Many people that practice polyamory struggle with anxiety and insecurity. This is, of course, not limited to polyamorous people, and so this post is actually geared towards anxiety and insecurity, broadly speaking, instead of specifically relating to polyamory.
As someone that has struggled with anxiety for many years, I have found that it is difficult to express how anxious I am, especially when I’m already very anxious or am having a trauma response. I created the following scales to make it easier to communicate to loved ones where I’m at by being able to say or point to a specific number on the scale, so they would be able to broadly understand where I’m at, especially if I’ve gone non-verbal.
I came up with this idea when I encountered the 1-10 pain scale that you often see used in hospitals, unfortunately when I was dealing with immense pain myself. The scale they use is not usually well explained, and completely subjective, so there’s no real way of knowing whether you’re accurately portraying where you’re at in relation to what the doctors assume the numbers mean. I ended up finding an app that gave more objective descriptions of the levels of pain, which made it much easier to follow my healing progress over time.
I decided to take this concept, apply it to anxiety, and add more objective descriptions and examples to make it easier to understand how anxious you really are.
The second part of this was creating what I called the trigger threat scale. This scale is not about the thing that triggered you being actually threatening or dangerous – it’s about the threat to the status quo, or to what you may have assumed about an interaction, agreement, or person. It also should consider the likelihood of the drastic change taking place.
Later, I created a similar scale that covers assessing insecurity, because I realized that my anxiety often was rooted in that, so it’s easier to start drilling down into what the actual issue is, and make it easier to discuss and resolve.
Below the details and images on this page, you will find links to download these scales in PNG or PDF formats, so that you can have them for your own personal use.
At the bottom of the page are text transcriptions of the images.
The Anxiety Scale
The anxiety scale, as shown above, gives you a more objective example of what the different stages of anxiety may look or feel like. It uses examples of both mental and physical symptoms. When I originally created this, I was thinking about relationship and interpersonal anxiety specifically, but made the descriptions on the scale as broadly applicable to different types of anxiety as possible. You may need to change some details to fit your own personal experiences, but broadly speaking, I’ve found this to be a helpful tool.
The Anxiety Scale’s purpose is to help you understand how severe your anxiety is in the moment. If you’re struggling to communicate while anxious, it can help you quickly convey your anxiety level to anyone around you or anyone affected by it instead of having to try to articulate in the middle of an anxious episode or panic attack.
The Trigger Impact Level Scale
When you’re dealing with anxiety, you are often feeling as though whatever triggered the anxiety is more serious, threatening, or life-changing than it actually is. This scale is built to help walk you through grounding yourself and actually assessing how much the trigger might affect you long-term. It’s also important to remember that an impact is not always bad – it’s just different. Getting a new dream job in a different state would require moving – that would be a 10 on the scale, but still a very good thing!
Using this scale is a bit more involved than the anxiety scale. While on the anxiety scale you should be able to just point at which number you’re at, there are a few steps to get through the impact level scale and the grounding that comes along with it.
The first step is to come down from your anxiety a little, if at all possible. Remind yourself that you are anxious, and that anxiety means that whatever it is that you’re afraid of hasn’t actually happened yet. You have time to figure things out.
Next, without making yourself more anxious, think about what the actual worst-case scenario is that would result from what triggered the anxiety. Once you have that, look at the scale, and figure out where on the scale that lies. Often, the actual impact of the trigger, in even the worst-case scenario, is far lower than the anxiety level you’re experiencing. It’s quite possible to be experiencing a 9 anxiety but the impact level is a 3 at most, for example. If the impact is a 10, however, that’s okay too. That’s why we keep going.
The next step is to guess what the likelihood of the worst-case scenario is. Try in percentages, or a 0-10 scale if that’s easier (with 10 equaling 100%). The worst case is rarely the most likely. It’s almost certainly less than a 25% chance, and that’s with you assessing while you’re still anxious.
After that, try to think of what the most likely result is, and place that on the impact level scale. Whatever is likely to happen will probably have less impact than what your worst-case scenario is. Further, you can assess what the impact actually would be. It may be positive, or just neutral but different. It may actually have no long-term impact outside of this moment at all!
Even if the worst case happens, now you have an idea of what that means to you, and you would be more prepared to deal with it if the time comes.
After finishing this exercise, go back to the anxiety scale, and figure out where you are now. Your anxiety is likely to have decreased, since you were able to ground yourself and tease out the reality of the situation.
The Insecurity Scale
More recently, I’ve started to become aware of the nuance between different levels of insecurity, and the patterns of behavior that match, at least for me. I built this scale off of the same premise as the anxiety scale, but more specialized. This has helped me communicate with my partner when I’m struggling, and it has helped our relationship tremendously to be able to figure out where I’m at and what I need to do.
