Anxiety is a signal of danger present in your world. If anxiety is your first or foremost response to a great number of situations, even when you know intellectually that no real menace exists, then you are living, emotionally speaking, in a very dangerous world. This is a nightmare, fueled by unconscious expectations of peril. There are many forms that emotional danger can take – attack, for example, or rejection, abandonment, and humiliation – and life can assume the character of a minefield, so that with every step comes the possibility of painful emotional catastrophe.
Of importance is that anxiety is not only triggered by the overt stimulus or situation (flying, for example, or asking someone out on a date,) but perhaps even more by hidden risks. For many people, feelings of rejection or attack can be experienced as a confirmation of an unconscious sense of defectiveness or inadequacy. Humiliation can be experienced as the public exposure of unworthiness. And perhaps the greatest danger of all is lurking behind these feared feelings: depression, waiting like a black beast to spring out of the dark. Much general anxiety has depression as its ultimate fear.
To address widespread anxiety, the hidden threats must be uncovered, explored, and defused. Doing so involves moving toward the feared stimulus with a caring other who can help attend to the emerging feelings. Once the feelings can be tolerated and integrated, the feared situation can also be borne. For instance, you may experience yourself as afraid of flying, but the possibility of a plane crash is extremely remote. So it is not the flight that would keep you from getting on the plane, it is the fear itself. Once you can tolerate your own anxiety, you can tolerate flying. As this example shows, if you are not afraid of feelings, you will not be afraid of life, and you will feel safer, less anxious, and freer to live the kind of life you have always wished to live.