Facing the Fear of Fear : Learn to Lose Control
One of the main issues that I’ve uncovered in my years of practice in helping people to mindfully embrace their so called “dark emotions” is the fear of loss of control and the fear of fear. Our cultural and individual conditioning history have conspired to teach us that certain emotions are dangerous and therefore in need of control and subjugation. The fear is that if these controls are relinquished, our feelings will pour out in a unregulated manner like a nuclear reactor undergoing a “meltdown”. The secondary fear is that once this process commences, it will be irreversible and unstoppable. I term this the “Pandora’s box” fear, borrowing from Greek mythology. A primary fear is also that if one experiences too many or too powerful emotions, they will become mentally ill. Unfortunately psychiatry has spawned such terms as “nervous breakdown” which conjures the image and notion that if someone feels too much that their nervous system will short circuit, rendering the individual hopelessly psychotic. Now their is no such diagnosis or phenomenon as a nervous breakdown. Their are such things as “acute stress reaction”, “adjustment disorders”, and of course “post-traumatic stress”, but none of these are precipitated by feeling too much. In fact, quite the opposite is true. It is usually the case that when one suppressed the experience or expression of powerful emotions, that they become more prone to a variety of psychiatric symptoms.
In order to begin the journey of embracing the dark emotions, one may have to face the very fears which prevent oneself from facing these emotions. In order to do this, one may create a “flooding” or “implosion” scene in which one actually exposes one’s self to these fears. Please refer to the following blog posts to acquaint yourself with these procedures if you have not been following this blog until now: https://www.mindfulexposurebook.com/wp/fear-exposure-implosion-therapy/
So, now your job as a brilliant horror screenplay writer and film director is to write, and direct your scene from hell. The main elements to incorporate into your scene is the image of experiencing a powerful emotion or emotion laden memory, the subsequent emotional upheaval, physiological reaction, loss of control over these responses, and resultant social disapproval and rejection upon other people bearing witness to your reaction. The sky is the limit when constructing the scene. And remember, there is no such thing as a wrong scene. Let whatever happen, happen and focus on the feelings, images and bodily responses that arise. Stay with the images for as long as you can and repeat the scene until you start to experience a reduction in fear and arousal. These practices are based on extensively researched principles of stimulus exposure and laws of extinction which derives from psychological learning theory.
So a scene might go something like this (paraphrasing the book):
Close your eyes. Imagine a time when you experienced extreme fear, panic, anxiety (or any other emotion). or perhaps you can contemplate a situation that has yet to occur. Feel the fear or other feeling welling up inside you. Keep your mind focused on your chest, throat, stomach or wherever else you feel the emotions. Now imagine that it continues to escalate. Imagine that even despite your best efforts to control it it continues to climb and climb. The harder you try to close “Pandora’s Box”, the more it resists closing. The fears keep pouring out in an escalating fashion. You can feel your heart pounding so heavily you become fearful that you can get a heart attack, stroke or seizure. You can imagine your throat constricting such that it becomes difficult to breath. Imagine yourself starting to shake to the extent that now others can notice your fear. Perhaps you can imagine passing out from the experience or getting violently ill. Onlookers, witnessing your reaction are visibly repulsed by you and make derogatory comments about you. Somebody calls the police and ambulance because you are so out of control. You are committed to a dingy psychiatric ward and consequently are unable to work and lose your job. Your family and friends are repulsed by you because you are so weak and incapable. You are abandoned by all and live out your days in an isolated purgatory.
OK, so I know this scene may appear a bit nutty. But in fact, at the core, it does tap the universal issues that lie at the heart of our fear of fear. But also, keep in mind that this is a generic scene. You can tailor your scene to more accurately tap into your own personal fears.
Now, not everyone could or should attempt such techniques on their own. For many, it will be helpful to have professional support to enter into the deepest reaches of ones own sources of fear. But when we can face our demons and embrace the dark emotions, then we can experience the bounties of emotional freedom.
Please feel free to post comments, questions, and personal experiences!