Mastering Fear: Introduction

Navigating transition can be a frightening concept. As you move from a place of security and take an uncertain dive into the unknown, some fears will always be triggered, no matter how prepared or courageous you may be. In this four part series, we will explore the inevitability of fear when transitioning in your career, and the best steps to address, process, and conquer it so you can continue on your journey towards igniting your life’s purpose.

Fear is an extraordinarily complex emotion. But at its base it is very simple—it boils down to our ancient animal instincts of flight, fight, or freeze. These responses can be divided into two sub-categories: immediate reaction to stimuli as a direct response of experiencing trauma and ingrained unconscious patterns that form over time as a result.

When we look at the root cause of fear we first must acknowledge our basic animal response which is known as our flight or fight mechanism. Evolution has given humans an innate, automatically activated defense mechanism (dictated by our autonomic nervous system) to respond to perceived threats.

Under threat, we either lash out in anger or violence to defend against danger, or we flee. The only purpose of these behaviours is to keep us safe from harm, and they function the same way in animals. But while animals are generally capable of restoring themselves to their primary means of functioning soon after a threat is passed, human beings often are not. Our brains are considerably more complex and as a result may find themselves locked into the same pattern of response associated with the original danger.

As we aren't able to forget and continue unburdened, these experiences are processed in a “freeze state” which, put simply, is the fight or flight response put into stasis. The memory and subsequent fear of these experiences often remain dormant in our unconscious and in our autonomic nervous system. As a result of this storage, re-encountering stimuli that we associate unconsciously with these stored fears can act as ‘triggers’ which causes us to re-experience the trauma that was preserved, and thus also react similarly to how we did when we originally suffered the perceived threat.

It is important to note that the original experience that triggered these fear responses could seem trivial to conscious examination or have occurred so long ago in the past that the reasoning behind it has long fallen into irrelevance. However, the feeling associated with it has been frozen in unconscious memory and in our nervous system, so when it manifests it will appear as it did when the stimuli was fresh. The ingraining of these unconscious fears has a profound effect on our perception of the world, and on the narratives we create about ourselves, our relationships, and our experiences. The aim over the course of this series is to help you learn how to uncover those unconscious fears, validate them, and ultimately begin to take steps forward to process them.

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