When working with clients who have an anxiety problem I usually ask the following question, “Is either of your parents or main careers troubled by anxiety? Generally the answer is yes. It is occasionally the case with what are called simple phobias; sometimes they too seem to be passed on in families.
I have even come across a family of five all of who were troubled by OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. That is mother, father and three adult children.
This then raises the question of what causes anxieties to be created in our selves. It could be
- · Hereditary
- · Environmental
- · Learned
- · A mental illness
- · A thinking problem
Let's begin at the beginning. When you were born you had three inbuilt fears; fear of abandonment; fear of heights; fear of loud noises. The question to ask yourself is, “Where did these other fears come from?” Anxiety is a useful type of fear in that it helps us to anticipate when and where there are potential dangers.
The young child does not have the knowledge to anticipate potential danger just a reflex action when placed in the situation. To have an anxiety there has to be a thought process. To be anxious is a developed skill.
Excuse me if “skill” seems to you to be the wrong word here. Let me explain.
Lets return to the young child. At birth she is capable of some useful reflex actions which aid survival. All other things have to be learned and children are pre-programmed to learn.
The baby has the potential to learn many physical and mental skills. Take speech as an example. Most mothers will talk to her baby as a matter of course long before the child can understand. Speech develops over time as the baby makes random noises which develop into sounds that seem familiar to the adults. These sounds are then rewarded and a whole vocabulary begins to develop.
It is a long process to develop the skill of communicating using speech.
Similarly with anxiety a child has to learn to anticipate in order to feel an anxiety about something that is going to happen in the future. As parents are the first role models, they then could influence the child’s behaviour, if they have an anxiety about a feature of life. For example a parent who has a fear of dogs will react in the presence of the animals and the child will sense that dogs are potentially dangerous. Whereas a parent who enjoys the presence of dogs will teach the child a different reaction where dogs are seen as friendly.
With all learned skills once we have practiced and practiced they become absorbed into our subconscious and taken as a fact of life. If you can speak fluently you would have a difficult time remembering exactly how you learned this skill.
For all learning there is a structure
- We don’t know what we don’t know.
- We know that we don’t know.
- We are conscious of doing the thing we are learning.
- We can do the skill without thinking about it, because it is firmly fixed in our subconscious.
To put a golfer off the shot just ask, “Do you breath in or out on your back swing?” Then watch the result.
All anxieties that become a problem are firmly fixed in the subconscious where that operate outside of conscious control. The thinking process has become an habitual process. The anxiety sufferer no longer has conscious control. This is when it becomes a problem and leads to what are termed disorders.
A starting point to break the chain of thoughts could be related to the fifth part of the learning structure above.
- To teach a skill you need to retrieve it from the subconscious and break it down into steps in order to relate it to the pupil.
We could begin with the question, “Can you teach me how to do your anxiety? What is the first thing I have to do?”
Just a few points here; people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) will obviously know where their concern began. PTSD is a very interesting example of the way in which the mind can make rapid, or almost instantaneous changes due to one event. Our brains are plastic and can be rewired both slowly and rapidly. It is possible to unlearn anxious behaviours and replace them with more positive ways of behaving.
The place to begin is by accepting the position your in and then seeking the right kind of help for you.