In reactions – does fear choose my responses for me?

Contribution by Isabel Hernández Negrín, Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain.

We know that fear is something that helps us to survive.   It is a response to danger that helps us to confront it, by fighting or fleeing.  This reaction cancels out any rational effort in the face of danger and focuses our energy on saving our lives.  When dangers are real, this is of vital assistance.

The thing is that we human beings store up danger signals in our memories that do not necessarily correspond to real life.  We can dream of dangerous situations that, although they are imaginary, we perceive as if they are real and we react, often by waking up with a jolt, with our hearts beating nineteen to the dozen and with our senses alert. Something like that happens to us daily when we imagine the intentions that we assume others have or we imagine all kinds of misfortunes that may happen to us or to our loved ones.  If what we imagine makes us feel bad we unconsciously classify it as dangerous and our bodies start to generate the conditions for fight or flight.  Fighting, in this case, may be becoming angry, justifying myself or defending myself.  Fleeing is something we may experience in the form of avoiding situations, adopting submissive behaviours, lying or doing other things that help us to get round it as best we can.

These reactions that are urged upon us by fear, as we said, do not allow us to respond otherwise than to react automatically, without considering, unconsciously.  Here, fear is what reigns.  Everyone has their own way of doing things and has had their own mechanism fixed in their brains for a long time.  Memories are recorded with the emotional charge of that moment and they are very strong (remember that they are ingrained as a key to our survival) which takes possession of our whole being.

Our personal fears are based on our past.  What made us feel in danger, will always surface if we are not able to observe it deliberately.

If in the course of a conversation, we keep an opinion quiet so that we do not stand out, or so that we do not cause controversy, or so that we do not become the centre of attention, or out of fear of being mistaken or if we attack first, impulsively, we are reacting guided by fear.

If we do not observe what is happening to us, we will never be able to act otherwise.   Fear will always be with us.  Fear wants to help us, but, in the psychological sphere it is not the best companion.  It is the one who is always whispering things in your ear like: don’t do it; they’re going to laugh at you; he wants to humiliate you, so attack first; behave well because if you don’t you’ll end up on your own, etc.  It may spend your whole life repeating these warnings – do you want to live like that?  I assume that you do not.

It may be that we treat the warnings as real, as if they were said to us as “objective” statements.  We believe them.   And we believe that we choose consciously and that is not true.

But if you observe them calmly before you react as you always do, you open up a place of freedom within you that will allow you to choose between what you already know or to respond by suspending your ingrained fears from years ago, and giving a response that is consistent with the present moment and not based on fears that come from your memories that were branded there in the past.

Fear conditions us, it makes cowards of us, it confines us to our comfort zone, but it never, never makes us happy.  The choice is yours.