Phase 1- Getting Oriented
What is anxiety disorder and how are we going to treat it?
Anxiety is a form of fear provided by nature to enhance our ability to survive and flourish. It is a gift that we certainly do not want to be without. However, anxiety can become disordered. It can for instance become active in situations that have little or nothing to do with any real danger or hazard. The disordered anxious response may best be understood as an inappropriate survival response. Consequently, the way to treat the disorder is not to get rid of anxiety but to return it to its natural order. What is required to do this is explained in this program.
It is in the comprehension of how our disordered anxiety is generated, sustained and how it is successfully treated that we reach any viable understanding. Other factors are less critical though they may be helpful in orienting our work. It is the serviceable knowledge that reaches us as most substantial. It will be necessary to make some broad statements about anxiety as a whole to present a framework for this critical understanding.
There is little doubt that there are biological factors in many cases of disordered anxiety. Inborn temperaments or psychiatric illnesses for some people may be critical elements in addressing the reduction of disordered anxiety. Inborn temperaments influence behavior. Some people are more prone to the fear response in the same way as some are inclined to be too confident. Biological temperaments make a difference. However, our temperaments are neither solely blessings nor afflictions. Temperaments generally lead us to professional choices and ultimately enrich the tribe or community in which we live.
Children who are temperamentally more anxious or emotionally sensitive are more prone to endure the misfortune of being misunderstood. In other words a youngster with special emotional needs requires special treatment and may end up deprived of that consideration. The unsuspecting parent or caregiver might misguidedly judge that the uniquely disposed child is overly needy or even incompetent. Unfortunately, children with special emotional needs or dispositions that seem foreign to a parent may fail to be recognized and may receive harsh criticism.
Misfortune May Result in a Maladjusted Schema
Chronic anxiety in adulthood is most often engendered by an earlier response to an unfortunate and significant deficit of safety, nurturance, or empathy. The response to these earlier misfortunes set the wheels in motion. These misfortunes can be longstanding events like being raised by a disturbed parent, being abused, or being the object of prejudice. In the event of an isolated trauma like being held hostage the maladjusted impression develops in a similar way. In both cases a disturbing belief about oneself and one's environment is formed.
These disturbing beliefs are easily remembered because they often have a strong emotion attached to them. They leave a strong impression and can be so compelling that they form core assumptions about our lives. Core beliefs also known as schemas are generally not questioned or challenged. They are presumptions, internal blueprints that inform our understanding of the events of our lives. The traumatic impression or the maladjusted schema may suggest grim or frightening realities like: "You are defenseless in a dangerous world; you are never to have your emotional needs met; you are an inferior person; or you are a failure." Thus, they can contribute to chronic anxiety if, we do not grow past them.
In Coping with Schema We Can Inadvertently Reinforce Them
A maladjusted schema is a troublesome notion or thought about our self or our lives. It gets entrenched when it is assumed to be true and allowed to drive our behavior. Schemas are often not questioned or challenged. This is what makes them so difficult to change. People, however, do react to these insidious notions differently as time goes by. The way we respond will determine if we eventually overcome the schema and move on or end up ensnared and stuck. When we get stuck we set ourselves up for chronic anxiety and interpersonal problems.
There are three ways of responding or coping with schema that inadvertently reinforces them-surrendering (as in resignation), avoiding and over-compensating. All three of these ways of coping form reactions that are driven by the schemas of our emotional wounds. That is why the abhorrent schema is reinforced. When a feared schema drives our behavior or forms our state of being it is validated. Acting as if the troublesome schema is true perpetuates a troublesome way of being.
To overcome our anxiety disorder we will need to respond to schema and maladjusted impressions differently. Instead of reacting to the schema, we will need to observe it. Instead of passing judgment on our emotional and sensory experience, we will radically accept it. Instead of presenting a persona or way of being, we will allow our experience to express authentically. These skills undermine disordered anxiety and are taught in this mindfulness-based approach to life-long anxiety reduction.