Interview with Dr. Pressman:
1) Thank you for taking the time to do an interview with me. As someone who struggles with anxiety myself, I’m very interested in learning about your book. How does your approach to anxiety in Deconstructing Anxiety differ from other approaches to anxiety?
Love this question because it lets me summarize my own life story in a nutshell. As a young adolescent, I began asking all the usual, good adolescent questions like “why are we here?” “what is the purpose of life?” and especially, “what is to be done about suffering?”. My search led me to not only become a psychologist, learning what that noble field has to offer, but also to study the great wisdom traditions from around the world. I studied with a Zoroastrian High Priest in Mumbai, a Zen Master in Kyoto, a Sri Lankan firewalker and others, as well as many of the leaders in the Consciousness movement.
Through my own search for answers, I discovered that anxiety is the root cause of any type of suffering. What’s more, I discovered there is a single “core fear” for each of us—a thought we buy into as little children—that shapes our entire way of looking at and interacting with the world.
There’s an exercise in “Deconstructing Anxiety” that quickly pinpoints this very thought, buried at the foundation of our psyche, called “Digging for Gold”. I’m so excited about this exercise because it can reliably give a person insight into the root of the root of what causes not only anxiety but all our suffering. And that, plus the exercises for unraveling this problem, is what distinguishes this approach from others out there. It’s very rare, I believe, to actually find the true source of what projects the entire world of our suffering, and to be able to dig up that source at the root, so the problem is not just managed or covered up but fully resolved.
2) Not only did you write a book on anxiety, but you also offer a seminar on it. What made you want to discuss anxiety so extensively? Was there a pivotal moment in which you decided this was a topic you wanted to explore?
As I started to discover these principles, I began first applying them to myself. I was like a hound dog hot on the trail of what I knew to be the right scent. I just had to follow this trail all the way and when I saw the results it gave me, I began applying it to my therapy clients and workshop participants. One person after the other, with remarkable consistency, demonstrated the same results I was getting, and so this has become my mission, my passion and my life’s work.
3) Your model on anxiety states that “Anxiety is understood as the wellspring at the source of all problems.” Do you think anxiety can ever be beneficial?
It’s a great question because we certainly think of anxiety as a sometimes necessary tool to “keep us on our toes” or compel us to do our best. However–and this is important–we can accomplish exactly the same goals when we understand that the anxiety only scares us into action. We can just as readily choose to pursue our goals with love and enthusiasm for good in a way that has nothing to do with anxiety.
In fact, we find that when we let go of the anxiety, we free up enormous reserves of energy that were being squandered on the worry—anticipating all sorts of problems and disastrous scenarios in the interest of being prepared for them—that are either extremely unlikely or completely unrealistic. As Michele de Montaigne said, “My life was filled with terrible misfortunes…most of which never happened!”. In fact, “Deconstructing Anxiety” is really a book about fulfillment: once our anxiety is resolved, the way is clear to pursue our fulfillment without all the wasted energy and suffering that comes from trying to reach our goals through anxious means.
4) Deconstructing Anxiety is very interactive providing the reader with exercises that help address anxiety. Can you share a little bit about these exercises and how the reader will benefit from them?
Sure. We’ve already mentioned the “Digging for Gold” exercise, which is the cornerstone of the program. Here’s how it works in brief: By taking a problem, any problem (since they’ll all lead to the one core fear at the root of our difficulties), we then ask one of three questions: “Why is that upsetting to me?” “What am I afraid will happen next?” and “What am I afraid I’ll miss or lose?”. Whichever question seems most appropriate will lead us to an answer that takes us one level close to our core fear. We then ask one of the same three questions of that new problem and find the answer that is yet again one level deeper, one level closer to the core fear.
Continuing this process, we finally arrive at a profound truth at the foundation of our psyche, the core fear that has been driving all our thinking and making all our decisions (whenever we are not wholly established in fulfillment). This core fear will be one of what I like to call five “universal themes of loss”: the fear of loss of love (i.e. abandonment), loss of identity (who we truly are), loss of meaning (our value and the value we see in the world), loss of purpose (our self-expression and contribution to the world) and the fear of death.
Once we’ve uncovered our core fear, there are several other exercises, including “The Alchemist”, “The Witness” and “The Warrior’s Stance”, which I’m really excited about because they pinpoint the precise moment at which we defend against our core fear. This defense is meant to protect us from our fear, and might do so for the moment, but it actually ends up creating and increasing our fear.