You can utilize the trigger impact level scale with this as well, using a similar process as for anxiety. Instead of assessing worst-case scenarios, however, it will be more helpful to assess as objectively as possible whether your feelings of insecurity and the reasons for them match up to reality and what your partner is showing you.
It may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the concept of love languages, especially if it seems like your partner displays and receives love and affection differently from you. For instance, saying “I love you” ten times a day may not stick as well for someone whose love language is acts of service, but surprising them with their favorite cookies may make them feel more loved. Other people respond more to physical touch and connection, or quality time. Learning this about yourself and your partner may help with elements of insecurity.
A Final Note
None of these scales can be guaranteed to prove that anxiety or insecurity over something is baseless. The goal is not to silence anxiety or ignore gut feelings. Sometimes there is a real reason to be worried, and that’s okay. In fact, assessing with these scales can help you separate out what you need to act on from what you don’t. Each person handles anxiety and triggers differently, and you should find out what is most effective for you. These can just be helpful tools along the way.
The Anxiety Scale
A quick reference guide to different levels of anxiety, including physical symptoms and mental effects
- Faint Anxiety: My anxiety is barely noticeable, with no physical symptoms.
- Mild Anxiety: My anxiety is light and I’m not focusing on it. Physical symptoms are light.
- Moderate Anxiety: My anxiety is bothering me but can be ignored. I may feel light physical symptoms like a slightly faster heartbeat.
- Troubling Anxiety: My anxiety is constant but not too limiting. Physical symptoms increase and may include nausea, etc.
- Distracting Anxiety: My anxiety is interfering with my life. My productivity may be affected. I may feel physically ill.
- Distressing Anxiety: My anxiety controls my attention. I’m unable to be productive and am focused on fixing the anxiety.
- Intense Anxiety: My anxiety is deteriorating my lifestyle. I am ignoring other obligations and plans to focus on the anxiety.
- Unmanageable Anxiety: My anxiety is so bad I can barely interact with my surroundings. I may be unable to focus on anything but the anxiety trigger.
- Severe Anxiety: My anxiety is unbearable. I am having a panic attack or dissociating severely and may have difficulty connecting to reality.
- Debilitating Anxiety: My anxiety may require emergency attention. I may be having intense flashbacks and cannot connect with the present reality.
The Trigger Impact Level Scale
A quick reference guide to how the anxiety trigger will actually, realistically affect you or a situation, regardless of the level of anxiety. Note that higher impact is not always a bad thing; some big changes are good.
- No Impact – This trigger is actually positive or has no effect, causing no changes in the future.
- Mild Impact – This trigger may have a small or indirect effect, causing no more than minor changes in the future that you feel you will be able to accept.
- Be Aware of Impact – This trigger may affect life in a way that assumptions will need to be reassessed, but with low likelihood of a negative outcome.
- Cautionary Impact – The trigger may result in a change that is not negative, but is uncharted territory so more information is needed.
- Moderate Impact – The trigger my have some yellow flags, negotiation and discussion are necessary in regards to those flags
- Troubling Impact – This trigger brings some negatives with it, but the positives may outweigh those. Discussing the pros and cons is important.
- Worrying Impact – This trigger shows signs of the possibility of direct negative impact. Make sure that these are taken into consideration.
- Distressing Impact – This trigger will absolutely have a direct impact if it is a unilateral decision. Discuss future ramifications and fallout before moving forward.
- Warning Level Impact – This trigger may have crossed a hard personal boundary, or is some other event that will result in some changes and difficult decisions.
- Severe Impact – This trigger will irreversibly and drastically alter the status quo. A major negotiation or action may be necessary.
The Insecurity Scale
A quick reference guide to assess how you feel in your relationship in this moment
- Secure – You feel secure in the relationship, and that there is nothing worrying you about the relationship continuing in a healthy manner.
- Mild Insecurity – A small incident or thought happened that made you worry about security, but it is quickly resolved internally or with small reassurance.
- Discomfort – You are noticing more signs of distance or differences, which require conversation or reassurance from your partner.
- Distanced – You need recurring reassurance about your relationship from your partner, because you feel like they’re not expressing closeness.
- Moderate Insecurity – You start to believe that needs not being met are because your partner is no longer interested in being involved or committed.
- Imbalanced – You feel like there is something missing, or that communication is breaking down, causing issues with your partner.
- Worried – You’re afraid that the relationship is very shaky. After this point, you may think it’s impossible to talk about your insecurity with your partner.
- Distressed – You worry that you’re pushing your partner away, and that you need to do what they want in order to keep them from leaving.
- Insecure – You are walking on eggshells around your partner, afraid that if you do anything they dislike you’ll lose them.
- Fear of Abandonment – You feel as though your partner is ready to leave at any moment. You feel you need to do anything they want, to an extreme level.