Lesson 1 of 7  - free your true Self to guide you

Reduce Excessive Fears

Common Symptoms
and Recovery Goals

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/gwc/wounds/fears.htm

Updated 03-03-2015

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      This is one of a  series of articles on Lesson 1 in this Web site - free your true Self to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and reduce significant psychological wounds. In my experience, 80% or more of significantly-troubled adults are wounded survivors of low-nurturance childhoods and don't (want to) know it. This article...

  • offers perspective on excessive (vs. normal) fears,

  • notes typical false-self coping strategies to deal with excessive fears;

  • summarizes typical symptoms of a fear-based (vs. shame-based) person; and...

  • outlines key recovery goals for this widespread psychological wound.

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

  About Excessive Fears

      Identify several things you currently worry about or fear. Then reflect on how you cope with these feelings and describe that out loud. Option - recall how each of your main childhood caregivers dealt with their anxieties and fears, and compare their strategies to yours. What do you notice?

      Anxiety (worry), fear, and terror are instinctive neuro-hormonal responses which protect us from pain, injury, or death. When based on accurate (vs. distorted) perceptions, normal fears help to keep us safe in the world. All infants, kids, and adults have a spectrum of local and "global" fears that flux as their inner and outer worlds change moment by moment.

      Young kids traumatized before birth and/or deprived of effective nurturance (e.g. consistent protections) can grow up unaware of frequent fears about ...

  • Criticism, rejection, scorn, and abandonment by primary people (root - original terror of being shamed and/or alone and helpless); and...

  • The unknown (risking change), because most childhood "surprises" yielded major physical and/or psychological pain. And young kids may live with anxieties about...

  • Emotional overwhelm or disorientation - too many intense stimulations and emotions in others and/or in themselves. This can manifest as fear of "losing control," conflict, prolonged confusion, and/or fear of feeling; and/or fears of...

  • Success and/or failure: i.e. of shame and guilts, as judged by inner and/or outer critics; and...

  • Feeling powerless;

  • Fear of excessive fears; and finally...

  • Fear of pain, injury, and death.

       When a child feels too many intense fears too often and lacks reliable safeties and protectors, they may become fear-based. Their personality is often dominated by defensive, cautious, hyper-alert subselves who believe life is unsafe and reliable help is rare. Without effective help and encouragements, such kids bring this pervasive fearful attitude into adulthood.

      If kids were ridiculed or punished for their fears ("What a pathetic scaredy cat / wimp / yellow-belly  / weakling / sissy /..."), they grow adept at minimizing, pretending, and denying them - and denying that. Being fear-based and/or shame-based is a clear symptom of false-self dominance.

Subselves and Excessive Fears

      See how you feel about these premises...

      All normal personalities are comprised of a group of dedicated semi-independent subselves, like talented players in an orchestra or sports team. Locally and over time, these inner teams range from peaceful and harmonious to conflictual and disorganized, depending on many factors.

      All anxiety, fear, and terror springs from the primal instincts (like fear of spiders and snakes), and  ruling-subselves' primal distrust that...

  • they (you) can avoid physical and emotional pain and injury well enough, and that...

  • the inner and outer environments are safe enough.

So the real psychological wounds to assess and reduce here are subselves' (a) confusing past times with the present, + (b) reality distortions, + (c) distrust in the true Self's ability to consistently keep them safe.

      Anxiety (worrying) and fear are not bad ("negative") in themselves. They're useful guides to recognizing and filling current needs (discomforts). The problem is that if fearful subselves distrust the wise, resident true Self to keep them safe, they can disable him or her and make unwise local decisions. This is like reactive rookies trying to do a veteran coach's or manager's job.

      The over-scared subselves are usually inner children who live in the past, and their attentive Guardian subselves. Skilled inner-family therapy or equivalent can raise their Self-trust and inner confidence, and free the true Self to lead - which brings excessive fears down to normal.

      Subselves' fears are usually unconscious reflexes, not rational responses. So trying to "reason" with a fear-based child or adult risks raising their anxiety, guilt, shame, and confusion, and your frustration. Blaming or scorning a person for being too anxious, or discounting their feeling ("You have nothing to fear"), risks increasing their subselves' certainty that they're wrong and bad. Reassurances (vs. empathic acknowledgement of fear) are often really about reducing the reassurer's discomfort. Do you agree?

      Subselves' anxieties and fears usually have several levels. There's one or more conscious, surface fears that you can describe ("I don't like speaking in front of a group."). Underneath that are one or more semiconscious or unconscious fears ["I (my subselves) get nervous, stutter, and say dumb things, so people laugh at me and disrespect me, and I feel embarrassed and stupid"]. Often there's an even deeper core terror with roots in hazy or forgotten childhood trauma ("If I talked at family or public meals, Dad always jeered at me in front of everyone. I felt so bad!")

