As a Coach over the past 30 years, I have seen the painful toll anxiety and panic disorders can have on people’s lives. Each year over 4 million people suffer and struggle with this problem (you are not alone). Whether you are suffering with these problems yourself or someone you care about is suffering with anxiety/panic, the first step is to realize that there is help! I will take you through a series of steps that can help you develop a healthy approach to this problem.
Step 2: Learning the internal patterns within yourself that feed into and fuel the anxiety/panic reactions. We all have Perceptual Filters that affect what we experience and how we experience it. Two powerful examples of Perceptual Filters that impact anxiety/panic are: “The Time Machine” and the question “What if…”
It is also important to realize we have feelings about our feelings – “Second-Order Feelings” – that fan the flames of anxiety/panic. The belief: “That’s Just The Way I Am” adds a powerless, hopeless dimension. Sara is an example of applying Coaching to panic problems.
Step 3: Learning about the Adult Child Character. Understanding Self-Esteem is a key to unlocking the mystery of identity. The environment we grow up in has a powerful impact on our sense of identity – Developing Self-Esteem. In all my years of coaching people struggling with anxiety and panic, I have never found one that didn’t suffer from wounded parts of self that had been rejected and disowned. These wounded parts play an active role in anxiety.
Step 4: Learning to develop your own “Inner Coach” to approach the healing process. There is a healthy New Program approach to your anxiety. In my experience, how you approach the process of change is the key to successfully making the healthy changes in your life today. Change is possible in the present! It is a lifetime adventure of becoming, living consciously in the present, looking for Nuggets of wisdom about healthy change. Give yourself the tools needed for making healthy growth in your life today. The Action Plan shares some of the resources that can help you make your desired changes the path of least resistance.
Step 5: Realizing that this material is deep wisdom about the process of change, find someone to discuss and share your reactions with as you go through the material. This is a very important step in the healing of your anxiety and panic. Select someone you can feel safe being open with in the sharing process, or look into a free support group like CAIR Self-Help Groups, or CAIRing Grace Groups.
Excerpt from: Who’s REALLY Driving Your Bus?
By James O. Henman, Ph.D., Psychological Associates Press, 2003, p. 79.
As you begin to experience this reflection on your life, how are you feeling about what you are noticing? Remember that you have feelings about what you are feeling? These “Second-Order feelings” are often much more powerful than your original feelings. You may feel angry about feeling hurt, anxious about feeling anger, or afraid of feeling anxious. Most people are not aware of this Second-Order process in their feelings. They tend to lump all their feelings together under a single label. They then assume their “feelings” are the direct result of the situation they are struggling with at the moment. This can easily lead to misunderstandings and confusing reactions within Adult Children. What kind of patterns do you notice as you reflect on your “Second-Order feelings?” Jot these patterns down in your journal, feeling good about noticing more accurately where you are starting.
I was recently working with a bright, capable woman named Sara who wanted help dealing with an intense fear of driving on the freeway because of trucks. She reported it had been a problem for years. Even thinking about being near a truck would produce strong anxiety feelings. She had learned to avoid driving on the freeway most of the time, but recent changes required her to drive on the freeway regularly. She would be nearly sick after a short, 20-mile drive on the freeway.
When I had her imagine being in her car on the freeway right now, seeing the trucks around her, the anxiety went off the charts. She had very good visualization skills and when I had her breathe into the fears and move toward the signal of the anxiety as a way of finding the core of the reaction, she was able to see a scene from seven years ago, when she was traveling with her father, and mother and her young son. Her father was driving recklessly on the freeway and there were trucks everywhere. She knew that her father would not listen to her and would just put her down for being so stupid. She hated herself for being afraid of him, and for letting that fear put her son in danger.
The freeway, the trucks, and the feels of shameful powerlessness all came together at that moment. She had not consciously thought of that painful experience for years, and had not tied it with her fears of trucks and freeway driving. The freeway/truck association would trigger off these painful feelings, and as the feelings would flood over her, Second-Order feelings would make the anxiety even more unbearable.
