Jamie Goffin, LCSW
All of us have experienced fear and if we aren’t aware of our condition of fear- we live in what Tara Brach calls the “Body of Fear.” We walk through life in a fear trance and our world becomes seen through fear lenses and we can become trapped in fear. We lose our capacity to live fully.
Often when patients are coming into care to work on making changes it can be very helpful to understand how the function of fear has presented in their lives. For many, the trance usually begins in childhood, when an infant or child experiences fear in attaching to caregivers. Or we may have experienced trying something new out, having it fail and feeling the chain reaction of fear in our body. Or we view failure as a reflection of not being “good enough.” When an individual experiences continuous fear over the years, it can lead to chronic habitual contraction in our bodies and our minds become trapped in rigid thinking patterns. Our mind almost becomes obsessed for the need to prevent and respond to perceived fears.
Fear is a difficult emotion to work through with patient’s who have experienced severe trauma by helping them sort out real threats. This is difficult; because fear does serve functions that we rely on to literally stay alive. How do we know if our sense of fear needs attention? Tara Brach, talks about the need to “attend and befriend” fear. We do this by examining fear and asking, “Is this something to respond to or mostly a habit?”
In order to successfully do this we need to have fear management strategies. The first and most important step is being able to recognize that we have fear. Unhealthy responses to fear might look something like this:
- We want to deflect or ignore it
- We seek to control it by reducing what feels wrong
- We get busy- see how many things we can do. Not doing feels intolerable
- Self soothe- use substance such as sugar, foods, marijuana to help take away the rawness of fear
- We want to dull or numb it with TV, social media so we can take a temporary vacation
Those who respond to fear with the fight strategy will:
- Attack themselves by trying to make themselves into a being better
- Attack others who feel threatening with our judgments, thoughts of hatred
Starting with mindfulness of our body sensations and our thoughts allows us to step out of fear. Tara Brach states, “The key to transforming this trance is by becoming aware of it—mindful of all our strategies, stories, physical reactions and bodily sensations—and allowing ourselves to be present to all of it without added constriction and judgment.” When we resist fear it becomes more paralyzing leading to increased pain and suffering. It seems the more we want it to go away the stronger grip it has on us. If we can stay honestly and courageously awake to our fear, it can enable us to recognize and fully experience whatever is arising in the present moment, and keep us from falling into the trance.