Fear, Anxiety and Attachment

These affects or as generally referred to, emotions, are the major methods of human beings of valuing an event or experience and contribute a great deal to the way we experience the world and how we create our world view.


Fear is the primordial emotion. Fear is the survival response. Fear, oddly, is also the basis of “trust”. Since fear spurs the animal into action, the animal must trust its instincts and trust the warning; ultimately trusting the person who gives the alarm. When primitive man heard the warning for the equivalent of “LION” – he reacted. He did not wait to see if the warning was true, for if it was and he did not react- he would potentially end up in harms way.

On the basis of such requirements, human beings have evolved in a manner that makes all propositions TRUE – until analysis of such a proposition is made. Analysis requires energy.

Once humans became suffiently endowed intellectually, they began to understand that they could use this fact to their own advantage. The story of the “boy who called wolf”, epitomizes the use of deceit to control the actions of other people who trust. With the advent of deceit came the loss of innocence. Unlike other animals, humans now lose innocence at some point in their development and no longer implicitly trust.

The loss of innocence occurs when the child develops a reasonably comprehensive and coherent “view of the world”. This “world view”, among other things, contains assumptions about self, others and the future. Using these assumptions provides at least a sufficient capacity to predict and therefore control events. This world view is naive and insubstantial, but it comprises the basic “personality” of the child as it becomes a “cache” of lore through which all new propositions are valued and predisposes the child to act in ways that are appropriate to the beliefs. Thus, new propositions, if analyzed, are compared with what is already ‘known’ or assumed and if it agrees it is accepted as equally true. If it disagrees, it may be rejected unless it is so powerful that it causes an “incoherence” in the ‘known’ variables. In this case, the “belief cache” may be altered.

This “world perspective” tends to cohere around the age of four and remain relatively plastic until around age eight. After that it becomes increasingly more difficult to change, although it is pliable throughout life. Since the belief cache essentially comprises the person’s concept of self; change is frightening, and can be traumatic, if the force for change comes from the outside. In fact, in such cases resistance is an attempt to maintain the integrity of the self.

The requirements for change, therefore, demand either a major self motivation – which is highly unlikely since a person is unlikely to discard what for them is true; or trust someone who challenges these beliefs. Hearing a person say they Cognitive-Behavior-GOODwant to “be” someone else is not really the same as having them say they want to “believe” something else; although that is what is required. It is because they believe what they do that they want to be something different. What they “are” – their “world perspective” is not working. However, when they get down to the notion of change -they often resist just because they are what they believe. A cycle process occurs since evidence is screened through the cache of beliefs which tends to dismiss evidence to the contrary and accept evidence which supports the present postion.

Trust is a major component of helping. Whether a person desires change or does not, change cannot happen without trust in some other person. Change sometimes occurs when a person places trust in a “supreme being”. Such trust, however, requires that people around the person provide propositions which support the beliefs of the supreme being and reinforce the social and psychological outcomes. Otherwise such beliefs become “cult” activities outside the norms of social expectations; causing another problem in living.

Often the requirement of change of self is placed by societal expectations. People with problems in living who act in ways which offends someone else, are often forced to get help “for their own good”. At such times, it would be logical that fear and anxiety would become aroused and resistance would be enhanced. The more force applied, the more fear reaction – until perhaps the fear develops into anger. At this point, it is likely that the resistance will become oppositional. The attributions of medication and incarceration contribute to the invasive characterization of attack and attempts at control. Such interventions are powerful messengers and self preservation becomes the appropriate action. The helper is then dealing with an individual with an aroused state of “willfulness”.

To effect change of self is to seek methods to overcome primordial fear and the need for self preservation. We have identified some areas which merit exploration. If all propositions are true until analyzed and analysis takes energy; a reduction in energy combined with a statement of a new proposition would enhance its power. When a person faces a crisis – when coping skills no longer work, one could assume that there is a lessening of energy available for analysis. At that time new propositions might be quite powerful – perhaps enough to alter the belief cache.

