepting people.
Ultimately, when I experienced unconditional love and build most of my relationships upon it, some funny things happened. I began living with the security of being loved no matter how I performed. I was free to trade the anxiety of trying to constantly win the love of others for the satisfaction of offering love to others.
When I focused on giving to others in relationships rather than trying to get it, I wasn't as needy, and my fears of disapproval and rejection faded away with my anxiety.
Here is a truth that has helped me live free from agoraphobia for nearly twenty years:
Where there is perfect, unconditional love, there is a lot less room for fear.