Murrell Counseling Service, LLC

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FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real

Posted on August 1, 2012 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (1219)
Much of the work with my clients is directed at their understanding of the importance of introspection and thought monitoring.  By this I don't mean that my clients are supposed to withdraw from the world and spend all their time sitting under a tree like Budda without interacting with other people.  But the sad fact is that many of my clients suffer from crippling levels of anxiety and fear about what may happen to them if they "get a life" and move from simply surviving to thriving.  In other words getting back into the stream of life and enjoying doing things that they might have been afraid to do.  Much of their fear and anxiety is based on their past experiences in which they suffered some trauma that they seemingly cannot forget.  This keeps them stuck in what I call an "emotional foxhole" in which they can't get hurt by anyone but they aren't really free to live and enjoy their life.  One of the acronyms that I find helpful is to remind them that much of what they fear may happen in the future is based on events that happened to them in the past that they are no longer in danger of letting happen again.  Many individuals who as children or adolescents suffered from bullying, abuse, or frequent rejection have unconsciously assumed that they will always be bullied, abused, or rejected whenever they move out of their "foxhole".  However the fact is that as adults they have many more skills and experience than they did as children and they don't have to stand for any more abuse.  It is not the reality of their present situation that they are focused on but rather the unreality of feeling that they are still helpless, unassertive, and unsupported that keep them in the "foxhole".  In short, it is their fear that keeps them stuck. However, when  remind them that they can now as adults, walk away, call 911, learn to be assertive or even aggressive if needs be, it may not be possible in the clients mind to overcome their fear.  If you think of the perceptions of childhood or adolescence when most abuse occurred it was at a time when most of us thought only with our emotions and had not developed our logical ability to see things objectively.  It was a time when a part of our brain, the limbic system, was recording all of the events around us that were associated with being threatened (either physically or socially threatened) and this recording stayed with us for life.  So as a result anything that looked like, sounded like, smelled like, tasted like, or felt to the touch like a threat our limbic system reacted to with either flight, fight, or freezing our bodies.  Yet as children we were prisoners of our emotional perceptions and often took things personally that had nothing whatever to do with us. It was much safer for us as children to believe that "there's something wrong with me" than to begin to ponder whether our parents were the real problem.  Even if our parents were alcoholics and incompetent as parents it was dangerous for us as children to question whether our parents knew what they were doing.  We needed to believe that our parents were competent to be parents and that they knew what to do to take care of us.  Unconsciously as children we knew that we weren't developed enough to be able to fully take care of ourselves and become independent.  So we unconsiously made the decision that we would blame ourselves rather than our parents if our family was dysfunctional. It was too scary to think that our parents were incompetent.  For our own peace of mind as children we had to believe that our parents were God-like figures who knew exactly what they were doing.  If we began to question their competence at too young an age we would simply feel more anxious when we then realized how much at risk we were to be in a family run by very abnormal people who masquaraded as competent reliable parents.  So our learned emotional behavior for many children and later as adults was to live in fear.  The sad truth is that many of Americans, clients or not, live in a constant state of fear and are not even aware of it's impact on their emotional as well as physical lives.  So the next time you find yourself afraid in a situation that you intellectually know is an irrational fear from the past just remember this blog and what FEAR really stands for.