Fear of the Unknown and How the Mind Works
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Angela Percival MBACP Accredited
9th April, 20130 Comments
Our mind likes to take short cuts while processing information so we don't have to analyse everything every time; we can simply take for granted that we are sitting on a 'chair'. So, the mind likes to label things and stores information including beliefs and memories in clusters. If a new experience happens the brain has to decide where to store it, and will try to do that by finding a cluster of experiences we have previously had which are similar. If the new experience is an unknown and unique, the brain will still try to make it fit somewhere with what is already known. The feeling we may get consciously is one of 'clutching at straws' and feeling uncomfortable with a situation we are unsure of, trying to make it known and understood. Obviously we can have new experiences and enjoy them, but how we respond depends on many factors including personality etc. Generally speaking, though, this is partly why it seems hard to make changes in our lives and embrace the new.
When we are experiencing factors in life that are unknown, especially issues around security, this can trigger survival instincts and the 'flight or fight' responses. If we are not sure that we are secure in the world, the fear can be intense - for example, if we have lost our job and aren't sure how we will pay our bills. Even if the change is positive, like getting married, we can still feel elements of fear as we are fundamentally making a change and the consequences of that change are as yet unknown to us.
A deeper fear that we may not be aware of is fear of death. Every moment is unique and dies and gives birth to the next moment, but because it is predictable we usually see life as continuous. When something more obvious ends in our life, like a relationship, finishing a project etc, there is usually a pause before something new comes in. Unfortunately this pause - I call 'the void' - can be a length of time where nothing much seems to be happening, or moving forwards. It's like we are stuck on 'pause', unsure about what will happen next or when and its usual at this point we worry and try to fill the gaps in with what could go wrong.
It can be difficult to practice, but trying not to resist what is happening helps us to get through these times more calmly and quickly. A good analogy is of a pregnant woman who thinks the baby is never going to come, and then goes into labour and is tensing to resist the contractions. Similarly, when we think we are really stuck and nothing is going to happen, when the time is right we will also go through a change and be propelled forwards.
During periods of change and stress its also helpful to remember times when we have gone through a similar process and how we managed then. The more uncomfortable experiences in life we go through the more we can reassure ourselves and others that we will be okay; it won't kill us and sometimes in hindsight we can see that we gained something that previously we didn't have. Its also worth bearing in mind that all things pass, good times and bad; life doesn't just stay the same and neither do we and what we see as our darkest times are the times when we grow the most.
Finally I'd like to leave you with the analogy of spring which is very timely. The shoots have a rest period in the 'void' all winter, gathering energy; they then need to push their way through the hard earth, in the dark, in order to emerge. We are just witness to them emerging and sharing their beauty with us, not the process they go through as part of coming into being. We are also part of nature if we take the time to listen and go through similar periods of incubation, re-birth and celebration. Many of us have been hibernating during a really long winter and need more nourishing, favorable circumstances to flourish. Here's wishing you a wonderful Spring!!
Related articles from our experts
- Feeling the pressure: how counselling works to reduce stress
Angela Keane, PgDip, MBACP (Accred)18th May, 2017
- There is a difference between stress and anxiety. Can you use it?
Keith Abrahams Dip.HG.P13th May, 2017
- Anxiety and fear of the unknown
Greg Savva, Counselling in Twickenham & Whitton, Masters Degree, UKCP,11th May, 2017
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.