Fear, Stress, and Trauma
What would your life look like if you had no fear? Would you finally be be able to say “I love you” to someone? Or maybe you would be able to leave someone you should have left long ago. Without fear, would you ask your boss for a raise? Or would you leave your job and find something better? Maybe you would finally get the help you have been afraid to ask for but know you need.
As you know, fear has the ability to take over. Does anxiety ever jump on you when you are getting ready to give a talk in front of a group of people and jumble your thoughts? Or perhaps it just nags at you with a vague feeling of dread when you have to introduce yourself to strangers at a gathering of people you don’t know. Whether it’s overpowering or subtle, fear can stop you from doing what you want to do.
Fear is designed to protect your body from danger–fire, predators, etc.–and take you out of harm’s way. In this way it is a beneficial emotion that spurs you to either move to safety or protect yourself. After you have taken action, the fear usually dissipates. When it doesn’t go away, however, and lingers in the background, it turns into either stress or trauma. The fear can then be paralyzing at times and low-grade at others.
You may think that trauma comes from a single event, such as an accident, an attack, a serious injury, a disaster, or war. However, much of the trauma you have experienced in your life took place at a very young age, sometimes before you could speak or even remember what happened.
Childhood traumas can start with a difficult birth, with having an absent mother, with an over-controlling father or mother, with strict or abusive parenting, or with a parent who is not available to respond to a child’s calls for help. (I was raised at a time when mothers were told by doctors to ignore their baby’s cries for food and only feed them every four hours.) A baby not having its need met can turn into trauma and illness later in life.)
If you experienced repeated or ongoing trauma, you slowly began to hide the most precious parts of yourself. The parts of you that expressed your creativity, your vitality, love, openness , and desires, all slowly dimmed over time. To compensate for those lost parts, you created masks and defenses that kept you safe from scrutiny and attack and helped you to fit in to your environment and survive. You probably did such a good job with your masks that you eventually identified with them and now believe that the masks are the real you. In fact, the masks have become so important that any therapeutic process or any kind of self examination makes you fearful. A part of you is afraid that what you created to keep you safe risks deconstruction if you look at it too closely.
So why do you avoid getting help or engaging in any process that smacks of therapy? Because you want to avoid feeling the old wounds hiding behind your masks. Although originally designed to protect us, this is where fear starts to work against you. You may know that your coping mechanisms–the masks and defenses–are no longer serving their purposes; but at the same time, a part of you is afraid that peeking at the wounds that keep them in place will hurt in the present, will hinder your ability to cope with the past, and in some way injure you by making you more vulnerable in the future.
So you are stuck. Your current feelings and behaviors make life difficult if not unbearable. But you won’t take the steps to really change them because you fear it will dredge up all those memories and feelings that took so much effort to bury. You may even fool yourself into thinking you are trying to change by going to people who heal in mysterious ways with energy, tapping, psychic advice, or with some spiritual flavor of the month that promises to magically release everything from the past without any effort on your part. You may go to them over and over again and experience some relief that is ultimately short-lived and requires you to go back to them, or someone new, over and over again.
Fear, then, keeps you from seeking real change. So you go on living with unsatisfying relationships, serial illnesses that defy explanation, unable to sleep or keep a job, either constantly agitated and prone to outbursts or fatigued and numb with no desire to do anything. You hope it will change, but it doesn’t. And so you continue to damage yourself and those around you.
The problem is not your past. It’s your fear of looking at the past.
What do you need? Courage to face fear. Not the courage to face the past and all its pain; courage to face the fear of looking at the past. Courage only exists in the presence of fear, and fear only exists in the present moment.
There are many people out there who can provide real help. There are many methods out there, like Somatic Experiencing, that allow you to dissolve fear gently and easily without diving into the pool of events and feelings in the past that created the fear. Commit to facing that fear and you can reclaim your vitality, your passion for life, and your ability to sail through life unafraid and with confidence and ease.
Do it so you and those you love can live fully the way so many others do. It’s called “Life.”