This past week, I have been inundated with fear. This isn’t the fear from my inner children like you might think. This is a fear coming from my defenders. They are terrified of the repercussions of my latest actions. They believe I am “too big for my britches” (my mother’s favorite phrase). They know I am going to end up with a massive catastrophic failure as a result of my boldness. They sit in a contract with my family and cannot imagine that anything positive will come from breaking it. It is a jail I was never meant to escape. And I will go down.
This is not my first experience with paralyzing fear from my inner parts. It is quite common. It is one of the most prevalent emotions in our system. But it can still get me. There are layers of fear and they can all express in different ways. And the fear can show up in some highly confusing ways. Even the most seasoned recovery journeyers can get caught off guard. So let’s talk about some of the challenges when it comes to fear.
Fear comes in layers. Believe it or not, the most debilitating fear in our systems doesn’t come from the inner children. Even though they experienced horrific things, their fear will flow and shake through the system like an animal who has just been chased. The bigger problem is in the blocks to that fear. The defenders hold fear of the fear. That means the inner child fear pushes up against defender fear. It is like an ocean wave hitting a brick wall instead of slowly melting into the sand. It sends jolts through the system. It can leave us completely paralyzed. And if we don’t see what is happening, we will assume this is all one fear and run far away from it.
The dissociative response to fear is instantaneous. Our defenders deploy the most powerful defenses to keep the fear away. This means that dissociation is intense when our fear is triggered. Not only do we have layers of fear, but we have a layer of dissociation on top of it. This makes it even harder to see the original fear caused by the trigger. And that dissociation will numb out the fear response leaving us numb and confused about what just happened.
The body has confusing reactions. When fear slams into fear and dissociation is strong, the body is left holding the bag. The body responses can take so many forms. Some can look like fear, but most don’t. The stomach can start to hurt as the inner battle wages. We can even get nauseas. We can start to have dissociative responses like dizziness and light-headedness. We can begin experiencing anxiety or depression as a way to quell the fear in the system. And none of these responses point to fear directly. So the confusion mounts.
The mind makes it about now. The worst part about the mind is how it works to divert us from the real issue. The mind is run by the controller and its job is to keep us off the trail to the real story. This often happens by interpreting past emotions as about now. When I have fear from the past, my mind sounds like this. “I will never get everything done. My son is going to fail that class and then everyone will see what a loser I am. I am not feeding my kids enough vegetables. How am I going to get everything done today? There is too much. I am too tired. It isn’t possible. I just want a break. I am procrastinating and I am going to pay for that. I just wish everything wasn’t so hard.” These statements don’t just happen once. They happen fast and repetitively. That is the mind on fear.
Our abusers knew how to use it against us. One of the most powerful tools our abusers had against us was our own fear. They knew how to create a long-lasting fear response through constant fear reinforcement. They made us believe they had magical powers, higher powers and people everywhere backing them up. They did this in countless ways. But in the end, our child minds believed they were more powerful than the weak child abusers they really were. We may have believed they were aware of what we were doing even when they could not have known. Even when we grow up and move away, there may be a lingering feeling they are watching. But this lives in the unconscious with most of what the abusers said. So we don’t know we are living with beliefs from our deep-seated fears until we dig deep.
How do we unravel this maze that is our fear response? We have to take it one layer at a time. We must watch how our system is triggered and what happens. We start by seeing the dissociation and working to counter it with grounding. We work with the defensive fear and how that is manifesting. We write from our defenders who are terrified to let the truth come through. Only then can we get to the core fear from our traumatic experiences. But with each layer, we heal. And with each layer, we start to shift our lives in powerful ways. The fear leaves and we find freedom.