Unfortunately, the helping response during such crises is usually more oriented to taking over responsibility than placing responsibility back on the person. The proposition therefore is “you are inadequate” which is not a very positive attribution. Repeatedly saying to a person in crisis that 1) this is temporary, 2) you can handle it, and 3) you are strong enough to move on to future success, is a very different proposition with a different and more positive attribution. While it is not something that a person in crisis is likely to easily believe, the energy to analyze it is low and the proposition become powerful. Later one can have the person continue the mantra out loud, fading to a whisper until it becomes an unconscious internal dialogue in time of stress. The self statement itself reduces energy and may allow the proposition to become a belief.

A second way that a proposition gains power is based on the significance of the person making the proposition. People become significant to us when we “value” them. Emotion is the valuation given. Thus an emotional attachment [positive or negative] increases the value of the person. This is why people we love or hate can affect us so easily with things that if other people did them, we could ignore. On the other hand, since negative valuation is likely to be resisted, even powerful propositions are likely to be dismissed based on the belief residing in the cache that “this person is no good”. If the person is no good, it is likely that the proposition is no good as well.

On the other hand, if the person is given high positive value, their propositions may be given more salience. Thus a person who has high positive value can be potentially greatly helpful or greatly damaging to the person with problems in living. The content of their propositions are very important and not enough time has been spent on examining the communication used by parents, teacher and the others who are likely to have high value for the child. We must separate out the content and style of communication from the intent of the communication because the child interprets the content from his or her own cache of beliefs and if the symbols are ambiguous, the intent may be lost.

Persons with high positive value can create substantial cognitive dichotomy for the child. If I am very important [cool] and make a proposition which is stupid [uncool], one of two things must happen. The child must determine that I am not important [cool] or the proposition is important. Thus people who the child relates to positively can dispute beliefs in the cache powerfully.

One substantive method of doing so is to seek to help the person with problems in living to evaluate for themselves their own “belief cache” for its usefulness in helping them predict and control events. This can be a tedious process since most of the “cache” assumptions have been around for a while and have been at least “satisficing” – a word coined in business theory to indicate that it is sufficient, but not satisfying. Additionally the assumptions [beliefs] become unconscious habits from which the individual operates without really having revisited them. They are like reflex behavior – blinking of the eye – we can do it consciously, but most of the time we do not. Based on the assumption that our “cache” beliefs represent who we are, even when we would like to change, examination of these beliefs in an objective manner is difficult. Often the helper will need to “dispute” the person’s evaluation and offer counter evidence.

Such disputes normally cannot become confrontational since they arouse the emotions of the person with problems in living and it is the emotional content of their beliefs which causes the difficulty. Beliefs are valued in the same manner as people – they are given emotional impact. The more powerfully I care about a proposition, the stronger my motivation to maintain it. The significance of the person is often in conflict with the significance of the proposition – and then the person with problems in living must decide.

The highest form of positive valuation any person can have is trust. If the person trusts that you would never do harm, then this relationship can delve deeply into the belief cache and effectively dispute them. When we do harm – something the person does not want – we severely test the relationship. Such tests are important since they strengthen the trust if the outcome justifies the means. The evidence for well or misplaced trust is in these tests. Are you there for me?

Humans have become quite adept at picking up the clues of deceit. “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” You may fail the person once, but it is difficult to do more than once and maintain trust. Trust is not just in doing the right things, but in doing them for the right reasons: for the other person. The construct of the fiduciary, who must use money only for the benefit of the client is a good analogy. The actions may be harsh, but they must always be in the best interest of the other. “Tough love” works only when the belief of the person with problems in living is that you did it for me. Failure to live up the the analogy of the fiduciary in the eyes of the person with problems in living can lead to a more difficult emotion.


While it is clear that the lower animals feel fear, it is unclear and unlikely that they feel anger. Aggression is not always driven by anger. Violent battles in the animal world do not seem to be based on anger. If they are between predator and prey, they often end in death, but are for reasons of hunger and survival. Territorial or sexual battles among species rarely end in death or go beyond what is necessary to demonstrate physical superiority. But humans do feel anger. And for them anger is a moral emotion. It is righteous. It aims not only to end current trespass but to repair any damage done. It also aims to prevent further trespass by disarming, imprisoning, emasculating or killing the trespasser. [Seligman - 1993] Since anger justifies our aggressive action, these behaviors become distinctly social in character although asocial in nature.

