What does it mean to walk the path of fear? As Carlos Castaneda once said, and I paraphrase, that walking a path of fear is walking as if death is stalking us, always worried that one wrong move and death will overtake us. It’s a subconscious thing. Fear is our warning system, planted deep within in our minds, throttled by our amygdala, and embellished by our conscious minds. Fear is about warning about an impending, imagined death. Surviving is avoiding death.
But, how does this affect our ability to live genuine, authentic lives? Is living a life well wasted, ravaged by fearfulness, really a life? Our mission in life is simple: learn, grow and for the spiritually minded, love. Everything else is gravy. It doesn’t matter how each of us filters the world, filters wide open or mostly shut, we all have to bend to the mission.
Fear is a driver. Fear is a healthy impulse. Fear can be learned and it can be imagined. Our reactions to fear are often comprised of four actions: freeze, to ponder the circumstance; Fight – to resist the threat; flight to escape the threat; or fright – to internalize the threat, in which case it can become overwhelming. For many HSPs, the last action is simply too often the case. And we are driven back to the comfort zone, that place where the threat is controllable or no longer there.
But what are we really afraid of? To die, to be hurt, to be misunderstood, to be shamed or made fun of? To be afraid to learn something new or grow? Perhaps, we fear the growth we may experience will be the death of who we are, a kind of existential death. Death of self and the dismantling of our ego, our essence. Or is this just an overwhelm thing? Do we fear the onslaught of too much threatening information, too much to process with a rush of adrenaline? Is overwhelm like drowning in a tidal wave, out of control and rushing into the unknown?
HSPs often find themselves walking in this pathway of fear so that it seems fear is a driver of our behavior. Is fear avoidance a personality characteristic of HSPs? This is not to say that HSPs can’t brave or courageous or don’t do things that require overcoming fear. But we live so much in our heads that before the threat is even real we have imagined endless possibilities, some not so positive. Its no wonder that many HSPs are threatened when their comfort zone is questioned. But the comfort zone is not an expansive mechanism, restorative, yes, but not the ideal mechanism for growth.
For humans habituation to fear is hardwired. This ability to habituate to the thing we fear is what allows us to try novel and new experiences. It increases or capacity for survival. This is not just for the HSP world to ponder, but for all humans. Avoiding the thing(s) we fear, prevents this habituation, this getting used to the fear and the repeated retreat into the comfort zone, does not relieve the fear. It avoids it, allowing the fear to anchor within.
The only way out, is through the fear, says psychologist, Noam Shpancer. This requires expanding the comfort zone enough to repeatedly face the fear and overcome it. Experience brings confidence. Confidence is expansive and grows your comfort zone.
So, where is this root of fear? Is it in the amygdala, the brains warning system? A limbic to cerebellum circuit that takes the subconscious warning signal and embellishes is with conscious emotions, creating fear and sometimes anxiety. With HSPs because of our sensory sensitivity is much greater than the population at large, we seem more prone to excessive fears and overwhelm because of our circuitry.
According to Dr. Elaine Aron, we need to pay attention to where we feel the fear, generally in our bodies. We will register sooner than most. In that moment of freeze, mentioned above, it is our opportunity to consider the odds of our perceived threat happening and then act accordingly. We often confuse the arousal of the stimulation with the fear or emotion of the situation. But when it is time to act, we need to consider a thoughtful strategy and go with it.
Consider the attributes of courage. No one that is courageous is fearless. Realize your vulnerability, acknowledge the fear and allow yourself to be exposed to the fear, the exposure will give you experience, valuable experience. Stay positive, sometimes, just saying the right things at the right time can help to associate positive actions with negative stimulus, helping you overcome the fearful thoughts. Practice bravely going beyond your comfort zone and you will grow as a result.
So often we HSPs think that our comfort zone is the place where we can handle the fear. Our fortress, our mailed armor, our protection. Yet, staying solidly in the comfort zone for a lifetime without altering it, will keep us walking the the path of fear. I think we need to consider going beyond, risking the imagined type of “death” we fear so much and expand and rebirth that comfort zone.
So, here’s my tips for overcoming that fear of which I speak:
Thanks for stopping by, until next week…
Bill Allen lives in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.