Victoria here. . .
Kevin and I had lunch with some friends the other day, and one opened up about a disagreement they’d had regarding their children. It was a particularly painful argument, and both were still reeling from the hurt.
Their dispute could have been about anything because aren’t all fights based on fear? Sometimes, the fear represents a real threat, but most often, we fear what might happen, not what is happening at that moment.
What destroys relationships
We make up stories about bad things that could happen to us in the future. Kevin calls this the ego, and rightly so. The ego is the part of us that says, “Danger! I could be hurt here. I have to protect myself.” This ancient survival response originates in the amygdala portion of our brain. Its sole purpose is to protect us from harm by signaling danger, and the perception of danger manifests as fear.
When we were more primitive folk roaming the savanna of Africa, this response made sense. When our lives were threatened, we defended ourselves by running away or staying to fight for our life. But we face fewer physical threats now, so most of our fear is interpersonal and projected into the future, which creates a continual state of anxiety, indecisiveness, and general angst for many people.
So, our unhappy friend described how she continues to wake up every morning feeling a wave of love for her husband. Her first response is to reach out and hug him, but since the fight, she’s been holding back. She remembers the hurt she felt when he didn’t take her side. Then, she withdraws into herself, cutting off their connection, and they are both miserable.
The impulse to withdraw love
Don’t we all do this? To have the impulse to love but pull back out of the fear of being hurt. We shut down our natural loving inclination for fear that we might be judged, rejected, and abandoned. We are afraid of feeling pain in the future.
When this happens, a wall built of self-indignation and blame goes up. To justify our behavior, we marshal our defenses and manufacture countless reasons why we’re right and the other person is wrong. When we do this, the fear wins. Sadly, we become separated from others and lost in our own self-righteousness. The love is gone, and we are alone.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The good news is that we can tame this overactive fear response.
The remedy is to choose love over fear.
How to choose love
It’s not so simple at first glance, but it’s doable in the long run. Here’s how. . .
- Bring self-awareness into your relationship with your loved ones.
Identify the problem that’s bothering you, and determine if the threat is real or imagined. Be realistic, not futuristic. If it is imagined, then consciously choose to believe they have your best interests at heart. Do not make them the bad person and you the victim. Deciding not to be defensive ahead of time makes this easier to do.
- When triggered, don’t react immediately. Step back and listen instead.
When you feel like pulling away to protect yourself, watch your thoughts instead of reacting. What fearful thoughts triggered your desire to pull away or attack? What are you afraid might happen? Is the danger real or imagined? Notice how alone you feel.
- Reach out with love in spite of the fear.
Override your feeling of danger, your urge to blame, and your fear of being hurt. You always have a choice of how you want to respond, so now is your chance to choose love over fear. Remember that love unites. . . and that people work things out by coming together and talking, not by turning away from each other.
Continuing to protect yourself from pain by blaming others will destroy every relationship you have. It is in your best interests to believe in the goodness of others, especially your loved ones. If we are unable to see others through the eyes of love, there is little hope for us—as individuals and as a species. Love is the answer.
How do you overcome fear and focus on love? Let us know in the comments below!