Sara learned to comfort the 30-year-old part of herself that was feeling the overwhelming shame and fears, and remind herself that she would never let something like that happen in the future. She was able to learn how to release the tremendous pressures of emotion, that had been frozen in Tupperware, in healthy ways, and forgive herself for not being able to take action at the original time. Remember that Tupperware can hold scenes from any age, childhood or adult.
We walked though her experience of driving on the freeway a frame at a time, noticing what she was saying to herself, and what she was picturing in her mind while driving. It was apparent that Sara was very upset with herself, and was giving herself a hard time for feeling so anxious. These Second-Order feelings were increasing the overall intensity of what she was experiencing. She practiced seeing herself driving on the freeway, following trucks, passing trucks, and having trucks follow her. When she had the scene in focus, she would step into the scene, experiencing it as if it were happening in the present. As she experienced driving next to trucks, she practiced hearing her relaxation tape in her mind while driving.
She practiced talking to herself in a gentle, comforting voice, respecting the truth that trucks can be dangerous, and appreciating that it is natural for her to feel some nervousness. By accepting these feelings and respecting her need to keep as far away from trucks as possible, she began to respond to the anxiety differently, with slow, deep breathing, releasing the tension with each exhalation, and giving herself credit for learning to cope with this difficult situation. She learned to stay in the present. With practice, Sara has become more comfortable driving on the freeway, although she still doesn’t like trucks. She only needed a few coaching sessions to gain freedom in this area of her life. She may need an oil-and-lube at some time in the future, time will tell.
Panic attacks are very common, with a third of the general population having a panic attack in the course of a given year. The main symptom of a panic attack is an overwhelming feeling of fear and dread, along with physical and emotional reactions to these powerful feelings. The symptoms come on suddenly, often unexpectedly, and the intensity usually spikes within 10 - 15 minutes. Although most symptoms begin to fade within 30 minutes, it may take up to an hour for all the symptoms to subside. It is possible to have one panic attack after another in waves of panic, and it can seem like one continuous attack.
Not everyone who experiences a panic attack develops panic disorder. People are diagnosed with panic disorder when they have at least two unexpected panic attacks with fear or concern about having another panic attack. This anticipated attack often causes people to avoid situations that may trigger an attack, causing a very restricted life style. The symptoms of a panic attack can be similar to those of a heart attack. Many people seek emergency medical treatment for a panic attack for this reason.
The causes of panic disorder are complex and difficult to understand. Research has shown that three significant contributors to the cause of the disorder include environmental (stressors), genetic (family history of panic disorders), and an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters - serotonin and dopamine).
At the heart of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is an excessive, exaggerated fear and worry about everyday life experiences. People with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder continually predict disaster and can't stop worrying about what is going to go wrong and how they will cope with the impending crises. They feel an overwhelming pressure to ‘be on guard’ at all times and in all situations. In people with GAD, the worry is often unrealistic and out of proportion for the situation. Daily life becomes a painful ordeal demanding a state of worry, fear and dread. Although people with GAD may realize that their anxiety is excessive or unjustified, they are unable to simply “snap out of it.” This vicious circle of fear feeding more fear eclipses healthy living, interfering with daily functioning.
The causes of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are complex and difficult to understand. Research has shown that three significant contributors to the cause of the disorder include environmental (stressors), genetic (family history of GAD), and an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters - serotonin and dopamine).
Those who develop GAD, often begin to have anxiety symptoms during childhood or adolescence, but they can also begin in adulthood. GAD affects people of all ages, and the disorder is twice as likely to affect women as men.
The CAIR Handbook explains: “Our perceptions are filtered through our beliefs and assumptions, our internal dialogue (thoughts) and images, our physiological and behavioral responses, and our emotions. All of these interact to form a filter through which we experience the world. In the process of growing up in an unsafe environment, we make many decisions about ourselves, and the world outside of us.
These decisions form the filter of our Old Program. Over time we become addicted to this way of looking at the world, and the decisions that underly our filters become unconscious. If our filter sees us as inadequate and unlovable, positive feedback from those around us cannot get through. Keeping our internal view and rejecting the external information usually resolves the mismatch between how we see ourselves, and how others react to us. (Stop and discuss.)”
