Psychological Self-Help

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In Barlow's (2001) new experimentally-based book, the crux of
anxiety is described as being an anticipation of trouble and feeling
unable to control events in one's life. This suggests that one's sense
of self-control (or Bandura's self-efficacy) is of vital importance. Note
that "normal" people often believe they have more control over events
than they really have (an exaggerated sense of mastery to quell our
fears?). Many experiments with animals deprived of control have
immediately produced agitation and intense tension. Also,
psychological experiments studying the much later impact of early
experiences, like animals allowed to control their food and water
supply vs. animals having plenty to eat and drink but no control, have
demonstrated marked and complex influences on the adult animal's
behavior (less emotionality, fewer fears, less stress hormones,
different brain organization, more adventurous exploratory behavior).
An interesting and surprising contrast is that early physical trauma did
not produce as much adult emotionality in animals (there is some
reason to doubt that this holes true in humans). Apparently, gaining a
sense of mastery or learning one is able to handle problems early in
life, e.g. in monkeys who get good mothering and social support when
young, seems to protect the adult from serious anxiety. So, learn your
self-help lessons well. 
Okay, now we are getting to the crux of this book--self-control and
self-confidence. But how does a sense of control develop in humans?
Barlow (2000) points out two characteristics of parenting that develop
a child's sense of control. Attentive parents, who promptly respond
to the young child's needs, wishes, cries, etc., build a sense of safety
and an "I-can-get-things-done" expectation. Likewise, encouraging
parents, who are less over-protective and let the child explore and
handle situations in his/her own way, foster more independence, more
security, and more self-confidence in the child. Parental over-
control does the opposite, leading to less of a sense of self-control in
the child (more of an "externalizer"--see chapter 8), to seeing the
world as a more dangerous place requiring constant vigilance and help
from others, and to feeling more anxiety and depression, perhaps
throughout life (unless some self-changes are made or intervention is
provided later in life). Thus, in addition to the genes, the learned sense
of mastery or self-control determines, in large part, the amount of
stress, anxiety or tension we feel. However, there is at least one more
important factor--beginning to think of some situation or condition as
particularly dangerous. 
Although fears are generally based on primitive automatic
emotional reactions, more intense panic and specific fears occur when
we feel particularly vulnerable--open to being seriously hurt. Some of
this vulnerability may be genetic tendencies but much is probably
learned, often at an early age. How are these dangers, these "Wow,
that scares the hell out of me!" reactions, learned? Sometimes, we see
the actual results of a real danger--a heart attack, an auto accident,
someone going crazy--and we vividly imagine that might happen to us.
Examples: Panic attacks often are exacerbated by the scary thoughts
that the tightness in my chest and high anxiety means I'm dying from
a heart attack, going to faint, going crazy, etc. Such thoughts greatly
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