Fear! Fear! Fear! Jon Morrow just started Following me on Twitter! High alert! Where can I hide? What do I do now?!
Now, Jon Morrow is one my heroes, for many reasons. Hugely successful in overcoming ridiculously challenging circumstances. Freely sharing hard-won wisdom on behalf of a better world. Mega-popular. Ginormous following.
Why, then, is my first response not, He’s Following me. Oh how fab am I?! How cool is that?! But rather, Oh crap, get me outta here. Now.
Why? Because, in part, I experienced a fair amount of trauma as a child (1). My brain can interpret things as threatening when those things are actually neutral or mundane.
Even fabulous stuff can be perceived as a threat. The emotional response, and concomitant thoughts, are fear-based. Not reality-right-now based.
The neural networks in the brain that are involved in rational, abstract cognition — essentially, the systems that mediate our most humane and creative thoughts — are very sensitive to emotional states, especially fear,” says Perry [Dr. Bruce Perry, Senior Fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy]. … .
Every loud sound suddenly becomes a potential threat, for example, and even mundane circumstances such as a person who avoids eye contact can take on suspicious and ominous meaning and elicit an extreme, alert-ready response. Such informational triage can be essential to surviving traumatic experience, of course. “Severe threats to well-being activate hard wired circuits in the brain and produce responses that help us survive,” explains Joseph LeDoux, professor of psychology and neuroscience at New York University. … . (2)
My Life is Being Threatened
Jon Morrow is not a saber-toothed tiger. My increasing visibility and success are not life-threatening situations from which I need to flee.
What to do?
Mindfulness saves my day. (As does creativity. But that’s another post, for another time. And mindfulness really helps kick-start creativity, I’m telling you.)
1. Awareness “You can’t get where you want to go if you don’t know where you are.” (3) It’s called mindful awareness because … well, the practice cultivates awareness. For instance … I’m being Followed. OH NO! Wait. That’s a fear response. OK. I am not under attack. OK. I feel that fear. I don’t have to act on it. OK. Jon Morrow is not a saber-toothed tiger. This is positive. OK. Next?
2. Choice When I’m feeling good, on it, I can stop myself from tearing across the savanna, fully freaking out because my reptilian brain believes we’re being chased. It’s harder when we’re tired. But we can still do it. Choose a course of action, using your mindful awareness chops.
3. Responsibility It is the 21st century. There are no longer literal slathering slobbering beasts chasing most of us. My thoughts are not reality. I have a cerebrum. I can be responsible for my choices. Use that cerebrum.
Those of us who have experienced trauma might have to work a little (or a lot) more mindfully to move through fear responses that seem to be completely rational to that hard-working reptilian brain.
Use it, Baby!
Use that fear. I’ve found that desperation and terror can be used as rocket fuel for achieving success. And if that means, first, feeling safe in the world, then that’s where you start.
The great news is that yes, it is possible. No, you do not have to hide in the corner when someone or something that matters comes knocking on your door.
Yes, indeed. Next?
1 Trauma can be experienced through physical, sexual, emotional, and/or psychospiritual abuse.
photo: Creative Commons http://cjpeterso.edublogs.org/