Everyone deals with difficulties in life. Sooner or later, something scares us. It may be the aging process, a snake, the fear of rejection, or a dwindling bank account.
Gone are the days when we have to worry about lions chasing us (unless, of course, you live in Kenya). Fear has become more subtle. In the words of Kristin Neff, PhD, author of Self-Compassion, now our fears arise not just from dark alleys or sounds that go bump in the night, but from “threats to our self-concept” – the idea of who we think we are. Yet, they end up causing similar levels of stress in the body as that lion chasing us. The fear that runs us, day in and day out, is the fear that we’re unlovable, of being bad, wrong, or a failure.
React or Respond
When we are faced with fear, we have two possible choices: react or respond. When we react, we allow fear to run us, to control our emotions, our actions, our words. But when we respond, we transform a moment of fear into a moment of empowerment.
What is a fear reaction? When we are exposed to a traumatic situation, there are three reactions that occur: fight, flight, and freeze (see Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine). The kind of fear I’m referring to, however, isn’t life or death situations, although learning how to respond rather than react in those is very helpful. In our day-to-day lives, it is the little fears – the perceived threats to our self-concept – that disempower us and cause us to react.
It is in these little fears that we have the opportunity to change our lives. And we see three similar reactions to those little fears: fight, flight, and freeze. Continue Reading