Anger is highly opinionated, warning us that something evil is trespassing against us. It tells us to get rid of the object, to strike out against it. Anger has three components. There is the thought, a very discrete and particular thought: “I am being trespassed against.” There is the bodily reaction. Your sympathetic nervous system and your muscles mobilize for physical assault using the same mechanisms evolved for fear. After such preparation there is the action, The attack is towards ending the trespass – immediately.

The quality of righteousness is the quality that probably separates humankind from animals. Although animals respond aggressively [fight] or flee, when trespassed. It is doubtful that they have thoughts that justify these responses. The moral aspect is extremely problematic to the helping professions, since people with problems in living often “think” they are being trespassed, when the causal observer sees no such offense. Thinking is a many layered event. If I think I am unlikable – I think that others don’t like me – believing this, I watch closely for offense and become angry when I sense it and given the bodily response – I am likely to strike out unless this action is mediated.

What is an offense? Offense, like truth and beauty, is to a large extent in the mind of the beholder. One who is indifferent to others is likely to be less offended by actions than one who is highly attuned. One who is serene in self may see offense, but not be offended. What bothers us is offensive; but I control what bothers me.

In helping angry persons then two factors become apparent: first, they need to examine what they think about self and others, and second, they need to find ways to mediate action. The first process we have discussed in relation to fear. The second, requires skills. Anger management is a process of seeking alternative solutions. If I am trespassed – what options are available to me. Often the people that we see as being violent and aggressive have only hostile attributions. Walking down the hall I am bumped into – trespassed. To what do I attribute the trespass – a hostile attribution might be “s/he did it on purpose”. A more benign attribution might be “it was an accident”. This attribution is based on my world perspective or cache of beliefs. None the less, if I was bumped into on purpose – I still have alternatives.

The creation of alternative solutions is the single most important skill in problem solving. Such creation takes imagination. Many people are unskilled in such creation and need practice. It is not sufficient for the helper to create the alternatives although such modeling may start the process. The larger the number of alternatives the greater the flexibility of the person in response. Flexibility is generally a positive personality trait.

Once having created alternatives, the person must learn to weigh the consequences of each alternative to themselves and to others. In the midst of the emotion such weighing is difficult since the bodily response has already prepared the person for action. However, it is a process that is likely to help calm them down. The very process of making the incident thoughtful rather than just emotional helps to mediate the actions.

In evolutionary terms emotions lead directly to action. However, as human beings evolved toward more complex behaviors, these needed to be carried out in stages. It is theorized that this required a thought process to queue up actions in sequential order. Thus the capacity of thought to mediate actions became possible. It is clear why “count to ten” becomes a common sense admonition. At least we must count to the following steps in a thought mediated process – 1) Stop and 2) think! 3) Is this a good choice or a bad choice? 4) Decide, 5) What alternatives might be available? 6) Which of the alternatives most meets my goals [end the trespass and avoid negative consequences]? 7) Impact on me. 8) Impact on others 9) Decide. 10) NOW act appropriately.

While it important psychologically to have the serenity to diminish the number of offenses and the degrees of anger, it is not the feeling of trespass which causes us trouble socially. It is the actions we take. Some people have an absolutely wonderful way of telling someone to go to hell in a fashion in which the person so instructed enjoys the trip. This is a social skill to which we should all aspire. However, it is probably unlikely that such subtle handling can occur when the body is primed for action. Thus the skill cannot be implemented without a restructuring of the belief cache. Only when a person believes that they are okay and that other people are okay, despite occasional evidence to the contrary, can s/he reach the serenity necessary for such restraint on a regular basis.

In this context, we should mention the construct of attachment and what it means to tranquility.


