The things we hear in childhood have an undeniable impact on our lives as adults. For kids who struggled with anxiety growing up, this may be especially true — particularly when it comes to the seemingly “harmless” comments people can say to anxious kids.
Maybe growing up with anxiety made it hard for you to participate in class, and you were shamed by teachers who just didn’t understand. Maybe anxiety made you a quiet kid, and adults frequently questioned you about it, making you feel more anxious about social interaction. Or maybe your feelings were consistently invalidated, and you struggle with opening up about your anxiety as an adult.
Whatever “harmless” comments you heard as a kid with anxiety, we want you to know you aren’t alone. We wanted to know what “harmless” comments people with anxiety heard as kids that actually hurt them, so we asked our Mighty community to share one with us and explain what it felt like to hear it.
It’s important to remember what may seem “harmless” to one person may actually be hurtful to another. No matter what anyone says, your feelings are valid, and you deserve support.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
1. “You’ll grow out of it.”
“[I heard] ’you’ll grow out of it,’ when I told someone about my anxiety for the first time (even though I didn’t know what it was). Guess what? I’m 20 and I still haven’t grown out of it.” — Jessica C.
“‘You’ll grow out of it.’ I didn’t know what it was. But I kept holding onto the idea that one day I won’t feel this way anymore. Because it was something I could ‘grow out of’ but that never happened. And those words didn’t help me.” — Tammy F.
2. “Why are you so quiet?”
“’Why don’t you talk?’ or ‘Why are you so quiet?’ Constantly. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that — I still do. It was exhausting having one of your biggest insecurities pointed out to your face every day. I’m just quiet. I wish I could be outgoing, but I can’t (because of the anxiety). People don’t understand it’s just as rude as saying, ‘Why don’t you ever stop talking?’ and just as hurtful.” — Mackenzie J.
3. “You should smile more.”
“My mother used to tell me to smile more, because people don’t like to be around me if I depress them. She liked to have neighbors over on weekends. I always awoke early and wandered the neighborhood alone rather than face a group of people later in the day. When they came over I would just say I couldn’t sleep the night before so I was tired, and needed quiet time. Then my mother would repeat her line. I would wake early the next morning, anxiety would build, and the cycle continued.” — Hollie M.
“‘Why don’t you smile?’ always made me uncomfortable. There was no way I could explain every anxious thought that was going through my head. My brain was more consumed with fighting my anxiety than keeping a smile on my face. In the end, I would shrug at the question and walk away feeling even more anxious.” — Samantha L.
4. “Class participation is mandatory.”
“My Spanish teacher yelled at me for having a low participation grade because I never answered any questions or raised my hand in class. He said, ‘This is a class where you participate!’” — Renee P.
5. “Get over it.”
“‘You need to get over it’ was a go-to for a teacher of mine. Phrases like that devalue a person’s feelings and heighten anxiety — at least in my case. It’s so important to be empathetic and compassionate towards those with anxiety, and be mindful of your words.” — Danielle H.
6. “Stop crying.”
“‘Stop crying.’ I was often crying because I was overwhelmed and confused by the anxious feelings I was experiencing. People would always tell me to stop crying or say I was too sensitive. Now whenever I cry, I constantly apologize because I feel like I’m doing something wrong.” — Abbey D.
7. “It’s not anxiety, you’re just shy.”
“‘You don’t have anxiety, you’re just shy.’ It’s true I am kinda shy but that being said, it was definitely downgrading my condition and for a long time, I just thought I was a freak. What’s wrong with me? Why does my ‘shy’ come with panic attacks? Other ‘shy’ people are just quiet and staring at their feet while I’m trying to hide the fact that I am hyperventilating.” — Andi S.
8. “You don’t want to go to the mental hospital do you?”
“I struggled as a child with ADHD and anxiety. I was jokingly told I was going to be taken by an ambulance to a mental hospital and never see my parents or family again. I would be outside playing, and the second I heard sirens of any kind (fire department, police station, ambulance district are not far from my house) I would run inside. It never failed, I was that scared. When I attended tech school, I was 19 years old. And I was terrified to go in the front doors of my school because an ambulance was there after someone passed out. To this day, I still get flashbacks of my fear every time I hear sirens. But I’m a lot better than I was before. And I still have a fear of hospitals.” — Katie G.
9. “Have you been praying about it?”
“’Pray it away.’ I grew up in a highly religious home, and being told to just pray it away made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough to get over it.” — Erica F.
“[I was told] to put my faith in Jesus to heal me. I was told, over and over, by people who were leaders of the church, family, and close friends to just pray the anxiety away. One friend even said that it would work, since it did for them. As a result, I stopped telling people how I was really feeling and just swallowed my anxiety, and it started manifesting itself in various compulsions like self-harm, a routine I couldn’t break without serious consequences, and bursts of anger. Because I felt like I was a failure for not praying hard enough, that my faith must not be strong if God wouldn’t take my anxiety away.” — Kayla M.
10. “Wait until you’re older and you actually have something to be upset about.”
“’This is the easiest part of life. Wait until you have something to actually be upset about.’ I was not allowed to be hurt or upset as a young person, because I was told it wasn’t valid… unless I had a job, bills, real issues. So I learned to keep everything inside of me. It took most [of] my adulthood to let my feelings out.” — Jessica B
11. “I hate my… [insert body insecurity].”
“Having other women tell me what they hated about their bodies always made my anxiety about my own self skyrocket. I would look at these beautiful women and see them shaming themselves and it always made me feel like I should be doing the same.” — Margaret D.
12. “You’re too sensitive.”
“I heard this a lot from friends and family when I would cry or panic. It made me think there was something wrong with me and that feeling emotions was bad. It’s taken a lot of therapy to learn to embrace my emotions and confidently say, ‘Yes, I am a sensitive person. And it allows me to be very empathetic.’” — Lisa M.
13. “Sit still.”
“My parents constantly telling me to sit still, but I couldn’t because the physical anxiety was so uncomfortable. As a child that doesn’t know anything, it was a nightmare.” — Zach M.
14. “This is just a phase.”
“‘It’s just a phase.’ But it wasn’t. Is it just a ‘phase’ when your dad dies at 11, your mom retreats within herself, your brother resents everyone and you lose family on both sides? It’s not just a phase when abandonment is your biggest fear. When letting anymore remotely close to you as a person causes anxiety because of your fear of being abandoned. Again… It’s not just a phase. Don’t ever tell your kids, or anyone’s kids, it’s just a phase. Address the situation as it is.” — Lara L.
15. “Everyone gets nervous.”
“‘Everyone gets nervous’ made me feel like I was making my anxiety out to be worse than it is. My anxiety is real and so hard to live with. It’s not just being nervous about something, it’s being constantly worried about everything going on around me.” — Hannah H.
16. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
“‘You don’t want to be one of ‘those’ people… You know, the ones who cry ‘poor me’ over everything… Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get over it.’” — Tonia S.