Fear and Its Effect on Relationships

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Fear isn’t just about physical danger. Emotional fear can look a lot like anger. But relationships do not thrive in anger or fear.

People who behave with fear, generate fear in others. People who behave with love, generate love in others.

Think about your relationships. Is there someone (…you?) who is behaving with fear? What are the effects of that behavior?

Healthy relationships are built on emotional safety, honesty and trust. Does your shame and fear cause you to punish those in your life for expressing emotional honesty? Will they continue to be honest with you if they fear your response? Emotional intimacy will suffer as they pull away from you and your shame-based and fear-based tactics.

Parents:  If you are yelling and shaming your children, you are generating fear in them. If your children yell, are oppositional and harm others, if is clear proof they are learning in an environment of fear not love.

If you function in a fearful mode, ask yourself: What are you afraid of? Rejection and abandonment? Exposing vulnerability and weakness? Failure and self-doubt? Shame and guilt?

What would happen if you loved yourself instead of got angry at yourself? What if you completely accepted yourself and others, rather than reacted with shame, fear and anger?

 

Debunking the “Chemical Imbalance” Theory of Depression

Blogger Phillip Hickey, PhD, has another great Mad in America post debunking the “chemical imbalance” theory of depression based on an article on Florida State University’s DigiNole Commons. The article is a very easy read and I recommend it highly for anyone who has been diagnosed with “depression” or who has ever taken an anti-depressant medication (or for clinicians).

The lie that depression was caused by a chemical imbalance in serotonin levels in the brain was propagated for decades by psychiatrists and Big Pharma. Please, let’s get the word out that this in NOT TRUE! I am so tired of patients and other clinicians continuing to repeat this urban myth.

To tell patients they have a chemical imbalance when this is not true stigmatizes them, promotes a feeling of helplessness that leads to lack of change, and lowers their already-low self-worth.

The public needs to take action to become aware and reject attempts by PCPs and psychiatrists who keep foisting this serotonin myth on them in an effort to sell drugs.

What is Depression?

Depression is merely an expectable reaction to a situation where a person has many thoughts of self-loathing, which lead to chronic high levels of “stress” (aka threat or fear.) The brain reacts to internal messages of self-criticism as a form of threat, which to the brain are processed in the same way as an external physical threat, such as being mugged. This internally generated “fight-or-flight” response cannot be sustained by the brain and body for long periods of time. The body eventually gives up and shuts down physically and numbs out emotionally, with “symptoms” of lack of motivation, excessive sleep, sadness, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, etc.

Perhaps one day some brain chemical cause of depression might be discovered. But until then, please stop repeating the lie that unhealthy serotonin levels cause depression. Because the above explanation IS actually based on science!

What the Sandra Bland Case Teaches us About the Power of Shame

shame artI saw key parts of the dashcam video from the Sandra Bland arrest and immediately noticed how the emotion of shame played a big role.

Early in the traffic stop Ms. Bland stated to state trooper Brian Encinia that she hadn’t signaled a lane change because he was coming up behind her quickly and she was trying to get out of his way. That was the turning point in the interaction.

The officer quickly became irritated, then angry, which led to the interaction escalating.  Sadly, Ms. Bland later ended up dead in a jail cell following her arrest and three-day detention.

The psychology is quite obvious. The officer did not like the fact that Ms. Bland had an explanation for her behavior that pointed, ever so slightly, at him having some accountability for her alleged traffic violation.

People who have difficulty tolerating shame have great difficulty handling any criticism. Even if that criticism is a fact.

These people, which I label “Dominators” in my book “Pack Leader Psychology,” have a hard time handling shame or blame they feel from others. They have high levels of self-loathing and this leads them to fear and protect against experiencing any additional shame. Most noticeable is the Dominator’s inability to be accountable for behaviors. These people are defensive, attack others, blame others, shame others, refuse to apologize and can never be wrong. All in service of protecting them from feelings of shame.

Anger is Shame’s Bodyguard

As the saying goes: “Anger is shame’s bodyguard.”

When Dominators are insulted or even perceive an insult they can be easily triggered into anger and even violence.

The police officer in the Bland case likely experienced feelings of shame when she alluded to his responsibility for her behaviors, then felt Ms. Bland was disrespecting him by smoking and later insulting him. It all fed his feelings of shame.

