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Naming Anxiety (Part 3)

Written by Chris Skinner on

The information below is based on the book Managing Leadership Anxiety by Steve Cuss and a workbook resource from Capable Life.


Can you relate to any of the following situations?

You knock on your boss’s door and ask what you thought was a simple question about a deadline, and she unexpectedly explodes in anger. Or you come home from a long hassling trip to the grocery store, and your kids immediately ask, “What’s for dinner?” Your response is less than gracious. Or you’re hanging out with a friend when the conversation turns toward family, and suddenly he tears up and tells you that his parents are getting divorced.

All these scenarios took an unexpected turn because the situation touched a hidden nerve of anxiety. As humans, we can be like icebergs: the part of us that everyone sees can look one way, but there is much more to the story under the surface. Whether we’re aware of them or not, our beliefs, desires, and disappointments create anxiety in us that will spill out, sometimes onto unsuspecting people in our lives!

I don’t think any of us want to live lives where anxiety spills out and causes relational destruction. So, to tame this, we must begin to name our anxieties. We must ask: What is happening under the surface of my life, and how is it showing up in my behaviors and relationships? Below is a helpful tool to help us answer these questions.

5 Core False Needs

Steve Cuss, pastor, author, and anxiety expert, identifies five core false needs that humans have. When we try to meet these needs ourselves, instead of looking for fulfillment in Christ, we get anxious!

  1. Control
  2. Perfection
  3. Knowing the answer
  4. Being there for others
  5. Approval

Which of these needs do you identify with the most?

In seventh grade, I warmed the bench on the school basketball team. Then, for one game, I was surprisingly put into the lineup. As one of my teammates executed a perfect drive to the hoop, he passed me the ball. This was such a rare occasion that it even surprised me! The ball bounced right off my hands and went out of bounds.

In the locker room at halftime, my teammate was furious. He yelled, “Why can’t you just catch the ball!” I was completely embarrassed in front of my team, half of my school, and my family . . . it felt like the whole city was shaking their head in disappointment. I felt incredibly alone and small. I decided then that I would never again disappoint anyone, so that I never had to feel that way again.

You may say to yourself, “It’s impossible to please everyone over a lifetime!” You’re right, but for a long time I lived as if I had to do it. I was a prisoner to the core false need of approval!

As you think about your life, are there memories like this that drive your pursuit of one of these core false needs?

5 Core Truths

The good news is that these core false needs are perfected in God.

  1. God is in control.
  2. God is perfect.
  3. God is all-knowing.
  4. God is always there for others.
  5. God approves us in Christ.

When we try to meet these false needs with our own efforts, we are trying to be God. We cannot be perfect or know all the answers or always impress others. Only God can do those things, and when we attempt to be “god-like,” we get anxious. Managing anxiety, in this sense, is about “resizing” ourselves. Instead of striving to be “God-sized,” we must remind ourselves to be “human-sized.” So, how can we think about the difference between the two?

  • God is in control; humans can bring order.
  • God is perfect; humans can do things well.
  • God has all the answers; humans can learn, grow, and admit mistakes and limits.
  • God can care for all; humans can recognize their limited capacity to care well for some.
  • God approves us; humans can let some people not like us or misunderstand us.

Thinking in these ways helps us recognize that God has the ultimate position in the universe, and we have limited (yet still important) roles to play. As Steve Cuss wrote, “We were never designed to be God. God invites us to relax into being human-sized.” Naming these core false needs is a great way to start giving them less power over our lives.

In the next article of this series, we will look at other sources of anxiety in our lives.

If you are battling anxiety in your life, College Park Soul Care is available to support and come alongside you with biblical counseling.

Chris Skinner

Chris serves on the College Park Church Worship Arts Team as the Production Director. He is passionate about encouraging the church to gather and worship Christ. Chris enjoys spending time with his wife, kids, and Small Group.

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