Don’t give into Fear, Cultivate Love instead
Recently I have been thinking about the relationship between ‘fear’ and ‘love’. I wondered whether it was possible for fear and love to coexist in our lives or is it a choice we have to make every day between these two powerful emotions? What are the consequences of giving in to one over the other?
One thing evolutionary psychology and neuroscience agree upon is that these two emotions lie at the heart of all other emotional states we experience. In other words, fear lies at the heart of negative emotional states such as anger, anxiety, hate and aggression and love as a bedrock of positive internal states of mind like openness, tolerance, compassion and kindness.
Human evolution created these two states of mind to protect our species. Fear developed to protect us from danger, and love to help us protect and care for one another within our family systems and tribes. As we have evolved the expression of these primal feelings has become more diverse and complex but they still sit at the centre of our being.
Neuroscientists would say that we are hard wired to feel fear and love but fear trumps love just because it came to protect us from harm and so was easier to access.
These days more often than not, I notice that our vulnerability to fear is increasing because of real or perceived threats to our sense of safety. It may be the shock effect of world political dramas unfolding in our country and abroad, or the insecurity created by global terrorism. On a more personal level we may feel vulnerable to being bullied at work, or experience fear when our families are threatened by illness or other domestic strife.
At this point, I offer you a moment pause and reflect on your own capacity to feel fear and love? How much time do you devote to both. Nobody is invulnerable to either. However, the amount of time and attention spent on one will fundamentally determine your quality of life.
Given this truth, it seems that to live a full and connected life that optimises happiness over pain we need to understand how to harness the power of love to trump fear.
It isn’t a straightforward path, our life experience beginning in our earliest childhood impacts us greatly. Childhood trauma, and other personally threatening experiences determine our resilience to life events and therefore the level of vulnerability we have to feeling threatened and reacting from fear. Experiencing rejection from loved ones also makes it hard to experience lovability. At all times, it is important to pace yourself and not expect the process to be smooth sailing. The important thing is to know that you have an innate capacity for love. It starts with teaching yourself to project that love inwards and then when your cup is full enough the recovery to negative thinking patterns and behaviours will start automatically.
Listening to a wonderful talk by neuroscientist Rick Hanson PhD the other day gave me inspiration that we can cultivate love in ourselves and using mindfulness embed that feeling so that it becomes concrete and accessible at times when fear takes over and we need a love boost to overcome feeling threatened.
Imagining times when you felt seen, loved, cared for and respected is a good start. Jot them down and reflect quietly on how these made you feel emotionally and physically. To intensify the effect and embody the feeling place your hands on key areas of your body such as your heart and stomach. These are emotional sweet spots and allow the feeling of warmth and joy pervade you and notice the feeling of lightness and openness in your chest and body. Your parasympathetic nervous system will be activated which can have a direct effect of lowering stress symptoms.
We know that the opposite is true of fear. In a 2014 article on the ‘Nuerology of Loneliness’ the effect of loneliness (an emotion arising from fear) was examined and results showed that the feeling of loneliness caused blood pressure to rise and also compromised, the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and the body’s immune system.
Chronically feeling threatened and afraid is something we are vulnerable to as humans, but it triggers negative emotions like anxiety and disconnects us from others causing loneliness and stress. Fear ultimately weakens our immune system. It makes sense to try to counter it with our body’s natural elixir ‘Love’. Love can be abundant and healing if we let ourselves feel deserving of it. If we think of love as a medicine, it can motivate us to be more conscious about allowing for the experience of it, especially at times when we feel overwhelmed by fear.