“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – FDR
True enough, since fear is the basis for almost everything we do. Fear reactions.
This post is going to be a little meta, but hopefully not too rant-filled.
“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to Hate. Hate leads to the Dark Side.” – Yoda
Master Yoda is getting closer to the heart of the matter. I have a background in psychology. This gem of Jedi wisdom is very close to some of the things I used to talk about with the women in the group therapy for whom I was the assistant leader.. (We also discussed the biology and psychology of addiction, but that’s a different post.)
Humans, when they are scared — for whatever reason –, produce adrenaline. This is what increases your pulse, widens your eyes, speeds your breathing, and sharpens your processing of everything around you. Your body sends blood to the muscles that need it most. You are ready to run or fight. This is the basic physical response to anxiety. It is not something conscious.
What is conscious, is our reaction to this stimulation. Our fear receptors are activated. Our conscious mind analyzes the environment and decides that we are clear to stand down because it was just a popping balloon. We might even laugh it off or smile at the over-reaction. Or it decides that we need to run — RIGHT FRACKING NOW — because that was a gun-shot and we need to be under cover. Or it decides that we need to run straight at that knife-wielding idiot because he is threatening our child and we’ll be damned if we’re not going to take him down now while he’s startled at our violent response. This decision is in a fraction of an instant for most people. (Though many people state that the perception of time slows down in these high-stress situations.)
But what happens when the fear is not something we can physically see or react to? What if the fear is being drummed up by a media story, or a random firing of our own brain? What if it’s a low-grade fear that we’re going to lose the one thing most precious to us? What then?
This is also the gnawing fear of self-doubt. The crippling sense that we’re not good enough. That what we’ve produced is not good enough.
What happens then? Then, the fear turns into poison. It nibbles at the back of your brain in a little voice. And that little irritation is a constantly running zip of adrenaline. We don’t even notice it anymore, until our body, which is primed for action, says we need to act. But our conscious brain looks around and says, well, there’s nothing happening right now. But George just left my cube after talking about the project. I must be upset.
But we don’t interpret it as fear. We’re not afraid of George after all. Maybe we’re afraid he’ll go to the boss, or he’ll railroad the project into the ground. So we defend ourselves mentally. We’re angry. We’re angry that George is going to scuttle all of our hard work. God damn that man. He is always getting in the frelling way. He never listens to anything.
I HATE THAT MoFo.
Or not. Maybe I’m just cranky because I’m scared from something else. I’m scared that I’ve screwed up everything and now everyone’s going to know. I always frack up things. I’m a piece of trash and I know it. I HATE MYSELF.
Every time we hear a report about bad things happening in our area, we get scared. We attend to media — in all of its forms — because that media helps us protect ourselves. So what happens when the message we get from that media is that extremists (who are scared of difference) are fighting? We internalize the fear that those extremists who hate what we love are going to come for us. We hype up the need to fight against them. We HATE them because they are going to come after us for what we believe. And we are right!
But what if we aren’t? A little voice whispering, tremulous, in the back of our minds asks us, “what if they’re right and we’re wrong?” And we build up that little fear until it’s hidden under righteous anger. We’re right — they’re wrong!
And we build our barricade of FEAR.
There is a way to decrease that fear through creative media. We can confront the fear in horror movie. We can purposefully scare ourselves on a roller coaster. We can write a play about warring factions coming together at a wedding. We can write a novel about two dying teenagers. Or we can dive into those stories as a viewer, a reader, an intrepid explorer of emotional depths.
We cry. We scream. We jump. We fall in love.
And the fear fades.
Crossposted on The Art of Procrastination.