We don’t normally think of attachment as an emotion, but our attachment for people and objects generates a great deal of emotion. For example, our attachment to people or objects creates a wider range of areas for trespass and therefore, anger. It is the loss of important attachments which bring on sadness. It is the attachment to people who upset us and the attachment to our righteousness which leads to hate. Some sages [e.g., Buddha and Jesus] have suggested that we should have no attachments, going so far as to give up family and friends to seek serenity.

For most of us our attachment to “things” [thoughts, goals, objects and people] are critical to our evaluation of ourselves. It is important to “keep up with the Joneses” in acquisition. “S/he who has the most toys – wins!” We dote on our cars and pets. We have “trophy” spouses. Our team is always “Number One”. The loss of our things traumatizes us almost as much as the loss of significant people. Some people feel “personally violated” when their home is robbed. We have murderous Crusades and Inquisitions in our attachment to, and the need to protect, the image of one who told us to “turn the other cheek”.

Once the fight/flee response is overcome, we develop the potential for attachment. If you are neither harmful nor prey, you may sexually or otherwise absorbing. Our animal heritage might suggest why we fight to maintain sexual congress. But what is the attachment to ideas and things?

Powerful attachments are a familiar part of childhood. The ownership of things helps to identify who we are. “This is mine” – qualifies that “I am”. I am a separate individual as acknowledged by mine and yours. Sharing is a confusing concept since it requires higher order abstraction. Gradually, with the acquisition of such abstract concepts such as sharing, many of us become able to separate ourselves as entities different from what we possess. But many do not. Many people continue to identify themselves by what they own. They must have a bigger car, better clothes, and a better looking spouse in order to “be as good as everybody else and better than some”. On an absolutist scale someone must be on the bottom, without any belongings. How does this person individuate him/herself?

Often the way this is done is to become attached to the idea that my very difference makes me better. Thus, making my lack a plus, I readily agree that “those people” don’t know anything; “those people” are no good; “those people” are not just different, but inferior. This attachment to “those people” ideas gives me a sufficing level of operating. But thinking occurs on different levels and while this may help, on a more basic level, I don’t feel too secure.

An enhancement comes from finding others who believe these things about “those people” and joining in an active crusade to “put those people in their place”. This at least gives me a sense of belonging. The group often becomes the major attachment for the individual, ranking above a significant other, objects of desire, or other important attachment possibilities. If the group has a recognizable status, this gives the individual status as well. This is an important point since one can use the need for attachment to attempt to connect the person with problems in living to the most positive group available. The reflected status can even open new opportunities for the person to take on a more positive belief system. The attachment to the group allows for a recodification of beliefs in the cache. A similar attachment often occurs to responsibility. If attached to the desire for the status of the responsibility, the person may make special pains to be responsible. All in all, the helper may be able to make the need for attachments a useful tool in changing self.

Unfortunately, many people stay within the confines of themselves and their ideas – becoming more and more attached to the prospects that the world operates specifically to make life hard for them. They attach to a narcissistic notion that they are important enough for the neighbors to talk about, the FBI or CIA to be after, of aliens to contact. Such attachments often lead to paranoia.

While there are pundits who suggest that there are women who love too much and men to love too little, it is most often the men who are destroyed by a loss of a love attachment. This may suggest that women are more resilient and while the struggle to maintain even bad relationships, they are better able to let go once it ends. We talk of as well love/hate relationships. Since either emotion places significantly high evaluation, both have high impact. When one we are so strongly attached to responds negatively it hurts badly and makes us angry and prepared to respond. When a person is defined by the things they own, and sees such relationships as ownership, this trauma is escalated. Those who view themselves with more tranquility may be quite as hurt, not understand in the least the actions of the other, but be more prepared to “let go”.

Otto Rank has suggested that the person is ambivalent from the start; wanting at once to be separated as an individual and, at the same time to be reunited in the symbiotic relationship of the womb. It is the attempt to find a balance between the poles of separation and union which leads to “creative” nuances. The person achieving total separation usually is trying to move towards union, while the one totally absorbed with others is often trying to find themselves.

