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When Fear Takes Hold [BOOK EXCERPT]

When Robert sought counseling, he was practically immobilized by fear. The employee assistance program at his work had authorized him to attend some therapy sessions due to his dramatic loss of productivity on the job. Over the course of therapy, we looked at Robert’s past employment, where he was presently, and where he hoped to be in the future. Robert shared his deep-seated fear that, at any moment, his “true abilities” would be discovered and he’d be fired.

Three-months earlier, Robert learned he was being considered for a major promotion, when a senior official reached retirement. Terrified that the scrutiny of the promotion would reveal some weakness in his job performance, Robert sank into a deep depression. Fearful he would be “found out, he worried that instead of obtaining the promotion he would be fired from his current position. His nightmare became being out of a job and humiliated in front of his long-standing colleagues.

This anxious response to the prospect of a large promotion plummeted Robert into depression and dramatically decreased his job performance. Without realizing it, Robert was attempting to self-sabotage any promotion. He just couldn’t seem to get projects done at work any more. Convinced his every move was being scrutinized for failure, Robert failed to do much of anything at all. He agonized over the slightest decision. His appetite suffered, his sleep suffered, his relationship with his family suffered. He started calling in “sick” and just stayed home. Simply put, Robert didn’t feel successful at his current job and certainly not worthy of any promotion.

As we confronted these issues, Robert realized that even as a child and teenager he’d never felt praiseworthy for any activity he undertook. Unable to please his father, Robert was convinced at an early age that any success he experienced was accidental. Because his father took great pains to explain to Robert what he’d done wrong on any project, Robert developed the impression that the only reason others thought he’d done something well was because they just hadn’t looked hard enough. These childhood doubts grew with Robert into adulthood.
One of the things we did with Robert was a review of his job accomplishments. We talked about why he was being considered for the promotion and went over the comments from his last job performance review. We talked about all of the things Robert did that were right.

Then, we talked about how Robert viewed the work of others. How he didn’t expect perfection in his subordinates, only in himself. He didn’t even seem to expect perfection in those above him. We probed the reasons why Robert felt compelled to be so hard on himself.

As Robert was able to squarely and honestly come to terms with the unrealistic expectations of his father, and his own insecurities those expectations had produced, Robert was able to come out of his difficulties at work. He did not receive the promotion but accepted the opportunity his present job offered to devote more time to working on other aspects of his life. Consequently, his productivity at work exceeded his previous performance levels.

Robert is hopeful that another promotion opportunity will present itself in the future. When that time comes, he’ll be ready. Robert has moved from fear to hope.

Are You Depressed?

How do you know if you’re depressed? When does sadness become depression? How many “bad days” can a person have in a row and not be considered depressed? How can you tell if how you’re feeling is something that’s going to get better on its own? These are excellent questions; take a moment to take the Depression Survey. This is not a scientific tool, but rather a way for you to identify contributing conditions in your life.

The above is excerpted from Turning Your Down Into Up: A Realistic Plan for Healing From Depression.

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