In latin, the word for fear is angustiae, and it means a narrowing. I learned this recently, reading Stephen Fry’s excellent Mythos, a re-telling of the Greek Myths. It made sense to me, and I wanted to share a few thoughts about it.
When we feel safe, we tend to have an openness, an expansive stance. We look beyond ourselves with curiosity, interest, hope, and expectation of good things. When we are afraid, it’s just not like this. Physically we pull inwards, protecting our tummy, which is our most vulnerable part physically. We tend to curl up, to draw in, to bring the locus of what we notice inside, and closer to us. We stop seeking newness, and instead perceive the world to be a threatening place. When we believe this, the world does indeed become more threatening, because we are wired to notice information that supports what we believe. In this way it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So what is to be done? Therapeutically speaking, the response to fear is always to attend to safety. If we are not safe we can not play, learn, explore or grow, instead we become stuck. Even when we may logically know that we are not actually in danger, fear arising in a part of our system is still a very powerful force, and it needs attention, not ignorance.
When you feel afraid, first establish safety. Listen with love to the thoughts, the body sensations, the feelings, and know that within the constraints that that part of your system is operating, what it is communicating not only makes perfect sense, but is also a call to healing. So listen, listen, and listen some more. Look with kind eyes. Soften. Soothe. Take care. And as you begin to breathe and physically release, the fear may well lessen, and you can begin once again to expand and to come out into the world.
This is not an easy process, and it is one that can get stuck, and become chronic, particularly if you have experienced traumas, or had challenging relational experiences in your formative years. If you would like support in expanding beyond current constraints, then get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about online psychotherapy.