Experiencing Fear and Performing Anyway: Emotional Clearing Technique #4
One day in class last year, a student asked me, “Do you have any tips on how not to be afraid when speaking in front of people?” I responded that fear is an evolutionary gift, designed to protect us from harm. However, in modern times, it may show up in situations in which we need to be bold in order to grow personally or professionally. In those cases, I added, “I try not to give fear that kind of power over me.”
A week or so later, I received this inquiry from some of those in the class:
“As a group, we are all very intrigued by the idea of living with fear, and performing regardless of this feeling. We would like to learn a little bit more about fear and techniques to use to push through the feeling. We believe this is a different way of thinking about fear and we believe that in order to overcome being inhibited by fear, we could use a little more information.”
I responded that some people are highly sensitive, and I am one of those people. One way this shows up is that I’m easily frightened. As a coping strategy, I had learned a number of emotional clearing techniques to help abate the fear, but I never expected any of them to completely eliminate my fears. So, as the saying goes, “I feel the fear and do it anyway.”
I then told them about an experience I had a few years ago.
Falling from 200 Feet — on Purpose
At the time, I was participating in a workshop where I learned several new techniques for emotional clearing. After about four days of dredging up all kinds of fears and upsets and then clearing them out, I felt cleansed and victorious.
Since this was an out-of-town workshop, Diallo, my husband, came to visit me on the day off. We decided to visit an amusement park that had a 200-foot SkyCoaster, a bungee jumping type contraption advertised to “give you the fall of your lifetime.” I watched several people get strapped into a harness, lifted way, way, way up high on a crane, and then plunge down toward the ground until the harness caught and they began swinging back and forth.
After watching for a while, I decided to take the challenge. As I explained to Diallo, “Hey, I’ve already faced all kinds of emotional fears. I might as well try physical fear.” A few minutes later, a couple of teenagers (certainly no older than 20) hooked me up in a harness and gave me hasty instructions on which cord to pull after I reached the top.
“Y’all know what you’re doing, right?” I weakly asked. They laughed and assured me they did.
I took a deep breath and watched the landscape fade away as the cables lifted me up-up-up-up until Diallo was a speck on the ground. I stayed there a few seconds, trying to enjoy the view while feeling the terror rise within me. Deep breath and I pulled the cord.
I still remember the feeling of sheer terror. Amazingly, even though my heart was in my throat, my thoughts stayed clear. From an observer mode, I thought, “Wow! Look at my body react.”
A couple of l-o-n-g seconds later, the harness caught and I was suspended several feet above ground, swinging back and forth.
As I swung, I turned and looked at the countryside. It was a gorgeous day and a gorgeous countryside. What had been abject fear a minute ago turned into a feeling of extreme pleasure and sense of accomplishment even while my body was still shaking.
Observing Your Emotions
Recent research explains what had happened. In an experiment about courage, two neuroscientists put snake-phobic people in a MRI with a real corn snake on a conveyor belt near them. By pressing a button, people could either bring the snake closer to them or push it further away. Those who brought the snake closer despite being afraid were classified as “courageous.”
What distinguished the courageous study participants from those who succumbed to fear? The study measured two aspects of fear — subjective fear and physiological fear. Subjective fear was measured by responses to questions about how afraid people felt. Physiological fear was measured by how much they sweated. Turns out that those who were able to move the snakes closer scored high in only one of the two types of fear. If both types of fear were high, people moved the snake further away.
In the people who responded with courage by moving the snakes closer, the researcher found that parts of the brain were activated that suppressed emotional arousal. When people succumbed to their fears and moved the snakes away, emotional arousal regions were more activated.
On the SkyCoaster, my body was physiologically raging — racing heart, trembles all over my body. I believe that by observing my reactions as well as experiencing them, I dampened down my subjective fear. Rather than identifying with that fear, I observed it from a place of curiosity. Some would say I was mindful rather than reactive. Those physiological reactions were not me. They were the natural consequence of my body being dropped from 200 feet above ground.
How might you experience intense fear and perform anyway? To get to this point, it’s helpful to remember that the body is geared to have physiological responses to threats of danger. If our body feels threatened, it reacts.
You may choose to identify with those reactions and say, “Oh, horrors, I’m scared”—equating yourself with your emotions. Or, you could observe your reactions, noting what is happening physiologically, “My body is jumping around like crazy, my heart is racing, my hands are shaking — how interesting!” Once you move into the observer status, the subjective experience of fear becomes diminished even though you may stay physiologically aroused.
In so doing, you are able to move the symbolic snake closer.
Emotional Clearing Techniques #1-3:
- Feel it, intensify it, and release it Technique (see Reframing Change, Chapter 3)
- Sedona Technique (See Reframing Change, Chapter 3)
- The Mad-Sad-Scared-Glad Technique
Reference: Nili, U., Goldberg, H., Weizman, A., & Dudai, Y. (2010). Fear Thou Not: Activity of Frontal and Temporal Circuits in Moments of Real-Life Courage. Neuron, 66 (6), 949-962 DOI: 10.1016
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