Panic: You Are Not To Blame

by Mark Sichel

A woman in a public place experiencing a panid attack.

In our culture people often feel that anxiety is self-inflicted, reflective of a weak personality, and that proper self-discipline can eliminate psychological symptoms. This is NOT TRUE.

Everyone, at some point in their lives, experiences some kind of anxiety or mood-related symptom. A panic attack is a mode of self-expression, although a dysfunctional one. Just as an athlete who overexerts their body will start to have leg cramps, back-aches, or knee problems, when people are psychologically overloaded with stress or anxiety one of the things that can happen to them is a panic attack.

After years of labeling anxiety as purely biochemical or as a medical disorder, we know now that the best way to understand this phenomenon is to see it and treat it through a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

When people are afflicted with a medical illness, they tend to feel that it's caused by bad luck, and/or a biological process of infection. When people are struck by a mental illness, they immediately start to blame themselves. Often this self-criticality makes a person's symptoms even more overpowering.

Yes, there is usually a psychological issue contributing to a panic attack, but overall, there's absolutely no reason to blame yourself. Cut it out! It's not your fault. It's not anybody's fault. It's much more helpful to see it as a short circuit brought on by many factors, and an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you try to understand the meaning of your panic attack.

Mark Sichel, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Mark is the author of Healing from Family Rifts, a guide to mending even the most difficult family estrangements, and how to reconcile with yourself if your family rift cannot be healed. More information can be found at Visit the author's web site at

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