Many people come to counseling for anxiety, which is typically rooted in some type of fear. Whether we fear social situations, death, failing a test, failing to live up to our fullest potential—fear is a barometer for our safety and it is not always physical but also emotional and mental. When there is a threat to our well-being, our internal smoke detector, fear, alerts us to stay away from that which threatens our peace. It tells us that something is bad for us. Like its older brother, fear responses hail from the amgydala in the brain, but fear has even more far reaching origins because the most primal parts of the brain including the brainstem has been implicated in its functioning.
The fear response is intriguing because it is a cumulation of evolution interacting with our environments. When we are faced with fear, we might respond in what is called the “fight, flight or freeze response,” and depending on resources available to us in the moment, we might take one of the previous responses. Maybe we are able to take on the intruder, we have a fight response. Maybe we for some reason do not feel up to par, flight or flee response it is. But did you know, most of us, like many animals in the animal kingdom actually use the freeze response? So the deer in the headlights response is not purely for deer, it’s for proverbial innocent deer in all of us. It is a normal response, fear and stress is meant to help energize us to action to get us out of a scrape and into safety or at least lay low until danger passes.
What if we observed our reactions to fear inducing situations? What might we notice about our own systems’s appraisal of the situation? Why do we procrastinate on important projects and life events, only to cause ourselves more grief in the future? I wonder, what it would be like to view fear as a tool and become a skillful “fear-reader” in ourselves?
When we think about fear, we cringe at the cowering weakness. But fear tells us so much about ourselves–it tells us what we need and love. If you are ever unsure about what is important to you, consider thinking about your worse fears. We fear losing the things and people we love most. How pragmatic, this internal sensor that ensures our basic needs are met. And what a gift, this detector that allows us to delve even deeper and tap into the unconscious hurdles to our idealized selves.
The writer Pablo Coelho shares similar sentiments about this nature of fear: sometimes we fail because we are afraid of what it might be like if we actually tried and were not successful so we purposefully never begin. The idea of losing even that which we do not have, a dream yet to come true, is so painful and threatening that it disables us.
And yet, that was never the intention, not by design anyway to impair our ability to live or thrive. What if, instead of hiding from fear, we turn around and directly ask it what it wants—what it is that you want in this life?