Being Tricked


Learning to treat anxiety is making me a better spiritual director. I didn’t expect that.  Learning David Carbonell’s (an anxiety expert) Panic Trick has been one part of this. The trick of panic is when your brain gets tricked into thinking that an experience is dangerous, when actually, that experience is merely discomfort. In treatment, I often ask clients who are experiencing anxiety symptoms like a racing heart, “is this danger or discomfort?” The goal of treatment is to change the relationship that the client has with her anxiety symptoms. Rather than fearing her symptoms, she can acknowledge them as unpleasant, but ride them out without alarm.

I made a connection when working with this idea to a concept I run into often in spiritual direction. I call it the Desire Trick. The trick of desire is when your soul gets tricked into thinking that what it desires is actually what it needs. When the soul gets tricked like this, a person’s relationship with their desire gets tweaked. Consider it; a desire to be accepted by a girlfriend becomes demanding or a desire for stability becomes a workaholic drive. Both anxiety and desire can trick people into compromising their values and ultimately, wrecking their lives. That trick can be powerful.

Unhooking from the trick takes intentionality and focus. I watch, often in awe, as anxiety clients slowly loosen their grip on the idea that their anxiety symptoms will kill them. Retraining their minds in this matter is often like steering a barge with an oar stuck in the water off the back. The challenge for any of us regarding our deepest desires can be just as sluggish and difficult. The idea of living a contented life without certain things/accomplishments/relationships, etc… is, quite simply, untenable to us! Watching the trick of desire untangle in a person’s soul is often the task in spiritual direction. Seeing this parallel has heightened my awareness that we humans so easily and so deeply attach to our thoughts and ideas. Often, that attachment gives our lives purpose and meaning, but sometimes, it is our very undoing.

To see David Carbonell talk about the Panic Trick, go to this link:


  1. Yes, fear and confusion are inextricably tied to our personal identifications…ideas about who we think we are. We think we ARE our personality with all of it’s wants and desires. At other times we think we ARE our values and ideals. What a struggle! Perhaps with God’s grace we will navigate these ups and downs, take ourselves less seriously and go home to God. This alone can free us from fear. And if everything is God, then all the stuff that arises that we don’t like is just part of the lessons we must learn in this life so we can go home.

  2. Wow! Great connection Janice! It makes total sense that the same brain/body problem would apply from anxiety/panic to desire/lust/need/disappointment spiral in the soul. Keep up the reflecting! I am having lots of contact with how deep anxiety is in our culture through the members of our church in the highly educated, high strung Silicon Valley. The anxiety about doing a good job or about $ security leads to workaholism to excel which leads to so many other problems in marriages, with children, with ones’ own dissatisfaction with a life one dislikes but feels one has to maintain, etc.

    How does one help those who are driven by anxieties but don’t have panic attacks or even awareness that fear is the #1 force in their choices, their careers, their parenting, and their relationship with God and their deepest self? The recession and layoffs helped many realize what a crock it all was. We think it’s normal bc we grew up with perfectionist/anxious parents and as adults we surround ourselves with people like us in friendship, neighborhood, and church small groups. God help us!

    Mark PH

    1. You’re identifying an ominous reality….that is that many of us are driven by anxiety and don’t even realize it. We’re tricked by anxiety but have created a world around us that supports the anxiety! Waking up to this reality is tough. I’m grateful to God that he is all about rousing us from our slumber.

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