Friday, May 29, 2009

Where there's fear, there's power


The Pourhouse Bar, on Pennsylvania SE at 3rd, has - for unknown reasons - two scary masks glued to the front of the building. Actually they're kind of adorable, at least this one, isn't it?

I agree with Dr. Antonio D'Amasio and other scientists who are interested in the neurology of emotion, that all emotions, even the so-called "negative" emotions, serve us well and should be treated with respect.

Fear, for instance, an emotion that is reviled in our culture (maybe because American society is based on the pursuit of happiness?) is a part of our survival instinct. As Dr. D'Amasio explains it, emotion is the result of changes in our body chemistry that prepare us to most effectively meet the external world. Fear enables us to run away from danger, or turn and face danger with a lot of extra energy (also known as courage). Without fear, we are unable to intuit danger and then decide how to deal with it. Fear is good!

He says that by the time we become conscious of emotions, they are already well underway. At the point that we know we're afraid (for instance), we can acknowledge it and then make decisions about what to do next, or we can repress the feeling, something we are encouraged to do in American society. He says we are only able to partially disguise the facial expressions that accompany emotion. We might be in denial, but the emotion is there.

Super heroes use fear in such an admirable way. It's like an emotional martial art for them, the way they acknowledge it and use the information in order to triumph. I love Indiana Jones in the first movie, using his fear of snakes to get himself and his girlfriend out of that Egyptian tomb.

The problem with fear (or any "negative" or "positive" emotion) is when we get addicted to it, or so accustomed to the feeling that we can't access other emotional states. The ideal behavior is to acknowledge fear, make decisions on what to do next, and then LET GO. That's the hard part, at least for me.

I could go on and on, for instance I could speak of anxiety (excitement without breath, as one of my great teachers used to say) or anger (a piercing energy that reveals the truth, but will "burn" you if you don't let it go, as Pema Chodron says). I could talk about people who say they're "always happy" and how bizarre that is to me.

I'll spare you the long lecture. Yadda yadda yadda. For heaven's sake, I am so officious sometimes.

31 comments:

The Bug said...

Ooh - maybe I'm first - we'll see.

I like the comment about how we can't really erase our emotions from our face (or is that what botox is for?). I have always known that I don't have a poker face - what I'm thinking & feeling is just right out there - much to my mortification sometimes!

Lisa said...

i agree about honoring emotions- the good, the bad and the ugly- each have a lesson to teach us, as hard as it is at times.

Butternut Squash said...

Addicted to fear? That is a new concept to me. Do you mean like thrill seeking? Or is it more of a pattern of behavior. A default response that people tend to instead of examining a situation more deeply.

I experience fear but avoid it whenever I can. It is really debilitating.

I should tell you about the time I was surrounded by a pack of snarling mangy dogs in the pitch of night at a temple in Thailand. That is the most fear, I have ever known.

Joanne said...

I have heard that, once a fear is realized, one way to handle it is to get mad at what is causing the fear, to go at the fear from that angle. I haven't tried it, but I'd imagine in some circumstances, it would work well.

mum said...

First of all, what IS that gorgeous plant at the bottom? Do you know what's it's called? I love it!

Secundo, the mask at the top reminded me of two things: the 'temple dogs' (or lions) outside Chinese shrines. Fearsome as all get-out, the idea being to keep the negative and evil spirits out of the sacred space. Whether that works in actuality, I have no idea. It also reminded me of the New Zealand warrior faces, meant to impress the adversary. A bit like animals will bare their fangs or otherwise signal 'this far and no further'.

I agree completely with the notion of addiction to specific emotional states. Possibly as a result of early childhood experiences, or otherwise, certain emotions (whether labelled 'negative' or 'positive' by others) feel safe, as in familiar. Some people feel better with anger than with sadness, for example. Others would rather feel grief than anger; or sadness than fear. Or a general numbing boredom than anxiety. And so on.

I also agree that once you become aware of the emotion, it's already a given and your only choices are how to deal with it. It's often a tough call, specially when the emotion isn't 'nice'. A lot of people are addicted to 'nice' as a denial that anything is wrong, simply because once you realized something's wrong, well, you have to do something about it.

Wow. I'm going on here. Sorry about that but it's a subject very close to my heart at the moment.

Do let me know what the plant is, if you have any idea.

Thanks, Reya. A timely post at this end.

Rain said...

