Turn On The Light
I can recall times as a young girl, at night when a sound from outside, or a creak of my door would send my mind racing with notions of a “boogie man”. I’d call for my mother, she’d come into my room, and I would fretfully, fearfully, tell her that there was a monster in my room! Mom would turn on the light. Suddenly, as if by magic, blinking my eyes, I saw that nothing was there. My heart would stop thumping. I would take a deep breath and sigh with a little smile of reassurance. The perfect opposite had happened with the turn of a light switch.
We are talking about fear. It is one of the most debilitating of all emotions. Fear can be widely classified into two types: external fear and internal fear.
- External fear is caused by something outside of you which you are strongly motivated to avoid. The Book “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker, talks about recognizing this type of fear and honoring our “gut” feelings that can be a sensor for warranted fears. It is important to distinguish this category of fear from the more troubling “internal” fear. De Becker addresses both. I recommend the book for its encompassing approach to real or perceived danger.
- Internal fear is a part of your thinking that you link to a negative emotion. Some specialists refer to this category of fear as psychological fear. False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s a great acronym to use when we begin to challenge our thinking. It is a healthy reminder and can help us move out of internal fear. There are many types of internal fears. Identifying what you are afraid of is an important part in learning how to manage it. We have to know what it is that needs changing. This link provides a list of common fears, excluding phobias, and I believe you may come up with others that are specific to you.
For me, the fear of being misunderstood has been a big one. In the past, when I would reflect on what I thought another person might be thinking (about me or a situation involving me), I could easily throw myself into an anxious mood. What I call the “I think, they think” syndrome, is a common pitfall that many of us have experienced at one time or another. It really gets lumped into a fear of judgment. But, it is an imaginary thought, completely made up! Consider this: have you allowed feelings to rise based on what you think someone else may (or may not) think? I wish we had the power to know other people’s thoughts, but we don’t. I got tired of giving my energy to something that wasn’t a reality. Fortunately, with practice and due diligence, I have been able to “catch” that thought, recognize it for what it is, and thwart the fear that may be looming large, ready to infiltrate if I allow it to. This process and practice has become so automatic, that it happens instantly for me now. It can for you too. The brain allows us that chance, that split-second opportunity to subvert the fear.
In the simplest way possible, I will attempt to explain a very complex, neurological process that happens when the brain processes different types of fear. The amygdala has been identified as the emotion region of the brain. Individual amygdaloidal nuclei have separate roles, and distinct parts that process different fear responses and behavior. WHEW! In other words, multiple areas of the brain process different types of fear. That’s about as far as I can go with brain science in one sitting. But for those of you who want to take a more in depth look, here is a link with a nice explanation and graphic of what happens in the brain with fear.
Knowing that our thoughts can actually stop that brain process from moving into a fear response is good news. But how do we do that? First recognize, “hmmm, there it is: fear mode”. Take deep breaths. Yes, it really works. Challenge the facts of a situation: what is real and what is not. Reframe your thoughts. This takes practice, and one of the ways I encourage you to begin learning how to reframe your thoughts, is to think the opposite.
You may remember “Opposite George” from Seinfeld? In that episode George returns from the beach and decides that every decision that he has ever made has been wrong, and that his life is the exact opposite of what it should be. George tells this to Jerry who convinces him that “if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right”. George then resolves to start doing the complete opposite of what he would do normally. Psychiatry and psychology professionals have latched on to the “Opposite George” idea and have woven it into their practices to help alleviate forms of anxiety and fear. Now, you can give it a try. Come up with an opposite thought to that which you fear. It may even be nonsensical. That’s even better. Something nonsensical, funny, or pleasurable is produced in a competing area of the brain from fear. You can’t do both at the same time.
Opposites Of Fear
Here’s a little cheat sheet. Take a look at this simple list of opposite perceptions: the first word being the fear and the second word its opposite positive perception.
So, go ahead and give it a try. Add your own examples to this list. We cannot control whether things will go our way or not, but we can learn to control our own thoughts, our responses, and our own conduct. We can challenge the perception. In this way, we can gradually find a genuine liberation from fear. Just…
TURN ON THE LIGHT.