Deconstructing Anxiety

The journey from fear to fulfillment.

Posted Jul 08, 2020

Kranich 17/Pixabay
Source: Kranich 17/Pixabay

All of us suffer from anxiety. Not necessarily the clinical type but anxiety nonetheless. Philosophers, psychologists, and spiritual adepts have always pointed to fear* in some form as the fundamental problem of the human condition. 

Our vulnerability in the face of an unfathomable universe can leave us feeling helpless, exposed, and profoundly overwhelmed. When asking the inevitable existential questions—“Who am I?”; “Is there meaning to life?”; “What is to be done about suffering?”; and “How can I be happy?”—we hear our questions echoing in a seemingly endless void. But these questions, the essence of our human predicament, beg for answers.

With the premise that fear is the fundamental problem in being human, we have our starting point. To pursue this quest, we must fully deconstruct anxiety, reveal its origins and mechanism, and find its resolution. This is so for anyone working with identified anxiety as well as those who seek to resolve suffering in general, to discover an authentic, enduring fulfillment in life. 

Three Postulates for Deconstructing Anxiety

There are three postulates that form the foundation for this quest, which I call the Deconstructing Anxiety model:

  1. There is an absolute truth that can be realized. It brings a transcendent experience of fulfillment and is characterized by wholeness, completion, and freedom from limitation. It is our original and natural state. 
  2. Fear distorts this truth, fracturing it into partial, relative “truths.” It breaks up the wholeness, leaving us feeling incomplete and vulnerable to suffering, separating us from our natural state.
  3. Deconstructing anxiety resolves fear’s distortions, opening the way back to absolute truth and returning us to our natural state of fulfillment.

I propose that these three postulates offer a path for the resolution of anxiety (and the myriad forms of suffering that arise from it) as well as the discovery of a transcendent and profound fulfillment.

An Impossible Challenge?

Too often, the idea of fulfillment seems like an impossible challenge. We arrive in the world ready to be afraid. Helpless and vulnerable, we are completely dependent on others. Bit-by-bit, we become caught in a web of defensive postures and self-protective maneuvers to ensure our needs will be met.

Fear becomes our chief advisor in this effort. We learn to seek its counsel first in every situation. Its strategies are supposed to provide security but inevitably lock us into ever-more fearful ways of being. Like a hermit crab peering out of its shell, we move through life anxiously looking for signs of danger, ready at an instant to jump back inside and hide behind our door. 

This fearful approach to life exacts an extraordinary toll. Its walls of security place blinders on our experience and boundaries on our potential. Like looking into a broken mirror, they fracture the unified truth we seek into many partial views, vacillating perspectives that can leave us hopelessly lost about who we are and how to be happy.

We try valiantly to accept that this is the best we can expect—a sort of truce with our suffering—buying into the social conditioning that this is what it means to be “well adjusted.” Still, the need for something greater, for a deep and true fulfillment, will not leave us. And so we live in a constant state of restlessness, complying with fear yet urging for wholeness.

An Irrefutable Answer

The second postulate—that fear distorts truth—and the third postulate—that working through fear paves the way to truth—provide an irrefutable answer to the question of whether our goal is possible. For it must be so that fear distorts truth; by definition, it makes us too afraid to see the truth of things calmly and objectively. Fear causes us to invest ourselves in seeing the truth we wish to see, not the truth that is.

This is perhaps the single most important principle we can rely on to find a path to fulfillment. Wherever there is fear, truth is obscured, freedom is lost, and wholeness is broken. And so, our exploration begins with the decision to follow the trail of this fear, deconstructing it all the way to completion, so that we may then make a clear assessment of whether the fulfillment we seek is possible. Fulfillment can only be found once the distortions of fear have been resolved, showing a clear path to the realization of our ideals.

A Cause for Real Optimism

Again, the postulates provide a roadmap to our goal. They propose that without the blinders of fear, there would be nothing to limit our infinite view, a view that would resolve the many competing truths we experience, the conflicting and anxiety-producing shifts in our experiential state, in a sort of “unified field theory," showing us the way back to freedom. As with the fractals of Chaos Theory, when we rise above our fear, we see the tangled web of differences around us resolve into an elegant whole, a whole that is coherent, purposeful, and beautiful.

Deep within each of us is still the sense of wonder and awe, the love for life, that was natural to us as children. It was then that, as Emily Dickinson said, we dwelt “in Possibility,” a place where we could spread wide our “narrow Hands/ To gather Paradise.” Deconstructing anxiety is how we reawaken this potential. This is not meant as a platitude and is certainly beyond wishful thinking (for it will take courage and honesty to direct our attention onto fear). The postulates propose that before the learned repressions of fear, before we became jaded by the heaviness of life and its apparent disappointments, we knew this truth. In fact, it was completely natural to us, again, as we see in children. And this, precisely this, is what gives rise to the urge for transcendence, the call for a greater fulfillment. Somewhere inside we still know of this fulfillment, though it may be buried under layers of forgotten dreams, painful life experience, or the imposed pain of others who have too long lived under the dictates of fear.  

The principles and practice of the Deconstructing Anxiety method are designed to help us rediscover this potential, this truth that can be known beyond all relative truths. As per the postulates, once anxiety is out of the way, fulfillment is inevitable. No matter how indoctrinated we may have become by the social conditioning, the mass hypnosis that would have us believe such thinking is a fantasy, I invite you to listen deeply to see if there isn’t still a call for this kind of freedom. The three postulates set the stage for a genuine pathway to its discovery. Let us not close the door on the possibility before finding out if it might just be attainable. 

In future posts, we will explore the theory and techniques of the Deconstructing Anxiety model and why clients and seminar participants have been finding it so unusually effective in resolving not only anxiety but suffering in general.

* The word “fear” is being used here as synonymous with “anxiety” as per the Buddhist concept that the anxiety created by anticipating a future event has the same effect on the body and in the mind as the fear experienced by an imminent threat.

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.