The Price of Fear: Growth or Protection

Fear is a life-waster.  We waste precious time that we could be living a robust, interesting life worrying about or being angry about things we cannot affect.  I’ve been listening to this idea all of my life. It didn’t cause me to stop worrying or burying my head in the sand when my experience of life got too scary. 

It wasn’t until I studied NLP that I began to understand the origin of my fear.  It isn’t the way I was raised (many would say it was). It isn’t my personality that developed around the influences of my family and locale.  It isn’t the fact that I take risks into uncharted territory.

Fear is a function of the nervous system.  It is an emotional label that we put on certain sensations in the trunk of our body, between the shoulders and the hip – the viscera.

Growth and Protection

An organism cannot be growing and in protection at the same time. 

Dr. Bruce Lipton, a cell biologist and instructor of medical students, did research at Stanford and the University of Wisconsin and found that cells move toward nutrients (good things) and away from toxins (bad things). When cells (and we are a colony of cells) have a stressful environment they go into protection. The more they are in protection mode, the less they grow. It takes a lot of energy for growth. If that energy is being used for protection, then the cells eventually die. Fear puts people into protection mode and takes energy away from creating and growing.

If you are in fear, then you are dying; in growth, you are living. Where is your attention? Are you putting out fires or growing a client base?

When a system gets the signal of threat, it goes into protection. Work stops; productivity grinds to a halt.  When the all-clear signal is given then the organism or system can start producing again.  But what if there is no all-clear signal? The system stays in protection and eventually, the organism or system dies. The immune system cannot fight the internal environment because the adrenal system shuts it down and as a result of the high levels of glucocorticoids all kinds of problems we experience in our modern life develop: weight gain, gastrointestinal problems, suppressed immune system function, anxiety, depression, blood sugar imbalance, and diabetes.

Fear and anger cause stress and the fight or flight adrenal system to engage.  People go into high activity to relieve stress (rats on speed syndrome), the adrenal system shuts down the immune system which makes people more susceptible to viruses and bacteria. We live in a world where our glucocorticoids are off the chart.  We are growing less, producing less and we are less healthy and less intelligent in the process.

So What Produces Fear?

Fear is produced by the meaning of experience…not the experience itself.

We filter our experiences by things, we create a “map” of it, leaving out parts that are not relevant to us, we generalize parts or distort parts of it to make sense.  It is the meaning we remember not the experience.  That meaning will generate an emotion based on our perception or meaning of what happened.  We do not interact with pure experience. We interact with our maps or perceptions of experience.  This is one of the reasons one person can say that something that happened is good and another can say that the same thing is bad.  Neither person is using all of the data to determine his/her experience of it, only the parts that are of value or make sense. The meaning of our maps creates the emotional response, not the actual experience.  Over time, individuals develop patterns of meaning which leads to a jaundiced or sour view of the world or a rosy, optimistic view. This whole process is designed to help us make sense of the world and what happens in it. It is how we maintain ‘subjective coherency’ or avoid chaos.

The Brain and the Manual Override

Our brain provides a manual override to our perception of our environment.

Even though our bodies do not perceive a threat to the inside our brain can override it, produce adrenaline and other stress hormones.

The Adrenal system can override the immune system when there is an outside threat.  There doesn’t even have to be a REAL outside threat – the person can imagine it and our biological system will shut down the immune system (protection to the inside) and activate the Adrenal system (protection to the outside). In other words, STRESS will shut down the immune system. As long as there is an outside perceived threat, the adrenal system will engage.  This is the same protocol that doctors use to transplant organs to prevent tissue rejection. 

Fear and Anger

Anger is the fight or flight response to a threat. We don’t always have the option to flee what threatens us so we get angry. Anger and words are a way for us to deal with potential danger.  It stimulates the adrenal system to get the body ready for danger.  In primitive times, fear and anger were about our very physical survival (need for food, water, shelter, etc.). Today we’ve formed identities around preferences and values of living that make us complex and defensive psychologically. Assaults to our values, principles, beliefs, needs, wishes, and even our identity produce fear and anger today.  It produces the same physiological destruction that the fear of our basic needs wasn’t being met.

BUT, perceptions can be controlled or changed and most often with information. Therefore you can reduce your everyday stress by researching your perceptions and adjusting them especially those things you can do nothing about.