Rewiring Fears

Filed under [ Parenting, Self ]

Is anyone other than Jeff interested in learning whether I am still afraid of bees?  Jeff posted a comment in that post asking me whether I got over this fear and how.  I responded that I did, it took longer than that one time with Leor in front of our building that day.  It took repeated exposures to bees over a couple of years to get to a place where I was completely not afraid.

IMG_0699The process could have been shorter if I had actually sought to expose myself to bees on some regular basis.  But I didn’t. I went about my life and whenever I came in contact with a bee, I would just stay put and breathe deeply.  The fear would arise in me, but I would not allow it to control my behavior.  Every subsequent time I encountered one, I would feel a little less anxious.  Over time, my brain learned that there was no danger and stopped triggering the fight or flight response.  At this point in my life, while I have no desire to hang out and schmooze with a bee, I no longer experience much fear.  I have actually gotten to the point that even when a bee lands on me, I am able to remain calm and wait for it to realize that I am not a fragrant flower.

The psychological intervention I used to extinguished my fear is called systematic desensitization.  It required that I gradually expose myself to the threatening situation, in my case, the bee, and essentially unlearn the fear response and learn the “you are not in danger” response.  While my subjective experience was, “Oh I am feeling less afraid,” my brain was actually rewiring its communication.  In my brain, the new neurons firing the message “You are safe and there is nothing to be afraid of” were pitting themselves against the old neurons’ message “You are in danger.”  The reason it requires numerous exposures to the threatening situation is because the old response has been deeply ingrained in the brain over the years and the new response gains power and strengthens its position with repetition.

The trick in rewiring is to make a commitment to confront an issue in your life and choose to respond to it differently, thereby rewiring your brain.

What fear gets in your way that you would like to rewire?

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