Fear is rarely the adaptive primal response that can save our lives but rather something that destroys our self-esteem and disrupts our relationships with others. It doesn’t promote good mental health or help communities connect and thrive.
Most of our fear is manufactured by our own selves or others and is often manipulative, destructive, and exploitative. Our current culture thrives on creating and magnifying fear because that’s what gets online clicks and tempts people to tune in. This is manufactured fear which, by the way, often triggers manufactured rage. When we come under the influence of manufactured fear, we become a threat to ourselves, to others, and to the foundation of connection in our communities.
Fear or fear of fear can alter the normal functioning of our bodies like breathing, digestion, stress responses, and immunity. In what other ways can fear hurt us?
If you struggle with anxiety, for example, you might avoid situations that make you anxious. While that might seem like a perfectly good strategy, it can actually drive you to isolate yourself more and then rob you of the ability to learn to manage your emotions and build resilience to lessen your suffering.
Scientists have taught us that some degree of stress or anxiety isn’t a bad thing because it keeps us motivated and excited. That’s why it’s important to set the expectation that a situation will provoke anxiety which will motivate you to work through it.
Is the fear of your child or a loved one dying paralyzing your brain?
Your child or loved one has admitted they are suicidal. The fear becomes paralyzing which can make you feel desperate. There are specific steps to take in this case and I’ve outlined those here in this article. Because it’s not about sending them away to get “fixed” but rather learning to fix ourselves so we can be there as support.
What about manufactured fear and grief?
We don’t want to do grief. And we are afraid of it so we try and avoid it, push it away, or numb it with drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, spending etc. I know I was deathly fearful of the pain that was to come after my son’s suicide. I wanted to avoid it, skip over it or somehow fast forward through it. I manufactured all kinds of worries based on things that had not even happened.
I feared what my life would be like in the days, weeks, months, and years after his death. I ruminated on how hard and ugly it would be which was overwhelming and pushed me into darker despair. That anticipatory ruminating did nothing to help me manage it but instead hyper-magnified my emotions and created paralyzing fear.
Until I learned to focus on the moment, get connected with support so I could figure out how to live with the loss, I stumbled forward until I could acknowledge it, sit with it, and then send it away on a conveyer belt. I often made comments to myself to work through those fears and feel the pain so I could heal by saying things like: “This won’t last forever,” “There is no immediate threat,” “I can survive,” “Others have done this before and so can I,” and “As much as it hurts right now, it will never be as bad as getting the news. That part is over and it will never hurt that much again.”
It takes many of us a long time before we are ready to talk about a loved one who died out of fear we will lose it. And so what if we do?
Many times what drives others to avoid those who’ve lost a child is manufactured fear
People often say they don’t connect with parents who’ve lost a child for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Young adults who’ve lost a sibling or a parent mention the same cold shoulder only their friend groups are even more averse to grief.
But really it’s more about the fear of stepping into someone else’s tragedy which is, quite frankly, terrifying for people. When I asked a group of women about why they didn’t call their sorority sister after her son’s suicide instead of texting, there was a pause.
Then one of the women said, “I’m scared because this tragedy is so big. It’s easier for me to text. But now that we’ve had that conversation I see that I’m not really supporting our friend and I need to work through that fear and call her and tell her that I have no idea what to do or say but I’m here to listen.” When we fear things that are bigger and more monumental than ourselves, things we can’t possibly fix, we make excuses and avoid out of that manufactured fear.
Often someone doesn’t want to connect with a person feeling suicidal out of fear
We don’t want to that huge responsibility for someone’s life resting in our lap! So we say someone else more qualified will come along which rarely happens. Because 80% of those who struggle confess to a regular human.
It’s not our job to fix but rather to listen and support someone while they work through their despair. We often resist meeting someone inpain for fear it will bring us down or they’ll still kill themselves and it will be our fault because we didn’t say the perfect phrase or present the right solution. When really the right thing is to listen and say, “Tell me more.” And it’s not up to us to fix either but to listen and just allow that person to feel heard.
I won’t ever forget when a newspaper publisher called to say that my article about our family’s tragedy would be in the Sunday paper and how utterly terrified I was. That was in contrast to how elated I felt when I had sent it a month prior. To avoid an all-out panic attack, I did deep breathing exercises then went through my inventory of fears one after the other.
Will everyone think I’m a lousy parent? Will all my clients walk out on me? Will everyone ignore the article and make me feel like I am burying my child’s memory all over again? As I thought through each fear, faced up to it and challenged it, I decided my story and the warning to other parents who had kids who were addicted or struggling with mental health issues outweighed any judgment I might get. The article ended up going viral so the opposite of what I thought might happen happened.
So remember this next time you feel fear. Ask yourself if it’s made up fear in your own mind?
Then challenge it. Because that can help you work through your fears because giving into it robs you of something very valuable–your ability to deepen relationships and develop resilience.