Dialoguing with Fear
Like many people, I have struggled with anxiety since college. I had panic attacks just thinking of saying hello to people. Over the last 17 years my anxiety has become almost a non-issue. Although since we all live with fear as a normal, natural phenomena I find that at times it rears it’s head. Sometimes unexpected.
The other day I had an experience of sitting with intense fear for many hours. I was in a meditation circle where a woman was having a very challenging physical experience and thought she might be dying for hours. It was completely terrifying. In the end she was fine and even reported that she felt she needed to have that experience, but hindsight makes everything so easy. It’s in the moments of uncertainty that we are gripped with an almost unbearable anxiety. In those moments when you truly don’t know if you are going to be okay or just how long the suffering is going to last, and the horrible ways your mind tells you it might end.
In this experience I had been working with the way I speak to myself, learning to listen to what I say to myself and to choose to be at cause for how I want that dialogue to go. To choose what I want to say to myself instead.
I found that the fear was so overwhelming that I could not simply tell myself “You are safe.” There is no way I would have believed it. And in fact, I shouldn’t. That part of me that is yelling, screaming at the top of her terrified lungs that it is not safe has in fact kept me safe and alive my whole life. Indeed it is exactly that part that has kept all of human society surviving. We are the stewards of our bodies and it is important to listen to when their vulnerable flesh might be at risk. So to dismiss it as a simple ego-voice that needs repatterning would be dishonoring and, I believe, impossible. However, what IS possible is to repattern the RELATIONSHIP I have to this fear voice.
Could that irritating behavior your partner does really be a bid for connection?
Research shows that healthy couples "turn towards" one anothers' bids (for attention, connection, play, etc!) 9 out of 10 times! Couples that divorced in this research only turned towards bids 3 out of 10 times. That means that out of 10 times your partner reaches out for some kind of connection, you should be turning towards him/her 9 out of those 10 times if you want a vital relationship that lasts.
I have a partner who loves to joke. His unending jokes, while funny and engaging, sometimes get on my nerves. But once I realized that this may actually be his way of making a bid I decided it's important that I turn towards him more times than I might like. Even if it's a joke in the middle of a binge watching of Game of Thrones (yes, I'm still only on season 5!). My relationships is more important than whatever John Snow is doing in that moment, so instead of getting irritated I can simply kiss his head and play for a moment, before asking for space to wind down. Both of us can get our needs met in a loving relationship!
Below is an article from the Gottman Institute on this idea of bids and why it's so important.
Karen Wolfe, MFT offers depth therapy with practices to deepen your connection to your Self and to others for individuals and couples in the Bay Area and via video conference across California