• Daren Casagrande

Rooting Out Your Deepest Fears


Piggybacking on our most recent post about The Simple(ish) Secret to Feeling Good. I wanted to introduce a tool that can help get you to the depths of your deep dark places that really continue to drive your feelings of depression and anxiety (whether clinical strength or not). This tool is called Downward Arrow. This is a CBT technique that has a lot of versions.


As a funny side story, before I learned about this technique I created a more rudimentary version of it for myself. I thought it was some proprietary thing I was going to share with the field. One day, I read a book describing it exactly and with changes that made it more effective. It's like when you think you made up a song, only to hear that exact melody come up on your Spotify mix later one. Doh!


So the Downward Arrow version that I use is borrowed from TEAM-CBT - which is a technique that was created by Dr. David Burns (current Stanford Professor and understudy and the founder of Cognitive Therapy, Aaron Beck). It's fairly simple, all you need is a pen/pencil and paper (or phone) and a quiet space to do some difficult work.


From there you try to think from the perspective of the part of you that has those deep, dark feelings. Then you ask yourself the set up question, "What are you afraid would happen if you weren't so sad/anxious?" Once you've pondered that, try to summarize your thoughts in one sentence. Then you start Downward Arrow, which asks: "Why would that be upsetting if that were true, or what would that mean to me?" Again, ponder your answer (don't give up, it takes time sometimes). Then, again, summarize your response in one sentence. Then make an arrow pointing down from that sentence and ask the same question again, "Why would that be upsetting if that were true, or what would that mean to me?"


Then continue to do this until you can't answer it anymore. However, really push yourself to keep going deeper. Often we hit "false flats" where we think we're done, but there is really much more - so keep pushing deeper with all the courage and bravery required!


As an example I've made up of what this can often look like is:


What are you afraid would happen if you weren't so sad/anxious?

I'm afraid that I'd make a huge mistake and fail.


Why would that be upsetting if that were true, or what would that mean to me?

Well, then I'd lose my job.


Why would that be upsetting if that were true, or what would that mean to me?

I wouldn't be able to pay my bills and other people depend on me.


Why would that be upsetting if that were true, or what would that mean to me?

I would feel out of control. I'd feel weak.


Why would that be upsetting if that were true, or what would that mean to me?

No one likes weak people. People would hate me and leave.


Why would that be upsetting if that were true, or what would that mean to me?

I would end up alone and I don't think that would change.


Why would that be upsetting if that were true, or what would that mean to me?

Well I don't want to be alone. That'd be awful.


Why would that be upsetting if that were true, or what would that mean to me?

What would be the point of trying to do anything? I'd hate my life.


Why would that be upsetting if that were true, or what would that mean to me?

I'd want to give up on life.


Most people's aren't that linear and it takes a more round about way to get there, but this is not an uncommon Downward Arrow. Sometimes the bottom includes the fact that they'd rather die at that point.


So what do you do with the answer? Well, more to come in future posts on that. However, until then, I would say it's an opportunity to show a little more self-compassion. When that depressed and/or anxious part of you reacts so strongly to a situation (that you maybe criticize yourself later for), it's not because of the specific situation it's because of what it represents to you. For example, the situation might be that you realized you forgot to submit something for an important project, but that depressed and/or anxious part of you is reacting to the fear that you'll end up being utterly alone and just want to give up on life. In that context, the level of emotional response seems a lot more understandable doesn't it?


It certainly does. And that, my fellow humans, is the start of a very important journey towards even loving the parts of you that do things you don't like.

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