Your windshield filters what you see as you drive your bus. Imagine driving west into the sun in the afternoon, with bugs, grime, and dirt covering your windshield. What are you feeling as you drive along? What if you assumed that your poor vision was “just how you are” and there was nothing you could do about your poor visibility.
Someone sitting in the passenger seat would probably demand that you pull off at a gas station and clean your windshield, whether you thought it would help or not. They wouldn’t want to risk their lives as you drive blindly.
Are you ready to begin cleaning your windshield of the many distortions and filters that color everything you perceive? You may enjoy driving a lot more when you can see clearly to choose healthy driving. This concept of perceptual filters is key in the recovery process.
The Time Machine is a perceptual filter that takes you out of the present, which is the only place you can actually make changes in your life. Do you find yourself living in the past, hanging on to past negative experiences, allowing them to influence you in the present; or living in the future, anticipating and dreading the unpleasant things that might happen, rather than living in the present? When you relive past or future scenes, experiencing these scenes as if they were happening in the present, the original feelings and conclusions are reactivated.
When you come out of your Time Machine travel, you will bring back into the present these painful feelings as a hangover. With traumatic events, the Time Machine allows you to experience the same painful scene over and over. When you project yourself into a future situation, experiencing that scene as if it were happening in the present, you bring your current resources into that future scene. This denies your ability to gain resources in the present to help deal with this future situation – feeding the anxiety.
The truth is that you add greatly to your current pain by using your Time Machine. The truth is that you can learn to notice when you begin firing up your Time Machine, and choose to use New Program tools to change this destructive process. Gaining “frequent flyer miles” in your Time Machine allows you to feed your depression and anxiety. Travel into the past feeds your feelings of depression; travel into the future feeds your anxiety.
You can start to ask the key questions: “Who am I?” (Who’s driving your bus in the present), “Where am I?” (What is the actual situation in the present), and “What time is it?” (Is it past, future or present time)? These questions help you orient out of the time machine and into the present.
The Time Machine is very different than allowing yourself to reflect on a past or future scene, while staying in the present. You are free to remember who you are becoming, and bring an attitude of nonjudgmental curiosity and caring into the scene. The difference has a lot to do with perspective.
When the camera angle is coming from your New Program Adult eyes in the present, looking at yourself in the scene, you can rally useful resources to help nurture yourself in the scene. When the camera angle is coming from your eyes in the scene, you tend to experience regression and a flood of painful feelings. Does this pattern feel familiar to you? Feel good about noticing this and shift your camera angle so you can begin seeing yourself in the scene, while being in the present. Jot down in your journal examples of time machine travel.
"What If…?" and "If Only…" are perceptual filters that functions like a black hole in space. In astronomy, a black hole is created when a star collapses in on itself, creating such an intense gravitational pull that nothing can escape, not even light. When you fall for the trap of “what if…,” you enter the Twilight Zone of endless possibilities. This filter feeds powerfully into feelings of anxiety and insecurity. It interacts with the Time Machine, causing you to experience these endless possibilities over and over, as if they were actually happening in the present. When you shift from the Time Machine to looking at possibilities from the perspective of being in the present, it greatly reduces your anxiety.
The truth is that you can not do more than apply the Serenity Prayer in any given situation: “Lord, grant me the serenity to change what I can change, the freedom to release to You what I can’t change, and a growing wisdom to know the difference.” If the answer to the first part is that you have done what you can do up until now, then the second part guides you to release what is left that you can’t change. This allows you to put your focus and energy on becoming in the present. We all have limitations; that is part of being human. Jot down in your journal any examples of “what if…” in your life today. Notice what happens as you practice shifting time perspectives back to the present. Remember that it will get easier with practice.
“If Only…” allows you to punish yourself (or others) for choices not taken. The truth is that you “can’t go to the party I gave yesterday.” It may have been a wonderful party, and you may be very sad about missing it, and feel a lot of regret. No matter how badly you feel, it is impossible to go back in time in order to attend my party. There is a dramatic difference between feeling healthy regret for missed opportunities, and torturing yourself (or others) for having missed that opportunity. If this filter feels familiar, take a few deep breaths, feeling good about noticing this pattern. Begin to experience shifting from shame to regret in these situations. Notice what happens as you learn to respect and feel healthy regret. Share what you notice in your journal.
