You know, the bottom line is that we all want to be loved, believed, validated, trusted, embraced, cared for, nurtured, and respected. I believe the opposite of all of these things is caused by fear. Fear mistrusts, invalidates, rejects, ignores and disrespects. Fear creates a need to control others. Fear causes love to wither, leaving one a mere shell. Fear inspires hasty action and hurtful choices, knee jerk reactions that alienate loved ones.
All of us experience fear in some form almost daily. Someone pulls out in front of you while you are driving down the road. Your child cries out from another room. Your doctor informs you that she wants more blood work done or wants to refer you to a specialist. Your partner is late getting home from work and didn’t call. You see red and blue lights in your rear view mirror. You smell smoke.
Fear causes physiological changes in the body: increased respiration and heart rate, sweating, and hyper-alertness, and puts a person in a fight or flight position.
What a person chooses to do next is vital. Or do we even have a choice? Are we programmed by our upbringing and past experiences to respond to fear in one way, and one way only?
Females are often at an advantage at this point. We can scream, cry, get emotional, and emote, helping to deal with the adrenaline dump. Most males, however, seem to believe they must appear to be in control, maintain a facade of being unaffected by fear-inducing events. Both reactions are possible from both genders, but typically females emote more and men appear to shut down, at least in my experience.
The day I realized that not all men respond this way to fear-inducing events was an eye-opener. Some men mobilize immediately, drawing on the fight side of the adrenaline dump. They can positively deal with the situation by fighting “it” or turn on loved ones in a move to control the situation. A fight response can be disturbing for family and friends when this is the prominent response and they are in the vicinity.
After a time, if fear is not expressed and dealt with in a healthy manner it can dominate a personality. Fear of hell. Fear of failure. Fear of abandonment. Fear of rejection. Fear of physical harm. Fear of loss. Fear of being wrong. Fear of the unknown.
We all struggle with unconscious fear issues. Every single one of us.
I admit that I struggle with fear of abandonment and fear of rejection. My parents separated when I was very young and divorced a few years later. I can see these events resulting in both of these fear issues. My fear issues have affected my marriage. It took me a long time to realize how much they affected me. I asked for some simple accommodations such as a call should a person not be home when they should, and special consideration in social situations. I believe my fear issues explain a lot of my introvert tendencies, too.
When fear prevails over hope, deep depression can take hold. If fear issues are never dealt with then I believe cynicism takes root, mistrust towards those who should be trusted the most starts the downward spiral of relationship failure.
Fear can paralyze a person, hindering any kind of forward momentum and growth. Eventually, the need to control overwhelms any positives in relationships.
In the article, Don’t Let Fear Destroy Your Relationship, naming, addressing and processing fears with a partner is recommended before the fears can destroy the relationship. Knowing that facing fears is normal in a relationship should free a couple to address them openly. One key to successfully accomplishing this is to listen and not become defensive, allowing fears to be triggered by a partner’s fears (Grossman).
Some men are afraid of relationships because they have an overall approach that makes relationships exremely anxiety-provoking. Men who have OCD or OCD features are often afraid of relationships because of the uncertainty and lack of control that come with relationships. People with OCD have a very high need structure and need to feel that their environment is extremely controlled and predictable. The thought of dealing with messy emotions and having to share an emotional life, as well as a physical space, is often too much to bear.
Men who have a paranoid personality type are often afraid of relationships, as well. Paranoid men are hypervigilant about their environment and screening everyone who comes into their space. They are extremely aware of hierarchies of power and carry the ongoing fear that someone is going to trap them somehow and take advantage of them. For these reasons, reliance and dependence on another person are incredibly far-out notions for the paranoid man (Grossman).
Women have the ability to create an entire scenario based on fear in a matter of seconds. A teenage child has taken the family car to work and is a little late returning home. A mother may have her child (in her imagination) wrapped around a tree, struggling to breathe, an ambulance racing with said child to the hospital and the child on life support. Men may not realize how quickly we women can weave such a scenario. And it doesn’t just stay in our heads; it affects our bodies and emotions as though we are actually dealing with such a crisis. We cannot separate our emotions from our imaginations most of the time. Now, that is not to say that we sit there in a puddle. We don’t. We spend every moment until that teenage driver pulls into the driveway talking to ourselves, convincing ourselves that said teenager is just fine, that he or she just went through the Wendy’s drive-thru before heading home. I for one do not text my child at this point because I do not want to cause a collision by distracting my teenager while he or she is driving. There is no other way to say this but to admit that when this stage of worry hits, there is not much we can do except pray and engage in serious self-talk.
The paragraph above explains some of the fear that women deal with. Maybe not all women go through this, but the majority that I have spoken with go through this type of crisis regularly.
Dealing with and accommodating fear triggers in a relationship is vital to the health of that relationship. I can go one step further and say the same for life in general. But I see fear destroying relationships regularly. Whether the fear is based on reality or supposition doesn’t matter. It creates physiological and emotional responses that will affect the health and well-being of a person and their relationships.
The article above lists practical ways that a couple can deal with fear in their relationship. And let me reiterate that fear in one partner will affect the other partner. It needs to be important to both. I love the last suggestion about creating boundaries for discussing fears, and to determine not to bully one another over fears (Grossman). What bothers one person should concern the other in a relationship. Let us stop putting away fears, like stuffing them in a drawer, and instead face them together in a loving, safe manner.
Facing fears together . . . I like this.
Grossman, D. (2011). Don’t Let Fear Destroy Your Relationship. Psych Central. Web. 5 Oct 2013. http://psychcentral.com/lib/dont-let-fear-destroy-your-relationship/0009269.