Fear and Love

Outsmarting Our Primitive Responses to Fear by Kate Murphy has been featured on The New York Times app since Oct. 26. 2017 for good reason. Its main point is:

If you can sense and appreciate your fear — be it of flying, illness or social rejection — as merely your amygdala’s request for more information rather than a signal of impending doom, then you are on your way to calming down and engaging more conscious, logic-dominated parts of your brain. At that point, you can assess the rationality of your fear and take steps to deal with it….

Dr. Dalrymple is a proponent of acceptance and commitment therapy for managing fear, which has recently been gaining clinical validation. It encourages people not only to accept that they are feeling fearful and examine the causes but also to think about their values and how committing to overcoming their fears would be consistent with who they want to be. The approach forces higher-order thinking, which theoretically disables or diminishes the amygdala response.

I added that emphasis to “think about their values and how committing to overcoming their fears would be consistent with who they want to be” because that element seems particularly important. Do you really want to be one who’s trapped by fear?

But the article concludes with what may be an even more important discovery:

Psychologists and neuroscientists are also finding that the amygdala is less apt to freak out if you are reminded that you are loved or could be loved…. Just as fear can be contagious, so can courage, caring and calm.

That point suggests to me that tapping deep instinctual compassion can help deal with fear. We need not only rely on “higher-order thinking.”

3 Responses to Fear and Love

  1. Your “even more important discovery” really is important: Love conquers fear.

    At least, that’s the current advice offered to dog owners who are afraid of thunderstorms: give them a cuddle and reassurance, and they’ll learn to cope with the flashing lightning and the terrifying thunder.

    I must say that our dogs are happier with this approach than the old “ignore it and they’ll get over it” one.

    Wonder if it works for kids who’re afraid of the dark, too? WE found that a night light worked well with our youngest.

  2. Thanks Wade
    I appreciated this synopsis. Quite useful!
    I never watched that video, I wasn’t impressed w/the intro. It may be of use, but sorry to’ve passed it on without first vetting.
    Best wishes

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