Paul J. Hannig, Ph.D., MFCC


The following disorders are classified as anxiety disorders: Panic Disorder, Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia, Agoraphobia Without History of Panic Disorder, Specific Phobia, Social Phobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Anxiety Disorder Due to a General Medical Condition, Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder, Anxiety Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, Separation Anxiety Disorder and Sexual Aversion Disorder.


Anxiety is an inhibitory, restricting avoidant type of reaction to a perceived, conscious or unconscious, threatening stimulus. The threat can be real, imaginary or symbolic. The person who consistently reacts to a fear producing stimulus usually develops an elaborate idiosyncratic, rational or irrational explanation for the anxiety reaction.


Anxiety is not a true feeling. It is a defensive reaction against discovering a threatening feeling. Because the sufferer wishes to avoid arousing unpleasant or repressed emotions, anxiety functions as a resistant defense against buried injury and trauma. An anxious person would rather maintain the status quo of cerebral defensive, verbal strongholds than feel the real and true pangs of stored and compartmentalized emotional shock. By holding onto the defense the person effectively keeps the true source of anxiety out of consciousness. When anxiety eventually breaks through into consciousness, the individual needs to attach the anxiety to an external substituted source, such as a spouse, the therapist, a dog, bridge or some other displaced substitute.


A woman may project her anxiety onto the therapist's door in order to avoid going into the therapy room and facing the true origins of her fear. A woman might devalue a therapy method that threatens to breach her defenses and expose her deep emotional pain with her father. Another woman may accuse her husband of wanting to divorce her instead of fully feeling the abandonment of her father. A female may accuse someone of trying to kill her in order to avoid a near death experience at birth. A drug addict may get stoned every day in order to avoid feeling the loss of mother's love. These are just some of the scenarios.


Anxiety and terror are the last bastions of resistance to feeling one's own reservoir of hurt, pain, unmet need, desertion, etc. Anxious people walk tentatively and tend to postpone getting to their true self. They are more concerned with fixing others and controlling people in order to neutralize all symbolic, substituted threats. Inordinate fear creates a need for an inordinate amount of safety. But when you are dealing with inner demons there is no escape except to the temporary realm of a mind that is disassociated from feeling.


Treating the Anxious Couple

When anxiety disorders begin to ruin a couple's happiness, there are specific structures that I have found for the successful conducting of therapy. Structures are planned ahead of time, given what is already known about the case. You can assume that certain needs are not being met and communication is a problem in the relationship.













Fighting, arguing, and avoiding are part of the lifestyle of anxious couples. The old method of fighting through to resolution may mistakenly reinforce their family transmitted method of conflict non-resolution. A new way that arouses deeper feeling resources must be found. Old ways are hard to die and when old triggers enter the picture, the couple will automatically regress to old fight styles. The therapist must be an agent of change. S/he must stand for the future, what the couple can become, rather than a willing supporter of the status quo.


Paul J. Hannig, Ph.D., MFCC, CCMHC, NCC  * *  *  818-882-7404