Most of us have a “fight or flight” response to fear. We either get reactive about a perceived potential threat, or we want to retreat as far away from the potential danger as we can. The challenge is that fear is usually over a situation that isn’t actually happening at the time. Consequently, we start fighting, disengage, get anxious or run away over something that we think might happen, but isn’t. In other words, we either leap headfirst into drama or run the other way over a story we are potentially making up. We end up damaging our relationships by aligning our behavior with our illusions.
Most of us are not trained to look at fear as a helpful thing, but fear actually flags awareness about what truly matters to us. Imagine fear as a giant boulder marking the spot where the treasure is buried. Underneath the fear of public speaking is the desire to be accepted. Underneath the fear of dying is likely the love of life or health. This is really important to look at because if we only know the fear that exists, we can only honor the fear through our behavior. Fear-motivated behavior is not usually based in wisdom and forethought. Therefore, when we honor the fear instead of the treasure, we risk creating the very thing we are trying to avoid. The problem then becomes our behavior.
Let me give you an example: If someone is afraid that her partner is going to cheat on her, the treasure that is hiding underneath that fear is that she cherishes their loving, monogamous relationship.
If she aligns her behavior with her fear, she’s likely to be snoopy, suspicious, distrusting, possessive, withdrawn, anxious, depressed, and sarcastic, to name a few. These behaviors are not likely to bode well for the harmony in the relationship and may actually encourage the husband to withdrawal.
If, instead, she aligns her behavior with her target of creating a healthy, harmonious relationship, she is likely to be more loving, understanding, intimate, clear, fun and trusting. These behaviors are likely to encourage a deeper, more intimate relationship with her partner.
When a fear moves beyond the “fantasized experience” into a more probable or actual scenario, it turns from fear into a call to action; it becomes time to do something differently. Then, the inquiry becomes, “What do I need to do?” Action either annihilates the fear or manages the situation fueling the fear.
Here are some questions to explore when fear raises its head:
- Is anything actually happening to me now? Or—as Byron Katie invites us to investigate: Is this (fear) true?
- Is my fear based on real evidence or an imagined scenario?
- What is the treasure that my fear is marking? What matters to me that I perceive is threatened?
- What would my behavior be if I aligned with my fear?
- What would my behavior be if I aligned with what I treasure?
- What (wise) actions do I need to take?
Rather than “fight or flight,” I invite you to “inquire”—look deeper—look beneath your fear to see what you cherish and then strategize for more appropriate and effective responses of protection.