So the exercises reveal exactly where and how we apply this defense, and provide the most powerful tools I know for letting it go. In psychology we call this “resolving resistance”, but I’ve never found a method as consistent and reliable as that presented in the Deconstructing Anxiety program for transforming our struggles so completely. People regularly describe the experience as if their anxiety “just floated away”, was seen to be “pure illusion”, etc. In a single session, it’s usual to see a profound, often life-changing transformation.
5) In your opinion, how effective is knowledge and self-reflection in treating or relieving anxiety?
The twin aspects of the Deconstructing Anxiety program are insight and action. Insight (self-knowledge) is key…there’s no getting around that. You can’t simply talk away your fears or think positively if you’re looking for real transformation.But insight has to be combined with action, taking the steps that prove to yourself the fear has no power to actually stop you. In the book, there are three approaches to this kind of action.
The first is moving into the fear (again, demonstrating to ourselves it has no power to actually hurt us). The second is “doing nothing”, where we refuse to move at all (instead of doing our usual song and dance that fear would make us do). And the third is doing something completely unrelated to the fear, proving to ourselves that the fear doesn’t even have the power to hold our attention. The exercises in the book are highly refined ways of accomplishing these three approaches, but each has in common that, as we refuse to listen to fear’s dictates, we discover it has no “teeth”.
6) What advice would you give to someone who is feeling consumed by their anxiety?
Always be practical in your approach. If your anxiety is overwhelming, do whatever will bring enough stability and calm to be able to enact the principles we’ve been discussing in an effective way. If that means getting outside your headspace with intensive physical activity or other stimulation, talking to a friend for support or even taking medication if the anxiety is extreme enough, then that has to be the first step.
I often use a form of Gestalt therapy to physically discharge the intense energy of anxiety (or other difficult emotions) to bring calm and initial clarity. Mindfulness, visualization or other forms of meditation can be excellent as well, but again, difficult if someone is too distressed. In the end, though, the principles and practices of the Deconstructing Anxiety method are gentle enough that they can be used with almost anyone in any situation. They are designed to be a self-help program you can do on your own, though a good guide can always be helpful especially if one’s anxiety is strong.
7) Thanks again for this interview! Deconstructing Anxiety discusses and provides insight on such an important topic that affects millions. Where can readers find your book?
Either through Amazon or at my website www.toddpressman.com (where I have some fun giveaways if you sign up for them). And thank you for this opportunity!
Category: Adult Non-Fiction (18+) (336 pages)
Genre: Self-Help/How To
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield
Release date: January 2020
Tour dates: Jan 13 to Feb 7, 2020
Content Rating: PG
understanding of fear’s subtlest mechanisms. In this model, anxiety is
understood as the wellspring at the source of all problems. Tapping into
this source, therefore, holds the clues not only for how to escape fear,
but how to release the very causes of suffering, paving the way to a
profound sense of peace and satisfaction in life.
integrative approach to healing and growth, based on an understanding of
how the psyche organizes itself around anxiety. It provides insights
into the architecture of anxiety, introducing the dynamics of the “core
fear” (one’s fundamental interpretation of danger in the world) and
“chief defense” (the primary strategy for protecting oneself from
threat). The anxious personality is then built upon this foundation,
creating a “three dimensional, multi-sensory hologram” within which one
can feel trapped and helpless.
Deconstructing Anxiety provides a clear roadmap to resolving this human
dilemma, paving the way to an ultimate and transcendent freedom.
Therapists and laypeople alike will find this book essential in helping
design a life of meaning, purpose and enduring fulfillment.
About the Author:
design lives of fulfillment. He is the founder and director of Logos
Wellness Center and Pressman and Associates Life Counseling Center. An
international speaker and seminar leader, he has presented at the Omega
Institute, the New York Open Center, and numerous professional
conferences, including the prestigious Council Grove Conference,
sponsored by the Menninger Foundation. He has written dozens of
articles, educational programs, and two highly acclaimed books, Radical
Joy: Awakening Your Potential for True Fulfillment and The Bicycle
Repair Shop: A True Story of Recovery from Multiple Personality
Disorder. He earned his doctorate in psychology from the Saybrook
Institute and an undergraduate degree from the University of
Pennsylvania, has studied under renowned leaders in the Consciousness
movement and Gestalt therapy, and has traveled around the world to study
the great Wisdom traditions, from Zen Buddhism to fire-walking
ceremonies, providing a cross-cultural perspective of the extraordinary
capacities of the mind and spirit. He makes his home in Philadelphia.