Soothing Our Fear

Fear comes in all kinds of forms.  There’s anxiety, dread, scared, panicked, worried, suspicious, and mistrustful.  All of these are different nuances to the one core experience of fear.  Fear is so powerful that subtly it drives a lot of our culture, our social behavior, and our personal decisions about how we live our lives.  Fear can even shape how we see the world if we are unfortunate enough to spend long, regular intervals of feeling fear.  And as you know, fear can at times be really grounded in reality and at other times be completely based in fantasy and projection.

So what are we to do about this multi-faceted, complex, powerful emotion?

First, ask yourself “what is the threat?”  Evolutionarily fear developed to protect us from real tangible threats to our lives.  Now, those threats have become much more amorphous.  So at times we need to really ask ourselves “what is the threat?”  And the answer isn’t always the most obvious answer.  For example, when I feel anxiety because I realized I said something insensitive to a friend, I’ll ask myself “what is the threat?”  The first, obvious answer is “my friend will be mad at me.”  And while that may be true, that isn’t enough of a threat to justify how much anxiety I’m feeling.  So I want to probe deeper.  “And why is that a threat?”  “Well they might say some really hurtful things to me.”  “And why is that a threat?”  “Well…cause maybe then I’ll lose that friend.”

Second, don’t belittle, dismiss, or ignore your fear.  Continuing with my example I started above, if I recognize that the deep threat is that I’ll lose this friend, I may be tempted to then say “well…that’s a pretty small chance.  I should just forget about that.”  And while this approach can produce quick, immediate peace to my anxiety, over time it is this kind of response which makes anxiety bigger.

Remember, fear is our body alerting to us that there’s a potential threat.  If we dismiss that threat, our nervous system doesn’t go “oh, okay, that’s not a threat.”  Instead what it says is “oh shit, he didn’t get the memo!!”  And so either later, or the next time a similar situation arises, my anxiety is going to be even louder and more overwhelming.  Because my nervous system wants me to be safe, and the only way it can ensure that is to make sure I get its messages.

So instead of dismissing your fears, you’ll need to soothe them.  Soothing my fear about losing a friend might look like saying to myself “this is a really important friendship.  And having love and support in my life is really crucial to my survival.  I’m so glad I know how important friendship, and this friend in particular, is to me, and for now I am going to trust that this friend still loves and cares for me.”  Notice how this is different from saying to myself “oh, that’ll never happen.”  When I soothe my fear I acknowledge that the threat is legitimate, and I state what I am going to do about that threat.

So for an example where the threat is more real, let’s say one were scared that they weren’t going to make their mortgage payment.  There can be a real serious threat involved “I might lose the house, and be homeless.”  A soothing statement might be “Being homeless would be really scary.  There is a lot of real danger in living on the streets, and there is a lot of danger in becoming alienated from a most of society.  And while I still have my house, I am going to figure out how to make my mortgage payment.”  The soothing statement treats the threat as real and legitimate, and it states what I am going to do to address that threat.

July 25, 2017Permalink
Free Practice Group

Twice a month I lead a free Compassionate Communication Practice Group. Open to those new and advanced students. We meet on the First and Third Monday of the month at 6 pm. We gather at 640 Hawthorn Lane in classroom 8. Classrooms are behind the church and to the left, next to the parking lot. Practice Group sessions usually run for 2 hours.

The next one will be on July 6th at 6 pm.