“It really COULD happen, Dr. Hanna. You can’t guarantee me that it won’t happen.” So goes another conversation with one of my anxious patients. Many of my patients who struggle with anxiety want me to guarantee them that their respective feared outcomes WILL not happen. Anxiety finds much fertile ground in the world of COULD. The reality is that we inhabit a world that is full of many bad outcomes with death being the ultimate bad outcome. Anxiety exaggerates the risks of the potential bad outcomes making it seem that they are not only imminent, but highly likely. In addition, anxiety exerts its ultimate control by telling us that we will not be able to handle the bad outcome and that it will be horrible and awful.
Anxiety doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It occurs in the context of our individual and collective lives. We inhabit a real body in a real world and have real relationships. We do get sick and hurt and ultimately die. Our loved ones also get sick and hurt and ultimately die. There really are terrorist’s attacks and school shootings. But on the flip side there is also love, mercy, grace, hope, generosity, beauty, and sacrifice. We all know that our world is not the way it is supposed to be. We yearn for something different.
We each have an interpretive grid through which we do life and through which we process life in order to find meaning and hope. This interpretive grid is the key to how we process these fears and anxieties. So the solution for each one of us is to examine our interpretive grid and to evaluate its effectiveness in processing the realities of our life with all of it joys, hopes, and bad outcomes. We know deep down that our lives do matter and we yearn for purpose and meaning in all events that come our way. We need to ask ourselves some important questions that will help us to examine and perhaps to challenge our interpretive grid through which we do life. James Sire uses worldview to talk about this interpretive grid. He says that “the essence of a worldview lies deep in the inner recesses of the human self. A worldview involves the mind, but it is first of all a commitment, a matter of the soul. It is a spiritual orientation more than it is a matter of mind alone.”
We each have a worldview and a spiritual orientation that directly affects how we process our fears and anxieties. It is imperative that we each identify this spiritual orientation and ultimate commitments since they are the foundation of our anxieties and fears. Philosopher James K Smith says that “Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behavior flow.” Our spiritual orientation and our wants, longings and desires will all be reflected in our fears and anxieties. As a matter of fact, our fears and anxieties will tell us what it is we have ascribed ultimate meaning to and that which we hold most significant in our lives. I hope it is clear at this point that without doing a deep dive into our loves and spiritual commitments that it is almost impossible to truly address these anxieties and fears. Challenge your assumptions to see if they are consistent with the world you navigate on a daily basis. Do these assumptions help you to make sense of both the good and bad outcomes?