If he had insight, he would recognize that he was feeling and thinking something like this: “Your questioning of me and disrespecting me makes me feel ashamed and hurt. So I’m going to lash out in anger at you to avoid dealing with these feelings of shame. It’s too hard to feel shame and feel so unworthy as a person.”

The influence of shame may be subtle in this case, but it’s there. Shame is a powerful influence on human behavior and, sadly, is often masked over by anger. It is easy to notice the anger and miss the fact that a person’s shame is the real driver of the behavior.

We must begin screening police officers for their ability to tolerate shame. Those who can’t tolerate shame escalate to anger and cause situations like this.

Anger vs Indignation

Pardon a former writer’s semantic debate about two words: anger and indignation. As a psychologist now, I certainly deal with anger as an emotion in the therapy room. But I say we need to revive use of the word “indignation.” It has a depth of meaning that “anger” does not have.

Indignation is defined as “anger or annoyance at what is perceived to be unfair treatment.” Anger is defined as “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure or hostility.” Notice that the sense of injustice or unfairness is part of the definition of “indignation.” Anger can be just “hostility,” which communicates primary aggression, while “indignation” communicates a responsive defense to aggression.

I hear many Submissives state: “I get angry too easily,” or “He just triggers me.” But instead of automatically blaming oneself for poorly controlled anger, perhaps one should flip the lens.

I prefer to look at emotions as self-protective warning signs about the behavior of others. If we feel indignant about someone else’s actions, maybe that is a big red flag from our intuition that we are being disrespected or treated unjustly.

Sure, some people flash to anger far too easily and over insignificant issues. These can be Dominators who attack or use the “fight” response when they are fearful of criticism or shame. Their anger is effective at warning others to back down. Some Submissives can also eventually attack when they are backed into a corner and feel they have no others options. When one is overly pleasing and appeasing most of the time, it leads to others being disrespectful, which eventually leads to a feeling of indignation.

So next time you blame yourself for getting angry too easily, take another look and consider whether you should instead respect and heed that feeling of indignation.

Connecting Shame, the Fear Response and ADHD

In my last blog I wrote about shame being the true underlying emotion behind most angry outbursts and behaviors. People feel embarrassed so they lash out with anger, rather than admitting or expressing their real emotion of shame.

This connection is very clear in children labeled with “ADHD” and “Oppositional Defiant Disorder.” These children are considered to lack the ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate. They are impulsive, easily distracted and often hyperactive. Yet if you listen to what they say and understand the neuroscience of the fear response, you can easily see the emotional roots of shame to their reactions. As I’ve written before, these “disorders” are not mental illnesses, just the normal “fear response.”

Just yesterday in therapy one young man described the reasons he often leaves school or is truant. He reported that when he gets frustrated or fears failure on schoolwork, he doesn’t like that feeling. So to manage the shame (he didn’t label it as that) he daydreams, plays with his phone, or zones out. (This is the “avoidance” fear response.) Then if pushed by the teacher or under time pressure of a test, he bolts from the classroom or just doesn’t show up to school on that day (the “flight” fear response.)

His shame and embarrassment at potentially failing lead him to unthinkingly react with fear. Many kids with this “fear hijack” quickly react with the “fight” response by getting angry and being “oppositional.”

Of course, this young man has a mother who has been depressed and anxious all his life, he witnessed domestic violence, and has had other family instabilities. Childhood traumas slow or stunt the development of the cognitive areas of the brain, leaving the emotional or reactive parts of the brain in charge. He’s also had this fear response modeled by parents who became violent with each other. No surprise that when he feels threatened emotionally he is more likely to react with unthinking responses or impulsivity, rather than thoughtful problem-solving with an eye to the consequences.

Afterward he can state the consequences to his behaviors, as is usually the case with these impulsive kids. Yet in that survival mode of the fear hijack his cognitive abilities are narrowed and not in control.

Of course, his early traumas also make learning and memory development more difficult for his brain, leading to a label as “learning disabled.” So his family life has primed him for a life of misbehavior and academic failure that others will label as dysfunctional or maybe even criminal. All because his brain never had the chance to develop and to learn a thinking approach rather than an emotional response.

When you understand this connection, it becomes extremely obvious that what we need is not therapy and drugs (absolutely not!) for these children, but parenting classes and therapy for their parents years prior. It was their parents’ inability to manage shame in emotionally mature ways that started this whole mess.