I think there are different types of fear. When you're in a situation where you are being oppressed by it, it's really not that easy to face it - i.e. an abused child. As adults, we have the responsibility to choose our paths in life, and facing our fears is a choice we have to make. That's easier said than done, and I personally couldn't even grasp this concept until this year to be honest. I've lived in fear for my first 40 years of life (albeit, I have no memories before age 7), but now I do feal semi-fearless. Anxiety still plagues me, but I do see fear as power now, even if I don't always face it right away. Nice post Reya, very thought provoking!

Andrea said...

I felt fear, amongst other emotions, almost everyday in my previous marriage. It was so emotionally dysfunctional. When I finally used that fear to pull myself and move on with my life, it was like I had a jetpack strapped to my back!

deborah said...

My belief is that one should not ignore fear, it is a basic brain stem function which serves to alert and save us--however, one should not allow fear to command our choices--

It is so clear in my being that I take fear with me, do not ignore my instincts, gravitate to my frontal lobes and yet manage an integrated approach for problem solving--

Enough

Much much love

Carolyn said...

I also would like to know what that beautiful flower is in your second photo is...
Emotions are so important but addiction to them is so dibilitating....fear of everything used to set me running, I now just face the fear and ask myself what I am afraid of....there is usually nothing worth all the angst!
Thanks for sharing this with us.
Blessings and smiles Reya.

Pam said...

Are there people that say they are always happy? How annoying would that be! I must admit though, I would give anything to be one of those older people with eyes that always twinkle.Your photo is wonderful - it looks like a painting with the white bits yet to filled in before completion.I like Rain's comment. I too felt that much of my earlier life was conquering the "fear fairies"... little fat-bottomed tu-tued ladies which fluttered and bounced around in my stomach like demented bumble-bees.Thinking of them like this was the only way I could laugh them off.They were in full-force on social occasions!!This post of yours made me realize they vacated the premises long ago.Thoughtful post about honouring emotions Reya, thanks.

A Cuban In London said...

There's another reason, besides the ones you so correctly point out, why fear is important. It's to do with the 'thin-slicing' theory. Most human beings are capable of recognising a situation in which they would find themselves in danger in three seconds or less. It's also the same method we use when we meet someone new. Unconsciously we make a decision about the person. And more often than not we are right.

Of course, 'thin-slicing' is intuitive, primitive and natural. Rational thinking (which should be encouraged more when you meet new people) is based on our human capacity to use our brain in an effective manner.

Many thanks for another thoughtful post.

Greetings from London.

Amy said...

I am learning to listen to my emotions more and more each day and to use the insight to react in different ways. This new skill was really put to the test on Wednesday and I was amazed by the calm I felt and continue to feel while dealing with the unknown which is causing some fear - but now as you say, I see it, will make a plan and must let go! I may be terminated - but I am not hurt, I am not in danger and have much to be thankful for. Thanks for a timely post.

Bee said...

I like the idea that each emotion has a "useful" aspect to it. (Although what good is anxiety?)

You aren't officious at all; in fact, I think that you should do a series on (of?) emotions.

BTW, I think that I'm too afraid of fear. That fear/power equation is something to think about.

Mary Ellen said...

What a great bunch of thoughtful comments, and a very intriguing post! I'm not sure "fear" - or what I know as "fear" - is a single thing. Or maybe I'm mixing up fear and anxiety. There is a kind of fear which is what Buddhist practice is (as I understand it) designed to relieve, which is the fear of losing what we are going to lose anyway - perhaps "grasping" or "clinging" is a better term. but the gut reaction to danger - now, THAT is a useful emotion to recognize!

Natalie said...

Hi Reya! Officious or not, I am officially a fan of your perceived officiousness.
My hubby is one of those 'always happy ' people ,and it is disconcerting at times, to say the least!I prod and poke at him, and he says he chooses to only feel 'happy' no matter what.I am a fairground attraction - up and down and around and around. At least we can learn from each other's processes. xx♥

lakeviewer said...

What an interesting study. I will look up Dr.D'Amasio.

Barbara Martin said...

How interesting you should post about 'fear' now at this particular time when I have exited a horrid job with a boss who craves to place 'fear' in her employees. I would disagree with the boss on many of her methods of incorrect applications of legal procedure relating to lawsuits and for several seconds I could actually see the anger on her face. It would take her a couple of deep breaths to compose herself to begin again in a normal tone of voice. The anger appeared to be barely controlled as her face would go red then pale then red again...a neon sign in flux. The other staff were terrified of her: me, just cautious until she stepped over the line that revealed her true nature. A 'workplace violence' promoter who works on instilling fear in their employees. Too bad she hadn't learned early enough there is a statute to curb her antics. Now I get to parley legalese between the government and her.

