Generalized anxiety, anxiety attacks and panic attacks, OCD, PTSD and even depression - all of these problems involve fear, anxiety and panic. And fear, anxiety and panic are all about one thing: survival.
It is the main drive of every living thing - to survive and reproduce (so that our genes survive). It drives everything we do - every waking second and every sleeping second, every conscious minute and every unconscious minute. Anxiety-related problems are all formed around this drive to survive.
Carl Rogers, perhaps one of the most influential psychologists in American history, founder of the humanistic psychology movement, based his client-centered therapy
approach on the concept that everything in life strives to ‘be', to exist as best they can, given the circumstances. In his book, ‘A Way of Being', he describes one of his boyhood memories, that, to him, clearly demonstrates this ‘drive to exist' in all things.
The family used to store their winter's supply of potatoes in the basement, in a bin that was several feet below a small window. The conditions were unfavourable, but the potatoes would begin to sprout - pale white sprouts, so unlike the healthy green shoots that they sent up when they were planted in the soil in spring. These sad, spindly sprouts would grow two or three feet in length as they reached toward the distant light of the window. To Rogers, these sprouts, that would never mature, never become plants, in their futile, bizarre growth, were striving to become, to live and flourish, even under the most adverse circumstances.
And it's the same for every living thing on the planet; driven from somewhere deep inside; to be, to exist and grow, to survive.
We are all the product of millions of years of evolution, designed to survive at all costs. The child in the womb competes with her mother's body for resources, newborn pups in a litter fight to get to the mother first; from our first conception, we fight to survive. Nature will not trust us with the survival of our genes (her genes actually), so we are programmed to behave in ways that will help us to protect them in certain situations. Newborns will duck at looming objects; we don't have to learn how to jump out of the way of a speeding car.
Basic survival needs include: the need to eat, to eliminate waste and to have shelter. However, what interests us is the need for self-protection, the ability to deal with
actual or potential situations that are dangerous and may harm us, it is this ability that lies at the heart of all anxiety-related problems.
Fear, anxiety and panic are our protectors. They energize us to take action, either slowly if the threat is in the future or in an instant if the threat is imminent. This energy helps us to deal with the situation or to avoid it ... to stand and fight or to run from it. The fight-or-flight response - a hard-wired internal survival system, one that helps to keep us alive ... one that lies at the heart of all anxiety problems and disorders.
It may be viewed as a cliché, but there is nothing closer to the truth ... anxiety disorders (and depression) are not about living, they are all about surviving. So much so that we may severely harm ourselves as our inner-self struggles for our genes to survive.
By Terry Dixon B.Sc.
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