We have feelings about what we are feeling. These Second-Order feelings are more intense than the original emotions and can cause significant perceptual filters. We can start by feeling a little sad about something, then we can begin to feel afraid of the sad feeling because of prior experiences with depression, then we can feel angry about feeling sad and afraid because we see these as weakness, then we can feel overwhelmed by all these powerful feelings. This process can build on itself without any conscious awareness, creating even more confusion. Fear of “losing it” or anticipating being overwhelmed is a key element of anxiety and panic disorders.
That’s Just How I Am! This perceptual filter confuses action with identity. The fact that you (or someone you interact with) have been a certain way up until now, does not say anything about what is possible in the present. It only affirms that you will probably continue being that way as long as you remain functioning in automatic pilot in Old Program. The moment that you choose to shift to manual, becoming conscious, as chooser in your life, and begin to bring truth into that pattern, change becomes a natural outcome. It will probably be awkward and clumsy, but small steps of healthy change build.
Remember that allowing and forcing have opposite effects on your ability to change. This perceptual filter, more than most, gets its power from believing the faulty perception that I am my habits. When you believe that “that’s just how I am,” it becomes true for you, robbing you of choice and healthy power. Your believing gives it the toxic power. If you expect me to behave in a certain way, you will tend to be affected by that expectation, and see what you expect, whether it is actually happening or not. This filter actually helps create what you expect to see.
Excerpt from: Who’s REALLY Driving Your Bus?
By James O. Henman, Ph.D., Psychological Associates Press, 2003, p. 55.
Adult Children are like the Wizard of Oz. Their outer facade may seem powerful and competent, but inside it is as if a little child is pulling the strings and driving their emotional bus. Does this feel familiar to you? Do you often feel like a “fake” when relating to important people in your life? Do you often see yourself as a “phony” going through life in fear of being “discovered?” Does life feel like one unending drama of trying to survive to the next scene, trying to avoid the inevitable disappointments and rejections that you just know are coming? Do you often have significant difficulties in your personal relationships? Do you often ask, “Why Me?”
There are six qualities that seem to be present in most Adult Children prior to entering recovery. How many of these qualities do you recognize in yourself?
1. Reacting to life with a “survival” mentality.
2. Feeling that we are different from “normal” people and spending a lifetime trying to “pretend” that we are normal.
3. Looking at life through a “Black” or “White” filter.
4. Going through life judging very harshly. This judgment may be directed at ourselves, at others, or both.
5. Constantly looking for approval and validation from outside of ourselves.
6. Having great difficulty with intimate relationships.
The natural reaction of blocking painful feelings and experiences is what creates the Adult Child characteristics, dynamically like the frozen scenes that continue to break through for trauma survivors when certain triggers are activated.
We have learned a great deal about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from work with Viet Nam Vets and survivors of traumatic events. Blocking an emotionally charged experience can cause the memory/experience mechanism in the brain to freeze that moment with the emotions fully charged. The memory leaves the limbic portion of the brain experiencing the fullness of the original emotions for the remembered scene, locked in the “on” position emotionally.
When the memory is activated, even subliminally, the emotions come flooding back into consciousness, so that you perceive yourself back in the original experience. I call this dynamic the Time Machine (see Power Of Mind distortions in Chapter Two). Blocking unwanted feelings causes part of your “self-perception” to be stuck in a timeless state, as if in Tupperware and hidden away, frozen in the original scenes.
Adult Children were often forced to become “adults” as children, and often function as “little children” in aspects of their adult lives. Others never grew up because of the lack of safety and healthy models. They had a lack of support to risk becoming an adult with healthy self-esteem. They learned to survive by blocking out painful experiences and adapting to the demands of their environment.
Our wounds grow out of our decisions, perceptions of who we believe ourselves to be at our core, how we perceive the outside world, and how we choose to survive. This can vary greatly depending on whether regression is taking place at the moment. Do you notice any significant fluctuations in your perceptions of self and others?