      Before true wound-reduction, excessive fears, shame, and guilts often reinforce each other. Many fear-based people are also shame-based. Their dominant subselves believe they're inadequate, worthless, and unlovable. So they automatically fear risking (or even thinking) various things, and then feel guilty and ashamed for "being a spineless wimp" (in their tireless Inner Critic's scornful view).

      This is like an athletic team or orchestra being dominated by several insecure players who scorn themselves and the group despite the coach's or conductor's attempts to affirm, develop, and harmonize their real talents.

      Excessive fear can amplify itself. Fear of intense emotions can manifest as "I'm scared to feel how afraid I am...," which promotes coping strategies like those below which promote shame, guilt, and compound insecurities. These all reinforce false-self dominance, until proactive wound-recovery (Lesson 1).

      People in true (vs. pseudo) recovery from psychological wounds can learn to identify what their distrustful subselves really need, and then fill them. Uncovering root fears helps to reduce surface fears ("Before I speak to a group now, I reassure my scared inner kids that Dad's not in the audience, my ideas are important and legitimate, and that we're OK whether people laugh at us or not.")

Typical False-self Strategies to Manage Fear

      From trial and error, dominant personality subselves evolve ways to cope with their fears and other inner wounds. These ways become semiconscious or unconscious (reflexive), until wound-healing progress makes them conscious. Some common strategies are...

  • intellectualizing and over-analyzing 

  • avoiding - ("I'm not going to bother with those boring Lesson-1 worksheets")

  • overfocusing on the past or the future - a form of avoiding

  • procrastinating - ("I'll get around to reading this inner-wound stuff soon.")

  • self-distracting  via chemicals, activities, sleep, fantasizing, and/or obsessing ("mind churning")

  • numbing - ("I don't feel anything.")

  • minimizing - ("Yeah, I'm a little uncomfortable, but not scared.");

  • catastrophizing - mentally preparing for the very worst, however unlikely it may be.

  • denying - ("Naw, I'm not scared of bankruptcy.")

  • lying -  ("Why no, I haven't had a cigarette in weeks!")

  • compulsively controlling feelings, relationships, conversations, and situations

      Any of these look familiar? Until in true (vs. pseudo) wound-recovery, habitual fear-protections like these tend to reinforce each other - e.g. "I feel stupid and guilty for catastrophizing all the time, so I minimize my worries, don't think about them, 'keep busy,' and I don't tell other people how uneasy I am most of the time. I know I shouldn't do these things so much, but I can't help it."

      When your true Self is steadily in charge, s/he will...

  • admit fears promptly, without guilt or shame;

  • decide what s/he (you) needs to do abut them and...

  • what resources you need, and...

  • proactively and patiently fill your needs so fears subside to normal levels.

S/He will also find ways to rescue scared subselves who live in the past, and use spiritual faith to help manage significant fears.  

      How can you tell if your fears are "excessive"?

Common Symptoms of Excessive Fears

       Dominance of over-fearful subselves causes common thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The behaviors are also shaped by other psychological wounds. See which of these may feel familiar in you or someone you know...

_ 1)  Over-avoidance of inevitable inner and interpersonal conflicts; “My partner and I never fight!

_ 2)  Compulsive pleasing, helping, and/or rescuing key adults and kids.

_ 3)  Freezing, panicking, exploding, fleeing, or aggressing when others show strong emotions.

_ 4)  Equating a raised or intense voice and/or angry face with “You're yelling at me.

_ 5)  Repeatedly rationalizing and tolerating toxic (controlling, shaming, hurtful) relationships.

_ 6)  Habitual black/white (bi-polar) thinking, and/or major discomfort with ambivalence and uncertainty.

_ 7)  “Unreasonable” guilt and/or anxiety ("worry") over crying or raging.

_ 8)  Chronic "free-floating anxiety"

_ 9)  Compulsive apologizing (also a symptom of excessive shame). 

_ 10)  Often “walking on eggshells” with key people, and doing nothing about it. 

      More common symptoms of excessive fears...

_ 11)  Frequent high discomfort asserting needs and opinions, saying “no,” or confronting self or others - i.e. difficulty setting and enforcing appropriate personal boundaries (limits)

_ 12)  Identifying with or vehemently denying codependence (also an excessive-shame symptom).

_ 13)  Compulsively choosing approach-avoid or no relationships, despite painful outcomes.

_ 14)  Automatically repressing (numbing) and/or withholding (not expressing) some or most emotions.

_ 15)  A notable compulsion to control people, events, perceptions, and/or feelings; excessive preoccupation with “what if…”.

_ 16)  Major discomfort with changing beliefs, behaviors, and/or surroundings (taking risks); Living an overly-structured, ritualized life; “never going out or traveling.”

_ 17)  Repeatedly picking "emotionally-unavailable" (wounded) partners and associates, and complaining about that, rationalizing or denying it or "not noticing" it.

_ 18)  Compulsively “shading the truth” or lying directly or by omission, and denying it.

_ 19)  A history of relationship cutoffs and “failures," including divorce/s

_ 20)  An obsessive need for lists and clear “rules” and “plans,” and predicting the future

_ 21)  Avoidance of, or inability to tolerate, emotional and physical intimacy.

