The puzzlement of fear
Fear is a cognitive process and thought based. Fear only lives in the future and the future is unknown, be it a nanosecond or decades away. The future is unknown and a guess. The unknown is like a void that needs to be filled. We and the universe constantly try to fill voids.
The only way we can fill the unknown is from past experiences, knowledge, and imaginings. This results in us taking our past experiences/traumas and placing them into the future. It can only be from past learnings, experiences, or thoughts. We cannot fear something that is unknown/learnt. Try and think of something that you don’t know!
As we grow up, we want to make meaning and understand our experiences in life. Knowing is expected to offer a sense of safety and supports our survival. If we know that someone or thing is dangerous, we can attempt to avoid. In our formative years though, to keep ourselves safe we make ourselves wrong, bad, or not good enough (limiting beliefs and a form of conditioning by self or others) so that we can experience our primary caregivers as right, good or the best. It would be risky to do others wise. So, our environment (field conditions), influences our beliefs/thoughts and coping strategies in life.
When we have a painful experience (a look, gesture or action from our boss, peers, partners etc), we sift through our past experiences to see what fits within our frame of reference which is like trying to find the right puzzle piece, to see what fits.
Most of the time, just like building a puzzle, it is the wrong piece (because it is a guess). I am sure that you will have experienced finding the wrong piece many times before the right one. As human beings we don’t like to be wrong and once we believe we a right, we want to hold on to our beliefs. Be they positive or more likely the painful, life-limiting and harmful beliefs. Referred to as introjects or fixed Gestalts.
Fear lives in our head and the other emotions in our body
Fear lives in our head and the other emotions in our body. To illustrate this, I invite you to close your eyes. Breath into your body and just notice what you notice. Give yourself a score of how peaceful you feel one to 10 (one being calm and relaxed).
Now, close your eyes again and imagine there is a spider, there is someone that you wouldn’t want behind you or that you are at a great height. Allow yourself to give it as much texture and colour as possible. After this, re-score yourself. I imagine that your score will have gone up. Some people report a 10, with tightness, sweats, shivers, a desire to turn and check that there is no spider and so on…
The above illustrates that fear lives in the head, where chemicals are produced, which then rush around our body and we experience physical sensations within our body. Our body responds as though it is true because our bodies cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy (a thought).
Fear can only come from the past: A trauma (imagined, experienced or interpreted one). We don’t need to be in a train crash to experience trauma. We can be re-traumatised by a look, gesture, action, sound, location or even a colour, to name a few. We take historical experiences/learnings and place them in the future (the unknown). Even if you had a meeting yesterday (say an interview), you may not yet have the result or outcome.
Your mind could be racing with all sorts of possibilities (guesses) and probably using your anger energy unhealthfully and against yourself; “I should have said xyz”, “Why did I do it”, “I won’t get the job because I am not good enough”, “They didn’t like me (I am unlikeable).”
Until the outcome is known, then you can only be happy, sad or angry. Sad about the result, happy about the result or angry that you didn’t get the desired result. If fear is experienced irrespective of the result, it will be of a future “I will have to do it again”, “I will now have to move to my new job?”. “What will it be like?”.
Feel the fear and do it anyway
As I write this and being dyslexic, my old beliefs are constantly knocking and I am having to follow through, with the message of “Feel the fear and do it anyway”.
Life is like a 200,000 piece jigsaw puzzle without a picture and being blindfolded. Awareness of our coping strategies and the habitual meaning-making process is like taking of the blindfold off to see more clearly which pieces don’t fit. Counselling can really help in this area. To challenge what we thought was true (introjects).
The easiest pieces to place are the four corners, which I liken to the four core emotions of joy, fear, sadness and anger. We need all of these emotions but in balance. Then the side pieces so that we can connect the corners. Once we have all these in place, well at least then we know the shape and size of the puzzle and know that all the other pieces fit within this space. Fear and joy (anger and sadness), live on seesaws (some of the edge pieces). If your fear is up, then your jy (confidence, self-esteem) will be down.
Often people will say “Why is there only one nice and three bad emotions?” They are all healthy emotions, and our work is to get the message from each emotion before it becomes overinflated or minuscule and then we become out of balance.
If you had no fear, you would be dead because there would be nothing to fear! Fear and excitement live together, and why theme park rides are popular. We long for excitement, change and a challenge. Otherwise, life would be boring.
We need our anger (it is what we do with it that is questionable). Anger energy is about mobilisation (fear is stuckness). Aggression and destruction result from being angry and is a secondary emotion. Which I would like to talk about in another paper.
Sadness is about connection and lack of connection. Love lives with sadness (joy is secondary). Joy is not just about being happy but relaxed at ease, peaceful and calm. This is also where confidence, self-esteem, and jealousy live. These again are for another time.
Thank you, for taking the time to read this and do let me know if you would like to know more.
My name is Stefan Charidge aka “The Metaphor Man”. Do have a look at my LinkedIn profile. Author of The Penny Model.