The violence of the past weeks is personally frightening and collectively overwhelming, and it’s only building on what’s happened in the recent past. According to PBS Newshour, in 2015 alone, there were 372 mass shootings in the U.S., killing 475 and wounding 1,870. Random violence is unpredictable and shakes the order of life. Unfortunately, this is our reality today in 2016, in which even learned vigilance cannot take away random acts of violence. This leaves us in a conundrum: We cannot control the outer world around us, so we are left with only the ability to control our own personal fears.
The first thing we must do is understand our fears. While this is a heady notion to grasp, there are elements of fear that as individuals and collective groups we should keep in mind:
• According to Psychology Today, fear at certain levels is normal and even healthy. It protects us, and instills within us a freeze, flight, fright, or fight response that can be life saving in certain situations.
• Fear is a product of both nature and nurture. In other words, it is something we are born with as well as something we learn based on the cultural norms and circumstances in which we live, and the experiences that shape our lives.
• As individuals, our personal demons create instabilities that give birth to fears small and large. These instabilities inevitably seep into our conscious and subconscious in the form of major negative, repetitive thoughts and self-criticism. Unfortunately our biggest personal demons are often simply our own unresolved, destructive behaviors.
• Personal demons are self-criticism, negative self-talk, comparison to unrealistic ideals, lack of personal acceptance, and succumbing to outer influences. When we compare ourselves to ideals and succumb to outer material influences we are more likely to submit to our fears.
• Fears often mask our real human need— the need to connect to others in a close, nurturing way. That human connection is the emotional currency that gets us through the instability of a difficult world, and allows us to deliver ourselves from unnecessarily harsh criticism.
So, how do we do face our fears?
• In both our individual lives and our public lives, the best thing we can do in the presence of fear is to face it head on. Not by acting violently, but rather exposing ourselves to the fears in a way that makes them known, like finally willing ourselves to look “under the bed” or open the closet in a dark hallway.
• “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. One who lives life fully is prepared to die at any time.” Mark Twain’s famous words remind us that, if possible, living life uninhibited by our fears is the best approach.
Though not always, the violence mentioned above is often born out of the fears these attackers experience as individuals, and is further encouraged by the fears that are nurtured by their cultures. The collective fear affects us more and more as individuals, creating a perpetual cycle that builds to impact the collective. While we can’t control the demons in a crazy world, we can control the demons within ourselves.
Survey the territory. Take an emotional leap into letting go!