Monday, May 4, 2009

Why am I So Afraid of FEAR?

FEAR... False Expectations Appearing Real. That is quite an acronym. Fears can be real or imagined. Staring into the face of a sabre tooth tiger and fearing for your life is quite real. Most of the fears we face today occur when we have insufficient information available to make an informed decision. We don't know all that we need to create a full picture so we fill in the blanks with our own experiences. Unfortunately our experiences may not apply to the situation at hand. We finish the painting, but alas we didn't start it and don't know the outcome the artist had in mind. Instead of completing the Mona Lisa, we end up with Dogs at Cards.

Fears can cause a multitude of problems in relationships. An example: When faced with an upcoming family gathering involving meeting new people for the first time, one partner may feel insecure. The insecurity may be based in low self esteem. Fear may take hold and as the event approaches the fearful partner may become ill and unable to attend. If this pattern manifests frequently in the relationship the other partner may eventually become angry and accuse the ill partner of not liking the family. A lack of understanding may cause a failure to communicate that the underlying issue is a fear of not being accepted.

It can be quite difficult to verbalize fears. Many of us experienced fear and trauma at an age where verbal language was not within our grasp. Two year olds have just learned how to ask for food or a toy. They do not have the words to discuss feelings. When caretakers frighten children with strong emotions of their own, such as anger or rage, children may become traumatized. Even five year olds rarely have the available verbiage to talk about emotions. If our caretakers were busy taking care of siblings, tending to a sick parent, going to work everyday and doing chores at home, going to school or just watching TV all day, no one was available to help us translate emotions into words. If our caretakers are the ones reacting with strong emotions, yelling often or becoming violent, there is no safe place for a child to take their emotions and get comfort and explanations.

By the time we have the needed vocabulary we are approaching twelve or thirteen years of age. At this point we have learned much about expressing feelings from our family of origin as well as our friends. Feelings may be unacceptable if our home is dysfunctional. Our experience with friends may make it uncool to talk about feelings. We may enter into adulthood almost illiterate regarding emotions. We have emotions, but may not be able to find the words to describe our feelings. This makes processing emotions quite difficult. We need language to allow our thinking brains to integrate our emotions into our selves.

This inability to join words to feelings leave us unable to tolerate strong emotions. We feel extreme unmanagability when strong emotions arrive. We react with our defenses to squelch the uncomfortable feelings. We have not learned how to process strong emotions and we are frightened by their intensity. As we learn which words to attach to the emotions we feel, our thinking brain can process them. We can integrate this new knowledge into our inner selves. Then next time the same strong emotion occurs we can be ready with our words. Our thinking minds can logically process the feelings for us creating increased self esteem and a feeling of control over our reactions.

This is vital for long term health. In order to create balance in our daily lives we must be able to process our emotions with our thinking minds. To rely on our reactive mind to guide us through the maze of feelings through our lives is inadvisable. It may leave us open to bouts of uncontrolled basic emotions, such as rage. These strong unprocessed raw emotions can be terrifying to witness, both for the one experiencing the emotions as well as for their partner.

The external view of raw unprocessed emotions appears uncontrolled and extremely frightening. Especially to a small child, unprocessed raw feelings may be traumatic. We want to avoid passing down our issues to the next generation. We have a grave responsibility to learn the words we need to process our emotions into feelings that we understand. Through our recovery work we have learned tools we can use to deal with issues, such as feeling overwhelmed or angry. Once our emotions have been processed into understandable feelings we can practice self care. Through using our tools we increase our self esteem and feel capable of controlling our strong emotions.

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