In Deconstructing Anxiety, Pressman provides a new and comprehensive understanding of fear’s subtlest mechanisms. In this model, anxiety is understood as the wellspring at the source of all problems. Tapping into this source therefore holds the clues not only for how to escape fear, but how to release the very causes of suffering, paving the way to a profound sense of peace and satisfaction in life.
With strategically developed exercises, this book offers a unique, integrative approach to healing and growth, based on an understanding of how the psyche organizes itself around anxiety. It provides insights into the architecture of anxiety, introducing the dynamics of the “core fear” (one’s fundamental interpretation of danger in the world) and “chief defense” (the primary strategy for protecting oneself from threat). The anxious personality is then built upon this foundation, creating a “three dimensional, multi-sensory hologram” within which one can feel trapped and helpless.
Replete with processes that bring the theoretical background into technicolor, Deconstructing Anxiety provides a clear roadmap to resolving this human dilemma, paving the way to an ultimate and transcendent freedom. Therapists and laypeople alike will find this book essential in helping design a life of meaning, purpose and enduring fulfillment.
- Why do you believe anxiety, both the clinical type and the everyday variety, has become an epidemic? How is anxiety different from fear?
Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson called anxiety “a modern-day plague”, recognizing the extraordinary rise in its incidence (it’s now the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorder in America, affecting nearly one in five of us). In fact, I believe it is the root cause of our difficulties, individually and as a society, and is responsible for the basic struggles of the human condition. As for how anxiety and fear differ, there is a technical difference according to the DSM V (the primary psychiatric diagnostic manual), stating that fear is in response to an imminent threat while anxiety is always an anticipation of future threats. However, I find the distinction for the most part arbitrary, since anticipating a future problem has the same effect in body and mind as an immediate problem, perhaps in a more attenuated form. This idea actually has vast implications for how we create our perception of reality; when we imagine a situation (usually based on childhood learnings), we experience that imaginary situation as if it were real. In fact, this is one of the key principles in the Deconstructing Anxiety program that makes it possible to “undo” anxiety.
- You describe fear as “the great illusionist.” Aren’t there times—for example, when facing the immediate threat of being beaten, raped, shot, or bombed—when fear is a very real and necessary survival instinct?
Jack Kornfield, the great Buddhist teacher, tells the story of a man who is out for a walk in the woods. Looking down at the ground before him, he sees a paw print of a bear. Suddenly, he becomes anxious, wondering if there might be a bear close by. As he walks further down the trail, he sees a fresh pile of bear scat and his anxiety is heightened. Then he sees the bear at the far end of the trail racing toward him. Of course, his anxiety is at a peak now. But in the present moment nothing dangerous is actually happening. Even when the bear is upon him, says Kornfield, he may be in pain, but the anxiety or fear is still about what the mauling might lead to (e.g. greater pain, death, etc.). In other words, we are never anxious about what is actually happening in the moment, and if we can learn to separate out thoughts about the future, we are then left to deal only with what is happening in the present, working to handle what needs to be handled. In the Deconstructing Anxiety model, we propose that anything (even the prospect of death) can be handled, and always much more effectively than our anxiety would have us believe. As Michele de Montaigne stated, “My life was filled with terrible misfortunes…most of which never happened!”
- Would you describe how fear deceives and manipulates our thoughts and feelings? Why do you call this fear’s survival tactics?
As we learn, early in life, to orient toward the signs of threat and danger, we buy into a strategy of taking our guidance from fear before we begin pursuing our fulfillment. We believe this is necessary as a way to try to ensure the opportunity for fulfillment. In this sense, we want to believe in our fear as a protective maneuver. To say that fear has its survival tactics is to say that it (we) set up various safeguards against plunging into a situation without consulting our fear first. In the book, I define five “deceptions” and eight “manipulations” of fear…these are the specific survival tactics fear uses to ensure we follow its guidance, creating “hallucinations” if you will that keep us from looking directly at the fear, wherein we would see, again, that it is not the dangerous thing we have imagined.
- Why isn’t fear of failure an effective motivator for success?
In no way does fear motivate us to succeed or ensure our safety, etc. As we have said, it gives us the illusion that it does, making us believe that we are avoiding the dangers that could interfere with our success. But in fact, while our sights are set on fear’s warnings, we simply become filled with anxiety and that is never conducive to optimal functioning. There is nothing about fear that improves our ability to reach our goals…we can do so just as well, in fact better, with a calm and clear mind. If someone asks, “what about the person who is lazy; doesn’t fear motivate them to get into action?” I would say that the laziness itself is the result of a fear of taking action on what needs to be taken action on…what I call in the program a “defense”.
- Would you explain how fear is a driver in direct and ongoing conflict with our drive for fulfillment?
The book opens with the proposition that fear and fulfillment are the two great drives in the human experience. Our first impulse is for fulfillment, but we check that impulse with a cautionary signal that warns we’d better be on the lookout for dangers or threats. The thinking goes that if we check out the territory first and find that it is safe to move forward, our way will be cleared to reach for fulfillment. Unfortunately, there is a flaw in this thinking: we can never be certain enough that we have accounted for all possible dangers, so we never really get around to a full-fledged pursuit of fulfillment. This dance between reaching for fulfillment and checking for danger becomes a constant back-and-forth throughout our lives…we want to reach out to that person and tell them of our feelings for them, but fear says “Hold on! What if they reject you for it?”. This kind of interplay goes on continuously in the background, as we feel the call to realize our fulfillment and quickly place all sorts of restrictions around it based on fear. Of course, we won’t be satisfied if we simply give in to the fear, so the call for fulfillment reasserts itself, fear comes back in to warn us of possible dangers, and round and round we go.
Thank you, Dr. Todd E. Pressman and iRead Book Tours
About the author
TODD E. PRESSMAN, Ph.D., is a psychologist dedicated to helping people design lives of fulfillment. He is the founder and director of Logos Wellness Center and Pressman and Associates Life Counseling Center. An international speaker and seminar leader, he has presented at the Omega Institute, the New York Open Center, and numerous professional conferences, including the prestigious Council Grove Conference, sponsored by the Menninger Foundation. He has written dozens of articles, educational programs, and two highly acclaimed books, Radical Joy: Awakening Your Potential for True Fulfillment and The Bicycle Repair Shop: A True Story of Recovery from Multiple Personality Disorder. He earned his doctorate in psychology from the Saybrook Institute and an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania, has studied under renowned leaders in the Consciousness movement and Gestalt therapy, and has traveled around the world to study the great Wisdom traditions, from Zen Buddhism to fire-walking ceremonies, providing a cross-cultural perspective of the extraordinary capacities of the mind and spirit. He makes his home in Philadelphia.