Why we may feel overwhelming fear in safe everyday situations.

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Fear is a natural and healthy response to life threatening situations. It is there to warn us about danger. Fear is not cowardice. It is a necessary warning system. It carries within it our survival instincts, instincts that have been honed by our ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years.

The job of healthy fear is to bring us to attention so we focus with clarity and vigour on what we are afraid of, and prepare ourselves with the most appropriate response. Fear brings us the burst of energy and focus necessary to deal with immediate threat. The adrenaline produced when we are in fear allows us to think remarkably quickly and assess all the available options in a fraction of a second. When our fear is flowing we are fully engaged, constantly scanning our environment for changes and danger, and ready to react as we need to.
Fear asks the question : what is the difficulty or danger we face, and what needs to be done about it? 

Our immediate survival response to fear is to follow our instinct of fight, flight or freezing. Sometimes this immediate response is appropriate, however most of us, for the majority of the time, are not in imminent danger. In this case we then have the opportunity to slow down, listen to our fear and find out what kind of threat we are faced with. Once we know the reality of our situation, we can decide what response is appropriate.

Unfortunately most of us do not experience fear as a helpful empowering emotion. Many of us either feel overwhelmed and paralysed by fear, or we try very hard to ignore and override our fear. Why is this? What leads to these unhelpful reactions to fear?

In Shadow Work we find that many of us have experienced terrifying situations in our childhood. This may sound like an extreme statement, but life as a child is very dramatic and full of strong emotions. We are TOTALLY vulnerable to the people around us and utterly dependent on them. This makes our emotional responses extreme.

For example, if our father comes home from work in a bad mood having had a difficult day, an observing adult might think it’s OK, he just needs to let off steam a bit and have something to eat or a drink perhaps, and he’ll calm down. We’ve all had bad days and needed to let off steam. However, as a child whose survival is utterly dependent on this angry man, we may be quite terrified. We may fear he will leave us he is so angry, and we will lose his life saving support and protection, or we may fear that that he will take his anger out on us physically. Indeed, some parents do abandon or abuse their children, so how are we to know? How can we assess the level of risk? We are likely to feel quite terrified in this situation, especially if there isn’t another adult around to explain it to us and help us feel safe.

Our utter dependency as a child makes us very heightened to anything that may not be safe. We develop a part of us that scans constantly for danger. We become specialised at scanning for the kind of danger that is most worrying in our life situation – e.g. an angry dad. We will scan for any signs of anger, especially in men. We will eventually learn to scan for any signs that someone might be about to get angry, or that a situation may be about to occur which might possibly make someone angry. We will learn to look out for any behaviours we or others might have which might lead to someone getting angry. We develop a highly specialised and highly vigilant part of ourself who’s job it is to look out and keep us safe by warning us of possible danger so that we can take the necessary action.

Some of us have faced very clear and obvious dangers in childhood such as war, physical violence or abandonment. Others of us faced more subtle or less easy to define threats to our physical or emotional well-being. The more subtle the threat the more subtle our response to it. Whatever our childhood situation most of us have developed a protective part like this which is trying to prevent some kind of disaster from happening.

A characteristic of these protective parts is that they are extremely vigilant and exceptionally good at what they do. They do a great job of keeping us safe in childhood by warning us of danger and getting us to adapt our behaviour to ensure our safety.

This may include behaviours such as :
running and hiding,
playing dead,
going numb,
not expressing our opinions.
being super polite and doing everything we’re told,
attacking, emotionally or physically
putting up emotional barriers,
learning to manipulate the behaviour of others to reduce the possibility of danger

In childhood, once this part of us has identified a dangerous situation and the appropriate action we need to take, it will stick rigidly to this path. As we move in to adulthood the dangerous situations of childhood are replaced by a life where we are not 100% dependent on others around us. We are now free to make decisions about who we spend time with and how to keep our environment safe. However, these protective parts of us are now on automatic pilot. They are sticking to the rules made in childhood as though their life depends on it, as indeed it may have done in the distant past. They are not willing to take the risk of loosening their grip. They do not know that the coast is clear now, the danger is gone.

So these protective parts of us, developed in childhood, can cause us a lot of fear and anxiety in our adult life. We may find we freeze if a friend or partner raises their voice. We are unable to express our opinions clearly in certain situations. We attack people who are trying to help us. We take well meaning advice as criticism and we withdraw from those who offer to love and support us. We can’t help engaging in these behaviours even when we know they are not helpful to us or fair on others.

In Shadow Work we speak directly to this part of us that is working so hard to keep us safe. We believe it needs honouring for the vital role it has played in our life. However, this part also needs to realise that things are different now. They need help to work out which threats are significant in the current day and which are threats are from our childhood that are no longer relevant . We work to evolve and mature this part. Often we negotiate a different kind of protective role for it which is more appropriate to our adult life. After all, this part only came in to existance out of a loving wish to protect us, they have no desire to hold us back or cause us difficulty.  

Once we are able to trust ourselves to distinguish between real threats and things that no longer need to concern us then the levels of fear in our adult life considerably reduces, leaving us free to pursue the life we choose.

To watch a DVD about the Magician Archetype, which is the Shadow Work Archetype that relates to fear, go to: https://www.facebook.com/1725807960987844/videos/1727022747533032/?video_source=pages_finch_thumbnail_video&theater

 

http://shiatsuandshadowworkbristol.co.uk

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