The Limits of Fear

The role of fear in our lives can be summed up in one word: LIMITING. As a therapist I frequently work with clients whose lives are being ruled by fear. If they fear not being able to find a new job so they might stay in a job that they hate. If they fear being alone they might stay in an unhealthy relationship. If they fear having their heart broken, they might avoid getting into an intimate relationship. If they fear crashing in an airplane, they might only travel by car or train. LIMITING. When we are full of fear, our bodies respond with hormones that are meant to help us get out of danger. Catecholamines are our “fight of flight” hormones that are released by the adrenal glands in response to stress (adrenaline is a catecholamine). The effect of these hormones is that our bodies tense up and all of our blood flow goes to our limbs in preparation for being able to fight or flee. This becomes a problem when the fear that is causing this body response is an ongoing, anticipatory fear rather than an imminent danger. Our bodies are not built to be able to live in a constant state of fear. Fear is meant to alert us to danger and it can’t do this if we live with it on a day-to-day basis. This is bad for our adrenal glands because they are constantly pumping out catecholamines, and it’s bad for our mental health because we are living in a constant state of stress and tension.

Yet we all know that we cannot always talk ourselves out of a fear. We can repeat in our minds over and over again what we “should” be doing, but the fear can still limit our ability to change. When I’m working with a client who is stuck and stressed, I often work with hypnosis. Hypnosis can help people connect with what is true for them and can help them unearth what is blocking them from being free. I have worked with many clients over the last 11 years who have been stuck in fear. Please read about how I worked with one client around these issues. The client’s name and many details have been changed in order to maintain confidentiality.

Don was stressed. He put much of his energy toward his work and very little toward his relationship with his girlfriend. She wanted to get married and have kids. He consistently avoided that conversation with her. He loved her and felt that she was perfect for him but he had seen a lot of unhappy marriages in his life and he didn’t want to follow suit. By avoiding the conversation about marriage, he hoped she would forget about it. She broke up with him because of his inability to commit. At this point Don came to therapy. He had every logical reason in the world to avoid getting married. In his mind he had turned marriage into a prison, thus envisioning his “future wife” as the prison warden who would lock him up forever. During the course of our work together, he slowly started to see the prison for what it was – a story he had created as a kid. During a session where we used hypnosis, his feelings of fear led him to a memory from when he was seven years old. He remembered sitting in the living room and watching out the window for his father to return home from work. He remembered that it was close to Christmas and he was waiting for his dad to help him decorate the Christmas tree. When his dad walked in the front door, he smiled at his son and told him that he would put down his briefcase and be right there to help him. That’s when his mom came into the room and started yelling at his dad. She was yelling because he hadn’t stayed at work late. That meant no overtime pay which meant Christmas would be ruined. She yelled that he had never made enough money and that she should have known not to marry him. Don’s father looked defeated, put his coat back on, and left the house. Don watched as his father drove away. His parents divorced the next year.

Although Don had consciously remembered that event before our session, he had not let himself FEEL it since he was seven years old. He realized that his decision to never get married was made on that night many years ago. Now that he was older and in love it was that decision and the anticipatory fear of marriage that was preventing him from committing to his girlfriend. Once he realized this he was suddenly able to see how his girlfriend was rather than how his fears made her out to be. Through therapy he was able to realize that he could work through the challenges of making a lifetime commitment.

So rather than living in a shut-down state of fear, he started to open his heart. He reported that opening his heart not only translated into making a commitment to love, it also translated into his changing his job, moving his home, leaving the friendships he had outgrown, and investing in new friendships. His life changed from the ground up for the better because it was no longer being ruled by fear.

I believe that human beings are not designed to be limited. We are designed to grow…

If you or someone you love is “stuck” on an issue and is ready to shift, please call or send me an email to discuss how working together might help.

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