The Fear Factor

The old saying goes “Life is about choices. If you don’t like your life, make better choices”.  This is totally correct. We make choices about most of the things that happen to us in our lives. We can choose to stay in a relationship or go, we can mostly choose to be happy or sad, we can choose to change our lives, sometimes in the most extreme way.  We are the only species on the planet who can deeply analyze the past, predict the future, and make conscious, self-aware decisions. It gives us power, freedom and responsibility. The responsibility to judge stimulus from sensory input and make an appropriate response.

This is the theory and as with all theories, it sounds very effective. Putting the theory into practice is not always easy. As humans, we are not all about logic. We are also emotional creatures and that often means our emotions have a massive bearing on our response, or better said, the process that leads to the response. Wrapped up in all of this is conditioning, experience of similar situations, our assumptions plus more basic emotions such as pride, jealousy, and most of all fear. Fear of loss, rejection, conflict, being alone, to name but a few. In this case, that we can think deeply, analyze, and predict sometimes works against us. For we also have the ability to practice cognitive distortions such as mind reading, catastrophic thinking, etc. This complicates everything when we view the world we live in: the view of ourselves, the people around us, interaction with those people, decision-making, conflict management, among many others.

We allow our fears instead of our ability to choose to dictate our cognitive processes. In therapy, such methods as CBT can help to challenge irrational thinking and teach tools that can bring about sustainable change. However, there is a lot that can be done that can help the situation. One of the best methods is a daily mood diary where triggers can be monitored and ultimately changed and dealt with.

A method I sometimes teach comes from the Buddhist faith. It is a visualization about a house with a basement and a healthy room.  Best done under meditation, it involves imagining the inner critic sowing seeds of fears in the basement. When they become big and strong, they are invited into the healthy room to be questioned and weakened. Here, we are making the greatest choice to face our fears.

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