Why do we feel threatened?
Fear has been part of humans survival evolution. This feeling of fear and anxiety kept our ancestors alive. Hence we are vulnerable to being alarmed, manipulated, and even intimidated by threats, both real ones and “screen tigers.”
Our reptilian brain is constantly at work and vulnerability to feeling threatened whether as individuals, couples, and families to schoolyards, organizations, and nations. It could be an individual who worries about the consequences of speaking up at work or in a close relationship, a family cowed by a scary parent, a business fixated on threats instead of opportunities, or a country that’s routinely told it’s under “Threat Level Orange” – it’s the same reptilian brain that reacts in all cases.
How do we NOT feel intimidated?
- Understand the Reptilian Brain : An understanding the workings of this brain and it’s natural pattern of easily getting hijaked by alarm is the first step towards our healing. Then by bringing awareness to our reactions towards feeling threatened, we can activate that part of the brain that has more calm, wisdom and inner strength and less likely to get aggravated or distracted from false alarms.
- Know that we are Teflon for positives and Velcro for of Negatives:
Due to our reptilian part of brain, our bodies generally reacts more intensely to negatives than to equally strong positives. For example, intense pain can be produced all over the body, but intense pleasure comes only (for most people) from stimulating a few specific regions.
In our brain, negative stimuli gets a greater share of neural activity than do equally intense (e.g., loud, bright) positive ones. They are also perceived more easily and quickly. For example, people in studies can identify angry faces faster than happy ones. Even if they are shown these images so quickly (just a tenth of a second or so) that they cannot have any conscious recognition of them, the ancient fight-or-flight machinery system of the brain will still get activated by the angry faces.
In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones. That’s why researchers have found that animals, including humans, generally learn faster from pain (alas) than pleasure.
What to Do about these threats?
The formula that Mother Nature gave us to protect ourselves from being eaten up and extinction is to overestimate threats, underestimate opportunities, and underestimate resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities). This was great way to evolve , but a lousy way to promote quality of life in 2020.
So actions you can take are:
- accept and be mindful that the degree to which your brain is wired to make you afraid, wired so that you walk around with an ongoing trickle of anxiety (a flood for some) and to keep you on alert. And wired to zero in on any apparent bad news in a larger stream of information (e.g., fixing on a casual aside from a family member or co-worker), to tune out or de-emphasize reassuring good news, and to keep thinking about the one thing that was negative in a day in which a hundred small things happened, ninety-nine of which were neutral or positive.
- Accept and be mindful of the forces around you that beat the drum of alarm – whether it’s a family member who threatens emotional punishment or political figures talking about enemies. Consider for yourself whether their fears are valid – or whether they are exaggerated or empty, while downplaying or missing the larger context of opportunities and resources. Ask yourself what these forces could be getting out of beating that scary drum.
This mindful awareness of both the inner workings of our brains and the outer mechanisms of fear-promotion can by itself make us less prone to needless fear.
Then we won’t be so vulnerable to intimidation by apparent “tigers” that are in fact manageable, blown out of proportion, or may have become our screen-savers.
If you or someone you know is suffering with feelings of worry and would like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with me. I’d be more than happy to discuss how I may be able to help life feel more comfortable.
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