Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Illusion of Fear

I've been working on this article for the past 2-3 weeks. My thanks to David Walker at:


The starting place is fear. Real fear is when our existence is threatened, but most of fear doesn’t actually threaten our existence. Infrequently this fear is real, but often much of what we fear is simply made up in our thoughts and stories. This type of fear is defined as “Existential Fear.” Most of us approach much of life with a sense of existential fear. In other blog entries, I talked about the power of thought, and the importance of story. It is these thoughts and stories that reflect this existential fear.

Now the paradigm:

Consider a triangle representing fear. Each of the corners of the triangle is labeled with the following: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer (described below). When we act powered by existential fear, we act based on the paradigm of a triangle. We fall into a primary role of victim, perpetrator, or rescuer. Anytime we experience fear, we react in a primary role. This reaction is often unconscious and is seen in many of our automatic responses. It is a learned behavior that has become routine. The primary role is backed up by a secondary role. We attempt to cope with the fear by using characteristics of the primary role and the secondary role. Yes, we can still act in their third role, but most often our behavior will reflect the primary and secondary role. It should be noted that we switch these roles with amazing speed. In one instant we feel like a victim, and in the next moment, we lash out becoming a perpetrator.

The triangle seeks balance, so when we operate from a primary (and/or secondary) role, we seek out others to balance the triangle. There is always someone, or something, real or imagined in one of the roles.

A brief description of the roles and corresponding thoughts:

I am helpless
I can’t do anything
I’m hurt
Something is done to me
It’s my fault
Lost child
Everyone say’s “no”

I’ll do what you say.

It’s your problem
You fix it
I’ll punish you
Doing something to others
It’s Your Fault
You don’t know what you’re doing

It’s their fault
I can fix it
Passive Aggressive
I’ll make you feel better
Fixing something
It’s the Persecutor’s Fault
Want to feel needed
I know what to do.

Transcending the Fear

Transcending this fear is possible. It is essential to step outside of the fear and take responsibility for the subsequent choice. I know this is easier said than done. In another blog entry, I highlighted the Litany of Fear.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. (Dune, Herbert)

To me, this litany of fear reminds me that the fear is not real, and that if I stand through the fear, only I remain. In that moment I have an opportunity where I can make a choice that expresses my true identity. One way to do this is to identify values that express what inspires you at your core.

The challenge is to ask yourself, “How willing am I to do whatever it takes to express my values in living?” Our inspirations are often people who, despite their fear, choose actions that express their values. Think of people such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Mother Theresa. They expressed their values in their daily lives to the degree that the world recognized them as inspiring. You can use your values to shape your choices in a profound way. The key questions are, “Will this behavior protect my values?” and “How do my values shape the next step for me?”

Application of the model

Some generic examples may help. I feel a sense of fear in response to my partner. It really doesn’t matter what it is, because the surface issue simply reflects the existential fear that I bring to the conversation (see the blog entries on transference). So, in the case when I feel any fear, I can play the role of victim. I feel powerless, and in this example I might move to the secondary role of trying to placate my partner. I will do what I need to help my partner feel better so I reduce my level of fear. I could put “boss,” “friend” or any role into that space of partner. I can also put a larger phenomenon such as “culture” or “church” or society. As another generic example, I can play the role of victim, and move to the secondary role to blame my partner. I start to victimize others in response to the fear I feel.

Now some specific examples related to my work in the realm of sexuality.

First, consider a guy struggling with feelings of loneliness and rejection
• My wife just doesn’t understand me. So, since she doesn’t understand me I will use the Internet to help medicate my feelings of loneliness. When caught, I blame by partner by saying “You don’t understand me. If you were available, I wouldn’t need to go online.” These two statements reflect both the perpetrator and victim responses.

Second, consider a person who is afraid of their sexuality.
• In this case, the person might experience feelings of sadness and depression expressing the fear of rejection. In this place, they might move toward placating society by hiding sexuality or “following the rules.”

Third, consider a person having a sexual relationship outside a monogamous relationship.
• In this case, the fear of being discovered may get projected as attacks against others who engage in these behaviors. Some of the individuals with the strongest reactions to President Clinton’s behaviors with Monica Lewinsky were later found to have engaged in the same behaviors (Gingrich, Ensign). Their fear was projected as a perpetrator and later as a victim once uncovered.

1 comment:

  1. I like the triangle. It seems to fit with reactions I've observed in both myself and others.

    However, I'm confused by the absence of any dimension (or analogous model) that represents a potentially healthy and positive reaction to fear (what you call 'transcending' the fear).

    Could you present a model and the corresponding thoughts, roles, and behaviors that someone might engage in to break out of the above triangle?