Fear can connect us to our vulnerabilities, which can be deeply uncomfortable — especially if you’re someone who thinks of yourself as strong, says clinical psychologist Molly Howes, PhD. Fear can make us feel weaker or smaller than somebody else.
To defend ourselves, Howes notes, we may react with anger instead, “even when what [we] initially felt was a more vulnerable feeling, like fear or hurt.” In many cultures, anger is simply a more acceptable emotion than fear — especially for men.
Still, as in many myths and stories, naming a monster reduces its power. And naming fear, Howes says, reduces its power in a specific way.
“Words are formed in the neocortex,” she explains. This part of the brain houses executive functions — conscious, complex decisions. Fear, meanwhile, springs from the amygdala, located in our deep, reptilian brain, which is involved in the processing of threatening stimuli.
Expressing fear to someone builds trust and creates and fosters a greater intimacy.
Identifying a feeling can build a connection between the two areas, which allows us to have more choices about how to respond when we’re afraid.
Howes says that naming fear can give us more flexibility and make us more relational. “It lessens the control that the feeling can exert over you.”
Sharing fears with others does involve vulnerability and openness, but that is partly the point, she suggests. Expressing fear to someone builds trust and creates and fosters a greater intimacy.
These are some ways to face your fear more directly:
- Name the feeling. As with anger, you can start by naming it to yourself. This can prevent you from quelling vulnerable feelings. Potential starter phrases include “I’m feeling afraid right now. I’m feeling scared of ___.” Or, if you’re speaking to another person, you could say, “This situation scares me. Can I discuss it with you?”
- Review your situation. Fear is an important survival impulse. Are you in actual danger? If so, how can you respond? Fear is like a fire alarm: There’s not always fire when it goes off, but when there is, the alarm may help save you.
- Practice sharing your fears with someone close to you. Choose a few trusted confidants with whom you can discuss what feels scary. As you get used to talking about your fears, you may find they have less of a hold on you. If you’re in an intimate relationship where you don’t feel comfortable sharing your fears, counseling might be another solution.
This was excerpted from “6 Difficult Emotions and How to Deal With Them” which was published in Experience Life magazine.
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