Fear at the foothills

October 25, 2013

With Halloween quickly approaching, I thought this would be a good time to share some thoughts about a very relevant emotion - FEAR. Many of us don't like to get in touch with fear, because we're, well...afraid of it. All of those emotions that put us on guard or lead us to avoidance have a common source of fear. The most common association is anger. Take a moment to notice what happens in your body when you're angry... Your hear rate increases, your breathing becomes quicker, your body is tense, and you feel an increase in drive. Your adrenaline is surging. Now, don't you feel a sense of power and assertion? We feel a great sense of vulnerability when we are afriad, and we're socialized to perceive vulnerability as weakness. Our natural response to weakness is to counter.

 

If we go back in time to our primitive anscestors who lived outside, defended themselves against daily threat, and focused on their primary and very basic needs, we may find that weakness didn't fit into the plan for survival. Perhaps vulnerability did not serve them well at all. When experiencing a perceived therat, these anscestors had a biological response of increased adrenaline to fight or flee as means for survival. Let's fast forward to the present. There are many valid and real threats in today's world, such as war, interpersonal violence, bullying, venomous and aggressive ferrell animals, etc. However, many of us react to the mere perception of threat, but are in no real danger at all. When we feel inferior in some way, we feel vulnerable. This vulnerability is immediately translated as weakness (within milliseconds), which is perceived as a threat. We then respond to this threat by preparing to fight or flight. What's happening in our bodies is increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and tensed muscles. We are responding to emotion, not rational thinking or clear understanding. The emotion is driving our thinking.

 

Think about the last time you got into an arguement or fight with a loved one. In cases of domestic violence victims, you may have been in danger, but let's look at good old classic interpersonal dispute, which by the way is a frequent starting place for domestic violence. Do you remember what the argument or fight was about? If not, I bet the content seemed pretty important at the time. Why not now? The answer is that somewhere in your subconscious, you perceived a threat and responded. You felt naked, open, vulnerable. Now, think of how you reacted to this vulnerability. Did you yell, insult, break something, threaten, intentionally harm or put down this loved one? This is something that I have certainly experienced. With the exception of the Dalai Lama, I'm willing to bet we all have experienced the above interaction at one time or another. In this scenario, perhaps your anger was rooted in fear of abandonment, judgement, or loss of power/control of the situation. Your experience is unique to you, but there are similarities across the board that normalize the occurrence. Maybe you can think of another time you experienced anger in response to a perceived threat.

 

The point here is to draw attention to what fear can do for us and to us. We need to respond appropriately to threats of harm for our safety, but many times, we create the harm, making the situation worse than it really is. It's up to us to distinguish between real and incorrectly perceived threat. Getting in touch with what is happening in our bodies, and connecting our minds with our bodies will help us gain this awareness; draw what's happening in our subconscious to our conscious.

 

As I mentioned above, fear is found at the root of many uncomfortable emotions. When we feel embarrased, we are afraid of being judged, seen in a way we deem less desireable. When we're feeling anxious, we fear a potential, but unknown outcome. I could go on with this post, and I'm sure you all have plenty to add from your own insights and lived experiences.

 

Below is an article about what happens in our brains when we're afraid.

http://discovermagazine.com/2003/mar/cover#.UmqUYxDhBNo

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