Confronting Our Fears


Easier said than done.  The feeling of fear can be and often is so uncomfortable, it runs havoc in our lives.  It can prevent us from pursuing our goals, speaking our minds and taking charge of our lives.  Have you ever stopped to reflect on the role fear plays in your life?  What is it?

The answer is actually rather frustrating.  Frustrating because fear is triggered by some chemical reactions in our brain in response to perceived threat.  This is known as the fight or flight response.  Thousands of years ago when our ancestors came face to face with a dangerous animal this system was very adaptive as it set off an automatic alarm to which they would react before they had time to think about it.

The problem is that in today’s world this system is often set off by a perceived threat that is not based in realty.  Most of its triggers were put in our minds  when we were vulnerable and helpless children.  When we experienced a frightening situation an alarm system would set off and anything related to that situation would then be encoded as dangerous.  This encoding remains in our memory and as adults whenever we encounter a situation resembling our childhood experience the fear gets triggered as if we are back in the original situation.

A perfect illustration of this is my past terror around bees.  Every time I saw a bee I would literally become paralyzed with fear.  As soon as I could I would run with all the power I had in me.  In this case I knew when the original trigger was planted.   When I was seven years old my sister got bitten by a bee while she was flying a kite.  I was standing by her and when I heard and saw her terrified reaction to the sting; my brain encoded that terror as if my life was in danger.

That terror stayed with me until twenty years later.  I was standing in front of my building with Leor, who was seven years old at the time, waiting for his day camp bus to pick him up in the morning.  Suddenly a bee showed up and started buzzing around me.  I screeched in terror and began to run.  From the corner of my eye I could see Leor’s reaction to me and I immediately realized that I was transmitting this terror to my child.  I stopped in my tracks, collected myself and went back to him laughing and playful.  I was not about to transmit my fear to my son.

All of our fears work this way. So many of them were transmitted to us inadvertently by our parents or community when we were young.  Once our system programs these fears, it is very difficult to rid ourselves of them.

Two things overcome this powerful biological defensive mechanism, LOVE and COMMITMENT TO TRUTH.  When we let ourselves be controlled by our fears, we stop living our lives fully.  When we transmit these fears to our children, we sentence them to the same fears.

You have the power to rewire this fear system.  It requires knowledge of how it works and the commitment to override it.

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4 Comments on “Confronting Our Fears”

  • 3 June, 2010,

    So do you still have the fear of bees, or was the override of “show no fear of bees” activated only for your son’s sake? Or was the incident a first step toward the mitigation of the fear?

    The “fight or flight” mechanism, as you say, is triggered to some extent by any or all of our fears … and even comes into play in every-day social interactions. If someone yells at you … is your instinct to yell back? Or do you withdraw and disengage? Hopefully, we imbue children with the ability to call upon a rich and diverse range of appropriate and nuanced responses, depending on the threat?

    By demonstrating them ourselves …

    I’m trying to remember the last time I ran away from something in terror, and I’ve got … nothing. Though I can think of a number of occasions when, as a child, I withdrew from threats in other ways … and a few occasions when fisticuffs were involved. ;)

  • ronit
    4 June, 2010,

    Jeff,

    Great question for which I will give you a brief answer here and then will blog on the process later today.
    No I am not afraid of bees anymore, though I prefer not to hang out with them for too long. The incident with my son did not instantly vanquish the fear. It awakened me to the need to get rid of it so that I don’t transmit it to him. From that moment on, I stopped running away every time I saw one. Slowly as nothing horrible happened to me while in their presence, my brain learned not to set off the danger alarm.

  • leor
    6 June, 2010,

    The fear was partially transmitted to me, not nearly as bad as you had it, but some of it did come through. On top of that at summer camp I saw other kids getting stung and crying hysterically, so that didn’t help. What eventually removed that fear was actually getting stung, it hurt but it wasn’t a big deal. 

    I can actually probably thank my father for that one. He was pretty reckless with me when I was a kid, and I got hurt a lot, but he never reacted to it. He would either crack a joke, or just pick me back up and tell me to keep going. At the time I thought he was being a jerk, but I guess it served me, in a way.

  • ronit
    6 June, 2010,

    I remember when you got stung in the back seat of the car. I remember thinking how well you are handling it. This was still in the early stages of my rewiring this fear and I could feel the surge of emotions arise in me when I realized you were stung. Your rather unremarkable reaction actually soothed me.
    There is something to be said about the balance between maternal and paternal care-taking. We need the balance of both. Each parent brings in his/her own stories, programs and strengths. The challenge here is to become a conscious parent who understands a child’s neurological, psychological and spiritual development and applies this knowledge successful.

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