Depression marks the loss of something very dear to us. Depression urges us to divest, “decathect”, fall out of love, mourn, and ultimately resign ourselves to its absence” [Seligman - 1993]. Such a loss is usually characterized by sad affect and loss of interest in usually satisfying activities, a negative view of self and hopelessness, passivity, indecisiveness and suicidal ideation, and loss of appetite, weight loss, sleep disturbance and other physical symptoms.

Depression is the emotion that comes in the wake of helplessness, individual failure and unrealized attempts to gain power.The symptoms fall into four clusters:

  • The way you think when you are depressed differs from the way you think when you are not depressed. A pessimistic explanatory style is at the core of most depressed thinking: causes are seen as permanent, pervasive and personal.
  • There is a change in mood. You feel sad, discouraged and in despair.
  • There is a change in behavior toward passivity, indecisiveness and self-destructive actions.
  • Finally there are somatic responses in which eating and sleeping are affected.

When a helper addresses the way the person thinks, this is called cognitive restructuring and was addressed earlier. The same process of belief identification and awareness, evaluation and dispute, and reorganization is followed for depression as for anxiety. Only the content differs. Changes in mood occur when the reframing, reorganization or restructuring occurs. As we resign ourselves to our loss and place it into a perspective of the future opportunities, we can let go and move on. The process also re-energizes the person to seek these opportunities and act on them when they occur. The optimistic outlook, even if not totally true, offers the best opportunity for decisive, self supportive action. What is clear is that it is the thoughts that cause the mood, behavioral and somatic afflictions, not the other way around.

Obsessions are the ultimate attachment. While it is not logically clear how an individual gets caught in this phase, the behavior is characterized by the person being plagued by uncontrollable, repulsive thoughts [obsessions] and engaging in seemingly senseless rituals [compulsions] to satisfy the thoughts. Such people have an intrusive thought stream which intrudes unbidden on them during work and play. Their most common themes are dirt and contamination, checking for danger and doubt.

Everyone has a thought stream and often we will find a repetitiveness of the thoughts to the point of irritation. The song that reoccurs for long periods of time; the image that we would like to forget, but in trying, restore. Those who persevrate in thoughts to the point of obsession do so around two very specific areas: contamination and violence. Those concerned with contamination spend their time getting clean and those concerned with violence spend their time checking. While some would insist that the behaviors are biologically driven, this is open to some question. While there is some evidence that it occasionally occurs right after brain trauma; perhaps runs in families and that two areas of the brain show higher activity in OCD patients, this is suggestive, not persuasive.

The brain activity could be a reaction, not a cause. OCD parents could make their children much more cognizant of the problem and the child, focusing on the concern becomes caught up in a self induced cycle. Finally, an injured brain may alter the mechanism for coherent behavior, but does not, in and of itself, eliminate other causes. As a comparison, mental retardation can be caused by brain trauma as well, but Down Syndrome, a type of mental retardation is not. To conclude that because some people become obsessive compulsive after brain trauma, that all obsessive compulsive behavior is caused by brain trauma reminds one of the cliche on logic: All cars have trunks. All Elephants have trunks. Therefore all cars are elephants. In other words, it doesn’t make sense.

From a behavioral point of view, there is something magnetic about horrible thoughts and images. In fact, people in general and children in particularly seem to love to be scared. This may be related to the evolutionary process of escape making life somehow more important and satisfying. Some people are better than others in dismissing thoughts or in distracting themselves from them. When we are depressed or anxious as most people inclined to obsessive compulsive behavior are, such thoughts are even more difficult to stop. In ways similar to worriers, the thoughts are self reinforcing. By following the rituals, the contamination or catastrophe never happens. Ergo, the ritual works.

Behaviorists have found that exposure and response prevention works just as well. If the patient is exposed to the the feared situation and then prevented from engaging in the ritual, they at first become very anxious. However, if they continue to refrain and the expected harm never occurs, the self reinforcement cycle is broken. While case histories have shown that the thoughts still lurk, the obsession and compulsion never returns. People who along with their obsessive and compulsive behaviors are depressed or have delusions, or who secretly perform their rituals usually will not improve.