Fear is a killer, a stopper, a detriment to human interactions. If you came across a bear in the woods while hiking, you would have an instantaneous experience of what “fear” is. We can imagine that feeling; it’s like an electrical shock to our system; we have a jolt of adrenaline running through us; our defenses are put on high alert. The dictionary says, “fear is a feeling of anxiety caused by the presence of eminent danger, a feeling of apprehension or dread… to be afraid, frightened or uneasy.” It’s a terrible feeling and some of us experience it too frequently. I decided to write about it today because it interferes with your everyday interactions within your family and with friends. I mean it; it is a serious obstacle to having good relationships.
Why? Because, it stops us in our tracks; it takes our breath away. Although it is an imagined experience…that has not yet happened yet…you are anticipating an experience…projecting in your mind an experience that might happen…that you will do anything to avoid. In the case of meeting a real bear, you probably have learned the proper defense if you were raised in New Hampshire. You would: “keep your distance…create noise by clapping, talking, singing or making other sounds…maintain eye contact with the bear and slowly back away…do not run, avert your eyes or turn your back…bears can outrun, out-swim and out-climb you…if you are attacked by a black bear, you should fight back rather than “play dead.” So, when you see the bear, you go into a “fear reaction;” this response would make good common sense.
Now how does this fear reaction work in interpersonal relationships. Let’s look at a few examples. Please note that I am not including cases in which there is physical, emotional or psychological abuse present. They are extremely difficult; they need specialize interventions. I am talking about your everyday situations where fear surfaces in interpersonal relationships. A.) You want and deserve a raise; but you’re too frightened (of the potential reaction) to ask your boss for one. B.) You would like to break off a relationship, but you are frightened (you don’t want to be alone and/or have the other person be upset with you. So, you stick it out longer than you should). C.) You know that you need to return a difficult and unpleasant phone call; you have dialed the number several times and then hang up (you are frightened of the anticipated results of the conversation). D.) Your spouse gets angry, starts yelling from the other room and you become immediately frightened (without even knowing if you are the intended recipient), you hold your breath. Let me repeat, fear is a killer and it takes the life out of your relationships. Love and fear do not exist at the same time. When you are frightened of somebody, you cannot love them.
So, what are you supposed to do when you feel fear in an interpersonal relationship and want to collapse, hide, avoid or run away from it? It’s not that different than learning how to deal with the “fear reaction” when encountering a bear. Don’t run, you can’t get away from it, out run it or stare it down. First, you want to recognize and identify the source of the reaction. Seeing the bear is comparable to having the thought “I have to ask for that raise” or “hearing yourself say, “I just have to return that phone call” or “why do I get so scared when he raises his voice.” Those thoughts are the triggers. You have to stare into those fears and develop a plan. The big advantage for you is that you can anticipate those situations in your relationships that provoke “fear reactions” and you can plan for them. With the bear, you encountered him unexpectedly on your hike. In real life, you can anticipate these situations and develop a plan.
Those fear reactions tell you that you have unfinished business from your social and emotional development. You have a vulnerability that has to be strengthened. Make-a-plan for how to react. With your boss, ask yourself what the anticipated, feared reaction and result might be. You anticipate that you will be embarrassed when your boss says no or disregards your request. So, your plan might include a written evaluation of your last year’s performance pointing out the accomplishments and improvements that you have made in your job for the company. Set up an appointment to meet with your boss and tell him that the purpose of the meeting is that you want an evaluation of your work because you feel that you deserve a raise. Your preparation will take away some of your anxiety and fear and give you some concrete ideas and statements to make regarding your contribution to the company.
If you get frightened when your spouse raises his voice from anywhere in the house, that might have its origins from your childhood experiences. If you had a parent that did a lot of shouting, it would not be unusual for you to have a residual sensitivity to shouting. Regardless, you must address this “fear reaction” because it is only putting distance between you and your mate. If it’s an issue connected to your “backpack,” then you may need some coaching in order to resolve that. Nonetheless, the shouting has no place in a peaceful home and has to be corrected. You must develop a plan to deal with it. The reason you cannot run away or avoid this anxiety is because you cannot love somebody that frightens you.
The equation looks like this: you feel anxiety and fear because you are anticipating an eminent, unpleasant and frightening situation so your natural body response sends out shock waves and alerts you to be on guard – but remember the warning is of anticipated danger – it has not yet happened – and may not. But your built-in natural warning system, sends you a very strong alert. Your body doesn’t want you to miss it. Every time you are frightened, you naturally go on the defensive and withdraw your love from a person or withdraw yourself from contributing positively to the situation. Just like the bear, you must deal with it. You cannot run or avoid it; it will never get better because you’re not able to be a fully loving human being. It’s not your fault that your body sent you out this alert. Like in the case of the bear, it will save your life. It’s a good thing but you have to learn that the alert is calling you to solve an underlying issue that is being stirred. More than likely, the alerts came when you were a young child and you couldn’t defend yourself from attack, embarrassment, physical danger, or abandonment. Therefore, the alarm may, very likely, carry with it some old family history or some personal trauma. Your defense system doesn’t want you to have to go through it again. And, I don’t want you to have to go through it again either. But, unless you address this fear and anxiety and find out what is causing it, it will take your life energy and love out of whatever you are doing. So, I am suggesting that you identify the fear, give it a name or a story, don’t run from it, if necessary, get some help to figure out why that feeling of fear or anxiety is surfacing. I strongly suggest that you don’t live with it and keep repeating it whenever that situation arises again in your life. If you would like to discuss this topic further or if I can be of help, let’s continue the discussion below.