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Panic Attacks & Fear: A Clanging of Symbols? (part uno)

Panic attacks and fear…peanut butter and jelly, Adam and Eve, heroes and villains. They’re just a natural match. Then it makes sense the more we can learn about fear, the greater our chances of saying good-bye to panic attacks. Well, here’s part one of two, discussing my perspectives on fear. I believe you’ll find it interesting and helpful.

Years ago I was walking to a business appointment in downtown Denver. Over the previous day or two I’d been troubled by a very specific phobia and was dealing with a good bit of anticipatory anxiety. Though I wasn’t in crisis, I phoned my therapist to share some thoughts and listen to her input.

What she said reached the deepest part of my mind and facilitated a new mode of thinking regarding my fears. My therapist said, “Bill, I don’t think the target of your fear is accurate, it’s only a symbol. I want you to ponder what you’re truly afraid of. What does the target of your fear represent?” Wow!

Instead of finding relief for fear and its fallout in the immediate, she was proposing a permanent solution by identifying the deepest and truest foundation of my fears. In theory, if I was able to secure that identification, process it, and resolve it, I’d in effect be “cured.”

Think about that for a moment. Does it make sense to you? I mean, it’s much like stopping a wound from bleeding by having it stitched instead of relying upon bandage after bandage. Yes, fear can be dealt a fatal blow as we’re able to locate its true foundation and intervene accordingly. Who knows, our fear may well be correctly placed; however, if our placement is off we’re in for some very tough times without much hope for relief.

How ‘bout an example. Let’s say your car smokes every time you drive it and you don’t have the money to get it repaired. And now you’re spending darned near each and every hour of the day consumed with great fear, anxiety, shame, and anger because of the situation. “What will my children think of me when they see smoke coming from under the hood when I take them to school?” “What will people think of me when they see smoke coming from under the hood at an intersection?” “What will my coworkers think of me when they see smoke coming from under the hood as I arrive for work?” “I’m such a loser.” “What if the engine blows before I get to work. I can’t afford a cab, and who would come get me?” “What if the engine just won’t start tomorrow morning when I have to go to work? I’ll be totally stranded. No car, no money – my life will fall to pieces. I’ll be destroyed.”

Now, then, let’s take a deeper look at what’s really going on here. All of the fear, anxiety, shame, and anger you’re experiencing seems to be grounded in your smoking engine. Well, could it be possible that these feelings are not at all a byproduct of the situation with your car? Could it be based in your personal belief system? I’m thinking that’s a very real possibility. And the good news is, as you come to truly understand your personal belief system you gain the power to change it. Hence, all sorts of negative emotional and behavioral reactions are shown the door. Let’s accept that as a given.

And let’s accept the fact that part one in the series is over. We’ll finish up tomorrow.

What are your thoughts and feelings thus far? Why not share in a comment?