Fear is an emotion as old as humanity itself. Though we think of it as a negative thing, fear serves an important purpose. It aids our survival by activating our body’s fight or flight mode in response to perceived danger.
Fear’s job is to keep us safe, but sometimes it can malfunction.
Because our mind’s fear function is calibrated by the things we have gone through, we can find ourselves over-reacting due to past trauma. An abused animal will flinch away, even from a kind hand. In the same way, fear’s over-vigilance sends us into fight-or-flight mode when no actual danger exists. Our imaginations can be powerful fear-building machines. Much of what we do is about avoiding what we think will cause us physical and emotional pain.
Here are some examples of how this can create problems in an otherwise healthy relationship:
– We’re afraid our partner will hurt or abandon us. Just like someone in our past did.
– We find it hard to shake the feeling that our partner will cheat on us because we experienced that betrayal with another person.
– Others made us feel that we were unworthy of love, and we internalized that. Now we secretly doubt our partner’s love.
Old fears will often lurk below the surface of our consciousness until something triggers them. They surge up, taking control. We find ourselves reacting in strange ways, weirdly out of proportion to the situation. This confuses our partner and activates their own fear. Suddenly, you have two people’s fears facing off with each other, executing defensive maneuvers, instead of two hearts moving in in the dance of love.
When fears are about our past hurt, they are disconnected from our present reality. They create problems where none existed and feed us false information which leads to unwise actions. Being controlled by fear will undermine your love relationship, over time.
The good news is, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent this from happening.
Question the basis of your fears.
Scratch below the surface. Your feelings are real, but are they really about your partner and your current situation? Or, are they about your past? If their source is in a previous relationship, be skeptical of what they are telling you. Don’t automatically assume they are speaking truth.
Identify and discuss fear-based issues with your partner.
Shine the light of awareness on the roots of your fears to break their power over you. Share the stories of events which shaped you with each other. Knowing a person’s history helps us love them with understanding and patience.
Develop a strategy for alerting your partner to when fears arise.
Practice healthy ways of letting your partner know what you’re feeling inside. “When we had that argument, I felt really scared that you are going to leave me, even though I know that you won’t.”
Talk as a couple, about how you want to handle situations when fear gets in the way. Bringing awareness into the situation is a powerful first step in taking control of unhealthy patterns.
Counteract your fears with truth.
When you realize your fears are leading you to false conclusions, argue with them. Pretend there’s a trial going on in your head, and present evidence to counteract fear’s false testimony.
Always consider other more positive possibilities when you are tempted to jump to negative conclusions. Old fears will try to make you mistrust and misunderstand your lover. Silence them with truthful thoughts.
Relational fears rooted in our past can intrude into the “now” and poison our future, but only if we let them. Learn to be controlled by love and truth, rather than fear. You have the power.