- Lack of purpose is a central theme for those suffering from anxiety and existential angst.
- Anxiety can be counterbalanced, outmatched, and even overcome when one has a purpose that compels them toward fulfillment.
- Deconstructing five core fears that distort our belief systems can pave the way to finding purpose.
"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making me happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and, as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch I’ve got to hold up for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations." — G.B. Shaw
Each of us wants to live a fulfilled life. But somewhere along the way, this goal becomes watered down, buried, or even forgotten as we surrender to the dictates of fear and anxiety. This may creep up on us slowly, but our sense of “Possibility” where we can “spread wide our narrow Hands / To gather Paradise," as Emily Dickinson described, seems to grow further and further out of reach over the course of our lifetimes. We are, as a culture, profoundly mired in the ways of fear; our collective consciousness seems to have lost its way.
But it doesn’t have to be this way! The “mighty purpose” that Shaw talks about in the quote above is one of the most powerful antidotes to the anxiety that is running rampant in our society. Anxiety can be counterbalanced, outmatched, and even overcome when we have a purpose that compels us toward fulfillment.
Strangely, the cure can also be the problem: We first learn how to be anxious when reaching for such fulfillment but doing so with a faulty strategy. We believe that keeping our eye on danger, on that which could rob us of our fulfillment, is the best way to protect that fulfillment. Instead of filling our minds with the simple joy of the fulfillment, we misplace our attention on that which could threaten it.
The Power of Purpose
That’s why finding a “mighty purpose” is such powerful medicine for our existential angst.
Purpose reignites our sense of opportunity in a world that would too often squash our potential and have us “make do” with the exigencies of life. Having been buried (but not truly lost) under a lifetime of burdens and responsibilities, the soul cries out for a greater meaning. We long for a deep sense of connection with others and to be released as our true selves once again.
The “Deconstructing Anxiety” model offers a unique approach for addressing this call to purpose. It first delineates five “core fears," universal themes of loss, that capture the basic sources of unfulfillment in the human experience:
- Loss of love (fear of abandonment)
- Loss of identity
- Loss of meaning
- Loss of purpose
- The fear of death
These core fears represent our worldview, our way of thinking about and seeing the world, whenever we are less than wholly fulfilled. Resolving these, then, becomes a prescription for the return to wholeness, comprised of what may be called “the five ingredients for fulfillment”:
- Giving and receiving love freely
- (Re)discovering our authentic identity
- Finding a deep and enduring meaning
- Finding a high sense of purpose
- Coming to a peaceful acceptance of death in a way that makes it possible to live more fully in the present moment
The path of resolving the five core fears and transforming them into the five fulfillments is itself a “mighty purpose," perhaps the most mighty. Our essential self clamors for fulfillment above all else. Too many of us, too often, settle for “just getting by," forgetting that there is a call to something infinitely greater. When we adopt a mighty purpose, we become fully engaged in life, moving in its flow once again, surfing the waves of change rather than being pummeled by them.
The Importance of Deconstruction
But it is not enough to simply pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and determine to start living a fulfilled life just like that. The five core fears are hypnotic in their effect, keeping us staring in a kind of horrible fascination at all the doomsday scenarios we imagine will befall us if we strike out for fulfillment. In order to find a genuine fulfillment — in order for our mighty purpose to be realized — we must first deconstruct, or gain deep insight into, the true source of our unfulfillment... the core fears.
And when we do, we make a most remarkable discovery: Each of us has bought into a belief system based on the core fears that is completely distorting our understanding of who we are and what the world is all about. In this way, the core fears account for the entirety of our suffering, no matter the name we give it. Guilt, anger, jealousy, shame, etc. all are different disguises for the core fears. And all can be discovered to be “lies" hiding our true nature and potential.
Therefore, getting our hands on the core fears, deconstructing them successfully, and really seeing what has been running our lives behind the scenes becomes essential if we are to free ourselves for a life of purpose.
Each of us has some of all five core fears, though one is predominant in our thinking. In our last blog post ("3 Questions That Will Reveal Your Core Fear"), we outlined a process called “Digging for Gold” that lays out a highly effective way to deconstruct one’s problems and discover the core fear at the root. Other strategies and exercises in the Deconstructing Anxiety model provide powerful solutions for resolving this core fear once revealed. But in order to do so, it is essential that we first understand our own core fear, the original filter which is distorting our view of who we are and our potential for fulfillment in the world.
In the next blog post, we will discuss the core fear’s “partner in crime” at the source of suffering... the chief defense. With a deep appreciation for how the core fear and chief defense obstruct our path, we will discover a map for navigating through the pitfalls that have kept us from our fulfillment.
This is an edited excerpt adapted from Todd Pressman’s Deconstructing Anxiety: The Journey from Fear to Fulfillment (2019), published with permission from Rowman and Littlefield. All rights reserved.
Pressman, T. (2019). Deconstructing Anxiety: The Journey from Fear to Fulfillment. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.