This is a nasty way to show the parallels between those who instill fear and those who repel it. I used to be better at repelling bullies and now with dealing with thrombosis it is more difficult. Unnecessary stress works against me by stopping the blood thinner from working. My emotions tell me in this case it's better to leave than to die with my boots on.

I tend to have a poker face unless threatened close up, but it can be done and that's a person's first defence. Now that most of the combat is done I can let everything that occurred go to the light and be regenerated by the cosmos. A person does not need to keep any negative energy that has been generated by another's intention to invoke fear. I have already forgiven the woman for being an idiot. She has her own fear and inadequacies to conquer which is why she behaves in a bullying manner to her staff.

My lesson: in these tough economic times any employer may be changed from what they once were; and I'll be at home sharpening my sword.

Lover of Life said...

Fear and sadness, etc., helps us to redirect ourselves. I have never really liked the overuse of anti-depressant meds just for this reason - we are meant to feel bad when we need to make changes or change our thinking.

Squirrel said...

great posts!

Ronda Laveen said...

Love the picture of the newly popping hydrangea! Mine is getting buds on it right now. The definitions of anxiety and fear are so great! I've never heard them expressed so before. I do like the mask, but I love gargoyles too and my sister thinks that is warped. How is Prince Charming?

lettuce said...

well.... there are different kinds of fear - I think theres definately "bad" or negative fear as well as more healthy kinds.

or, maybe its the way we respond to it which makes it more or less healthy...

hmmm I shall be thinking about this for a while, esp. as it relates to my current context - fear and power, abuse of.

I have a hydrangea (if thats what it is) quite like that 2nd picture, but no buds this year :-[

Reya Mellicker said...

Rain you are so right - I'm not talking about how to work with emotions as a child. When you're little, you need an adult to support and help you through uncomfortable emotions. If that support isn't there, there's nothing you can do.

I was talking about adults and emotion. Thank you!

Mum I don't know the name of the plant. Anyone else know it? Thanks for your comment. Go on and on - please!

Reya Mellicker said...

Butternut I do think people get addicted to fear. Thrill seeking is one manifestation, but there are other ways I see it in people, like the folks who are always pouring over the crime stats for the neighborhood, wanting to know about every single burglary. It goes beyond being informed; they're trying to scare themselves.

Fear shoots adrenalin into the system. It's a rush. It CAN be a rush.

Rain said...

Oh yeah, I know! Hope I didn't imply anything, being an abuse survivor, I always see fear as a child as well as an adult!!
:)

Reya Mellicker said...

Pam I love that image of the fear fairies.

And Andrea - I'm SO glad you're no longer in that marriage!

Reya Mellicker said...

Barbara, thanks for your comment. Fear in the workplace is a common strategy used to control people. It's odious!! Glad you're out of there!

Cuban in London - "thin slicing" ? Wow. Thank you.

Thanks Rain. It was an important distinction you pointed out. So sorry to hear you're a survivor - glad you survived.

Reya Mellicker said...

Just one more comment:

I think if you add breath to anxiety what you get is lots of energy and excitement. Stage fright is a rising energy that can be utilized by performers to project to the audience. For instance ...

Rain said...

Oh gosh, I totally agree with that Reya. I suffer anxiety and the loss of breath is so scary. But there are days where I have the same butterflies in my stomach, but it's related to something totally different and I even catch myself saying "I have so much energy today, I'm so excited!!!" I think the key is to try to reverse that anxiety and turn it into positive energy...haven't really mastered that yet though!

California Girl said...

Fight or flight.

I watched a program the other night that highlighted movies where certain phrases of our lexicon first became popular. There was one about "yadda yadda yadda" and it was attributed to a Seinfeld episode where George's new girlfriend talks about seeing her old flame & how they spent the evening together talking and "yadda yadda yadda". George wants to know what that means.

And you think you're officious.

Reya Mellicker said...

California girl - lol!

Bee said...

I was just reading an article about the fashion designer at Lanvin and he repeatedly mentioned that he existed in an almost constant state of anxiety. I think that anxiety does for him exactly what you describe here . . .