A Path out of Fear
Simple steps to overcoming fear
I feel like ever since 9/11, our collective consciousness has been getting lost deeper and deeper into a maze of fear and terror, which we cover up with a front of machismo, anger, and self-righteousness. The more we give into fear, the more we let terrorists achieve their intended effects.
Organisms who feel danger and uncertainty will do anything to re-establish a feeling of security or safety, even if it’s false. To regain a sense of control, people often become rigid, dogmatic, and closed-minded. When people’s hearts close, they feel heightened anxiety, and to alleviate it, there is a natural tendency to assign blame and retaliate on a scapegoat. The true tragedy of fear is that it makes us close our hearts to ourselves too.
What we have to recognize is that fear is irrational — it’s lodged deep within the sub-cortical parts of the brain that are not accessible through reason, data or facts. What liberals and the media need to understand is that shaming and humiliating people who are proactively trying to address their fear (through what liberals consider misguided efforts) really only makes them go from defense to offense. Acts of shaming and humiliating push people away. It will not make them trust you or thank you.
What we need most is for people to create safe containers for ourselves and for each other to experience genuine healing through empathy. To heal, people need compassion-filled spaces where they can be vulnerable and open, seen and heard, felt and understood. To overcome fear, people need to create a space where the fear can be emotionally transformed/released. Since fear is by nature contagious, only genuine heartfelt compassion can really stop fear from hijacking the collective consciousness.
The next time you feel fear, notice if you feel tempted to lash out at someone or something to alleviate your anxiety. Notice what happens if you do lash out. You may feel a temporary sense of relief from feeling like you expressed your agency to vent your emotions — in fact, you may even experience a sense of pleasure (acting on anger releases a dopamine buzz in your reward circuits). However, did you really improve the situation in any meaningful way? Could transmitting your suffering and anxiety to someone else actually make the overall situation worse? If and when you start recognizing that this pattern creates a negative spiral internally and externally, you may wish to outgrow it.
When you are ready to break the pattern, one proven technique to calm the fear circuits in your brain and reduce the stress hormones in your inner environment is by self-generating compassion.
A simple way to do this is to begin by visualizing yourself as a child. Then imagine yourself holding this inner child with the soothing love and compassion of an ideal mother or father. Then say these blessings to your inner child:
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be safe
May I be peaceful
May I be prosperous
May I live in harmony with others.
Then you visualize your inner child happy, healthy, at peace and thriving.
When you come across anyone who is feeling afraid or angry, rather than taking on their fear and anger, you can also visualize them as a child and say to them with the soothing love and compassion of an ideal mother or father:
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be safe
May you be peaceful
May you be prosperous
May you live in harmony with others.
Then you visualize them happy, healthy, at peace and thriving.
You can also picture everyone in the entire world who may be feeling afraid and angry and say to all of humanity with the soothing love and compassion of an ideal mother or father:
May all people be happy
May all people be healthy
May all people be safe
May all people be peaceful
May all people be prosperous
May all people live in harmony with others.
Then you visualize sending love and peace to everyone across this world and picture everyone happy, healthy, living in peace and harmony.
This is a simple version of an ancient technique called “Metta” meditation. Metta can be best translated as altruistic compassion and loving-kindness. Preliminary research has shown that this simple practice can alleviate symptoms of PTSD in war veterans by helping them calm hyper-aroused fear circuits.
As someone who once suffered from PTSD, I used to be overwhelmed by negative feelings and give in to very strong urges to lash out in anger towards people for triggering these feelings. But those urges have now subsided since I started practicing compassion meditation on a daily basis. It has strengthened my “emotional immune system” by making it much easier for me to calm my own fear circuits whenever they get triggered. It also enabled me to compassionately see the inner child in all people, which helps me to keep my heart open to them and to myself.
If you found this article helpful and want to learn more about rewiring your brain to be your best self, I welcome you to read this white paper: “What is Brain 3.0 and why do we need more of it.”
About the Author:
Due Quach (pronounced “Zway Kwok”) is the founder and CEO of Calm Clarity, a social enterprise that uses science to help people master their mind and be their best self. A refugee from Vietnam and a graduate of Harvard College and the Wharton MBA program, Quach overcame the long-term effects of poverty and trauma by turning to neuroscience and meditation. After building a successful international business career in management consulting and private equity investments, Quach created the Calm Clarity Program to make mindful leadership accessible to people of all backgrounds. She now leads Calm Clarity workshops in inner-city high schools, university lecture halls, and corporate executive board rooms alike. Due is also the founding chair and executive director of the Collective Success Network, a nonprofit that supports low-income, first-generation college students in achieving their academic, personal, and professional aspirations. The Collective Success Network collaborates with the wider business community to create innovative approaches to foster socioeconomic diversity and inclusion. After living and traveling all around the world, Quach is once again a proud resident of Philadelphia, her hometown.