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It’s almost impossible to put words to our fear.
In fact, Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why” calls it a biological impossibility.
But, I did it today.
Fear is not easy to recognize because Sinek says it happens in our “limbic” portion of the brain. I prefer to call this the Inner Iguana. It just reacts, it doesn’t do a lot of thinking.
And, if you’re not thinking much, it’s hard to talk about it, difficult to comprehend something that’s just firing off neurons without a care in the darn world. Apparently, the limbic brain is also sans tongue. The power of language doesn’t exist there. And, therein lies the rub…
Have you ever been scared witless and words just dropped out of your mouth like expired crusty bits of Alphagetti?
I found a measure of relief when I read about this Limbic phenomenon. Like someone let me off the hook. I felt vindicated for every tense conversation where I felt like slithering under a rock, or slipping into murky water to hide. That Inner Iguana has a strong fight or flight game.
So, next time you find the cat’s got your tongue during a time of intense fear, just know you’re also just an Iguana standing in front of your Limbic brain asking it to have mercy on you.
It’s not so much that we aren’t willing to admit we are afraid. Quite often, it’s because we just aren’t even conscious of it.
There are clues, though. And, instead of recognizing them in others, we just conclude that they are behaving badly, are insane or generally just have a stink-tastic attitude.
I myself, have been called everything from negative, to proud, to judgmental, anti-social, to just plain difficult when really at the root I was awash with an overwhelming sense of anxiety. Fear is at the root of a lot of the shenanigans that go on in the world and in meaningful relationships. I know that’s the truth in my own life.
No-one likes to admit that they are afraid. Not only is it virtually a biological impossibility to articulate, but it can also signal to others a social weakness of some kind. Perhaps, it might lead others to think that just because we admitted we were afraid – we’re just a scaredy cat ad nauseum with no potential whatsoever to be brave ever again.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if we just let go of black and white thinking for once? People can be scared and brave at the same time. They can be upset with you and love you simultaneously. And, the biggie – someone can forgive you, but still feel it’s best not to engage with you just yet.
I’m not trying to glorify duplicity. What I am trying to point out is the presence of a deeper human complexity that, frankly – is beautiful.
I happen to think it takes an ironical amount of courage to admit that you are afraid. It’s brave to say “I’m scared.”
In tandem with that idea, how we react to someone admitting their fear is equally important.
I think this discussion would have more benefit to speak to those witnessing fear in others since the Inner Iguana can do almost nothing to stop it in the moment.
Here are clues that you can spot in yourself and others that the Inner Iguana is catching rays on a limbic rock somewhere in your brain…
I’m not a counsellor, psychologist or expert on the matter, but because I feel my expertise is in knowing how to intrinsically fear since birth – I figure that I’m qualified.
CLUES: Anger, withdrawal, arrogance, greed, selfishness, violence, verbal outbursts, impatience, avoidance, apathy, pressure, stressful feelings (the list really does go on)
WHAT YOU CAN DO: When you feel yourself or someone else behaving badly… Ask a question that makes the shift from their Limbic brain to their thinking brain.
Some good questions:
- What day is it today?
- What’s the date?
- Can you help me solve this Sudoku problem for a sec?
- How do you spell so and so’s last name?
- What’s 7 x 7 again?
- What time is your break over?
Basically, anything that causes you or them to slip out of the Limbic swamp and think again.
Today, I admitted to someone that my choice of bad words and indelicate delivery was due to my fear. The truth was I was afraid and it was causing me to emotionally barf all over this person.
Yes, they might be legitimately contributing to my fear. However… it’s still my responsibility to deal with it.
No progress was ever made by reacting solely out of fear. If something is going to be fixed and improved, changed or lovingly let go of – it must be done on the basis of some Human Brain and not Lizard Brain taking the action.
I felt like I hit the nail on the head. By admitting I was afraid, I felt a sense of empowerment. I had looked my fear in the eye. Instead of running away from it – I almost embraced it.
When I was a little girl, my Dad, then a national level cricketer used to play catch with me and my brother. During these times of togetherness tossing a tennis ball to one another in a triangle my Dad would teach us how to be good catchers and good throwers.
To this day, my hand to eye coordination is pretty good. And, I’m almost quite sure I’m one of the only females I know in my generation who knows how to actually use a cricket bat. My skills were honed on a red plastic child-sized cricket bat many moons ago beneath the Zambian sun where I grew up.
One of those catching lessons reminds me of our fears. My Dad would always say two things:
1. Keep your eye on the ball.
2. When you catch it, bring it in close to you and clutch it to your chest.
He would then up the ante and toss the ball scarily high into the sky and watching it come hurtling back down to you in your direction was always a heart-pounding experience. You were genuinely worried. Is this going to hit me in the head? What if I lose an eye? What if I don’t catch it and all of Dad’s good advice comes crashing to earth and I didn’t make him proud? I always wanted to run away from the returning ball.
But, Dad would always shout out: “Keep your eye on the ball!” So, you couldn’t look away at the very thing that was potentially threatening you physically with gravity on its side and psychologically torturing you at the same time.
All I wanted to do was catch the ball, but the space in between it falling in the air and me catching it was a terrifying limbo.
Fear can feel the same way. The dread of when the other shoe is going to drop is anxiety-inducing. The anticipation of the gavel coming down is excruciating. Waiting games are frightening especially when #YOLO.
But, keep your eye on the ball.
And, when it comes, reach out with both palms and bring it close to you.
That way, it has much less chance of hurting you, breaking a finger (which happened to my Dad in his heyday) and also falling into the wrong hands.
We have to take responsibility for our fears. We have to own them, bring them close otherwise, someone else might try to deal with them in the wrong way.
Even though our first instinct is to run away or fear injury, we must never take our eyes off it and bring it closer rather than push it away.
Fear can be a gift if we allow it. It can be the odd friend that sits next to us and points out where we need to heal. Where we need to let go. Where we need to get stronger for no-one else but ourselves.
Fear is not something to avoid sometimes. It’ll fall from the sky anyway. Fear has its own gravity.
When I admitted my own fear today, I felt an extraordinary sense of shame and freedom at the same time.
Taking ownership of that fear made me feel like the lion was more of a kitty. It made me feel like I could transform from it at some point. Because, it is a journey, but a journey that must be taken nonetheless.
More than anything, I believe in divine partnership. One thing that I thought I needed to do with this incessant strain of fear I was experiencing was not try to be a hero and deal with it on my own.
I sat on my couch with its one sagging cushion (because that’s where I always sit) and imagined my fear being brought like a deformed little bundle to God.
We often think that God wants only our glorious gifts. But, He transforms deformities into dazzling things. In fact, that’s His specialty.
I want my fear to be transformed. I don’t want it to be removed. I don’t want it to disappear. I want it to be TRANSFORMED into something useful. Into a lesson that showers my life and those around me with a new glittering perspective.
And, so I am bringing my fear to Him. But, first I have to catch it and bring it close so I can allow Him to do something with it.
I don’t quite know how we got from Limbic Iguanas, to cricket to deformed divine bundles. But, here we are!
If you have been experiencing any signs of fear today or for a long time…show yourself some compassion. Stop what you’re doing and quit running. You’re not living in the Mesozoic Era, you’re here now and you don’t have to do it alone.
I’m going to go out on a limb, and offer you the only thing I have to give you:
Private message me if you need prayer for what you’ve been valiantly facing.
I think this is the most human thing we can do.
From My Heart to Yours,
© Priya Devalia 2017 All Rights Reserved
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