_ 22)  Avoidance of, or significant anxiety about, personal commitment.

_ 23)  Smiling and/or chuckling (double messages) when scared, confused, hurting, or angry.  

_ 24)  Frequent inability to describe current feelings (emotions and/or body sensations). 

_ 25)  Computing “what I (should) feel now” vs. spontaneously feeling.

_ 26)  Excessive procrastination and/or being chronically late, and claiming "I can't help it"

_ 27)  Chronic facial tics; jaw grinding; and/or muscle, head, or stomach aches or pains. 

_ 28)  “Always” being analytic, intellectual, and “in my head.” 

_ 29)  Being unable to describe clearly “what I (don't) like and/or need.” 

_ 30)  Feeling or showing no appropriate shock, anger, and sadness (grief) over major physical or abstract losses (also a symptom of difficulty bonding)

_ 31)  Frequently “not breathing” (breathing shallowly), and being unaware of that until someone points it out. A related symptom is frequent use of tobacco, which reduces oxygen-absorption and mutes feeling emotions like anxiety or fear.

_ 32)  “Never” arguing, getting angry or “upset,” or showing strong emotions without major anxiety, guilt, and repetitive apologizing.  

_ 33)  Usually having an expressionless face, a "frozen" body," and/or a "flat" voice. 

_ 34)  Periodic "depressions" and/or uncontrollable rage or weeping “attacks,” despite painful personal and social consequences - including post-attack shame (embarrassment), guilt, and/or fear of ”losing control” again.

_ 35)  Frequent catastrophizing - focusing on the worst possible outcomes of human or Natural situations, and having a steady cynical, skeptical, pessimistic view of life.

_ 36)  Stubbornly justifying or denying avoidance of appropriate professional medical, spiritual, and psychological help in person or in the media (self neglect) - also a symptom of excessive shame).

      These are typical behavioral symptoms of excessive subself fears. Do you see yourself or someone else here? Reflect for a moment on your favorite worries and fears. How have they been shaping your relationships, finances, occupation, and health? Try completing this sentence repeatedly until you run out of responses:

 "I'm often afraid or worried that ________; and __________; and __________ …"

The more of these fear-traits you or someone has, the higher the odds you or s/he is dominated by a well-meaning false self. Recall: this is one of several psychological-wound-assessment checklists.

      If you or another has "too many" of these 36 symptoms "too often" (a subjective opinion), what can you do to reduce them and grow more confident, serene, and productive?

Typical Fear-reduction Goals

      Well-meaning Catastrophizer, Worrier, and Cynic/Doubter subselves often keep your insecure (untrusting) subselves anxious. A creative Magician subself may help by protectively distorting reality, and a Numb-er who mutes or anesthetizes "unsafe" emotions. Often the Inner Critic heaps scorn on other subselves for "being a wimp / scaredy cat / doormat / coward / lily-livered / "weak" / yellow / timid…", which inexorably nourishes Inner Kids' excessive guilt and shame.

      People who choose to reorganize their personality subselves under the leadership of their true Self (capital "S") can work patiently toward targets like these...

Adopt the attitude that like all emotions, anxiety and fear are useful (vs. positive or negative) responses.

Identify your current significant and/or chronic anxieties and fears, Decide which you can and can't affect, and use this awareness to fill your current needs.

Learn to recognize...

  • surface symptoms that indicate repressed fear (e.g. those above), and...

  • the difference between health-promoting and toxic anxiety and fear.

Investigate possible connections between terrified Inner Kids and their Guardian subselves and any chronic physical symptoms you experience - e.g. cramps, muscular tics or spasms, migraines, asthma, insomnia, "digestive problems," ulcers, … Isolated or mute subselves can promote such symptoms in a desperate attempt to be noticed and comforted. For perspective, read this brief research summary on significant health risks from "chronic anxiety;"

Tailor this parts-work strategy for reducing excessive or chronic anxiety and fear to fit your situation

Tailor and apply these options for building your self-confidence.

Continue progressing with Lesson-1 here - specially Part 3,

      Consider investing in the unique trauma-recovery guidebook Who's Really Running Your Life? (Xlibris.com, 2011; 4th ed.)






      This article is one of a series on recognizing and reducing six widespread psychological wounds. It offers perspective on excessive (vs. normal) fears, and summarizes typical wound-symptoms and wound-reduction goals and options.

      The article suggests that our emotions from anxiety (worry) to fears to terror are a healthy unconscious response (reflex) designed to protect us from pain, injury, and death. Like all emotions, fears help to recognize that we have important current needs to identify and fill.

      This article proposes that excessive local and chronic fears are caused by protective personality subselves which haven't learned to trust that the wise, resident true Self, other Manager subselves, and a benign Higher Power will reliably keep them safe. Once this is accepted, patient commitment to some form of inner-family therapy can raise this trust and reduce excessive fears to normal levels.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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