It does not require “war stories” to create wounds in our character. Rejecting and hating yourself, trying to block painful feelings, and hating someone else can all create a frozen scene. This frozen scene can develop into a wounded part of self, forming its unique perceptions and sense of self. I am not talking about the pathological condition of Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly Multiple Personality Disorder. I am talking about the sometimes subtle filtering of your perceptions without you realizing it is happening.
You need to be living consciously to recognize most of your regressions. What you may notice first is the old, survival feelings beginning to seep or flood into your current experience. A Second-Order feeling reacting to these feelings compounds the intensity and complexity of your feelings in the present. Feel good about noticing where you are starting at this moment. This cuts off the flood of Second-Order feelings that normally come with judging.
Are you feeling guilty because you come from a normal family with no particular problems, feeling you have no right to be an Adult Child? The truth is that we all grew up in fallible families that came from fallible families, etc. We all learned who we are and what the world is going to be like in our childhood. This is not about blaming; it is about being accurate. Notice what you decided from these early experiences. Take several deep breaths and notice the reactions you have to this “Nugget.” Share your reactions with me in your journal.
Normal life produces wounds! This concept of wounding is not about blame, it is about change! This book is an opportunity for you and me to discuss and reflect on your “Old Program” filters that support your current problems. You can learn to unblock your feelings in a healthy way that allows healing of your core self-esteem, using a “New Program” set of tools and resources to develop healthy esteem. I am a recovering Adult Child myself and will share glimpses into my own “inner kids” as the book unfolds.
Appreciating this Adult Child concept is central in the change process! The way I explain it to my clients is that I believe most people have some degree of Adult Child qualities. I believe that this is a normal part of being human. I coach them, and I will coach you to learn how to “parent” the wounded parts of yourself that are involved in the dysfunctional patterns in your life today. It is important to realize that the rejected parts of yourself retain their original perceptual filters, developmental resources, and the cognitive/thinking styles that were present at the time of disconnection.
Excerpt from: Who’s REALLY Driving Your Bus?
By James O. Henman, Ph.D., Psychological Associates Press, 2003.
My many years of experience as a Therapeutic Coach in peoples’ lives has given me a chance to watch the Fundamental Principles of Healthy Change unfold, both within the same client, and within different clients over time. I have seen the effects when clients chose to resist and ignore these fundamental principles.
Since these principles are integrated, when you violate one principle, it affects all aspects of New Program. An example would be learning to see more accurately, but insisting on judging and feeling bad about what you see. It is predictable that this strategy will result in a growing resistance to seeing accurately. Judging will cause you not to notice the very things that are being judged – what a great paradox.
I have formed eight of these Fundamental Principles of Healthy Change into an esteeming New Program for recovery and growth. I have found them particularly useful in coaching and in the free CAIR Self-Help and CAIRing Grace Groups. These principles can guide you on your journey.
Fundamental Principles of Healthy Change: A New Program For Living
1. A growing commitment to being non-judgmental, open and accurate.
2. A growing commitment to believing that we are all Fallible Human Beings.
3. A growing understanding that we react through our perceptual filters rather than directly to “reality.”
4. A growing commitment to the acceptance (acknowledgement) of Reality in the present.
5. A growing commitment to Mutual Respect and Valuing.
6. A growing commitment to a healthy parenting relationship with the “wounded parts of yourself.”
7. A commitment to a growing relationship with a Loving Higher Power.
8. A realization that Recovery is an ongoing process of growth and change – a way of life.
These eight Fundamental Principles of Healthy Change are the heart of an esteeming New Program that allows you to nurture your ability to bring healthy perceptions into your life. When I refer to New Program, I am including the beliefs, attitudes, perceptions and tools presented throughout this book that reflect the Fundamental Principles of Healthy Change. New Program is an integrated perspective that has a direct affect at the level of perception. It is a process of developing healthy attitudes affecting your perceptions, not a set of rules. It is a way to approach your life differently.
© Copyright 2008 Psychological Asssociates James O. Henman Phone: 209.765.9528