There are different kinds of feelings and experiences that most people (because they lack the true definitions) clump together into one big pot and call: FEAR. This is a disservice to those folks who have experienced Phobias and PTSD and paranoia. Because plain old fear is kind of fun and easy compared to the other biggies I’ve named. Plain old fear can be mastered, confronted and handled in a variety of ways that make us feel good. But when a friend or family member goes through some of the other more intense forms, it LOOKS like plain old fear – except that it can’t be handled or mastered the same way and then that person ends up looking and feeling kind of like a big wimpy baby.
So let me define some of the more intense and much less manageable experiences that the uninformed among us still like to group under the label “fear”. Please learn from these explanations and stop making yourself or others feel wimpy or inadequate or cowardly. Understand that what looks like fear can actually be something much much bigger.
1. True Fear
True fear is a sensation caused by chemical messages in your body when your subconscious has noticed something that you need to be aware of and prepared for. The message says, “Look around! Get prepared!” Its not always a snake that we’re about to step on. Sometimes its a test or a presentation. But the solution is the same: pay attention and get prepared.
This is the GOOD healthy kind of fear that keeps us alive and improving! We perk up. We look around. We see whats coming. We prepare. Then we feel something called “relief” as the fear chemical goes away. We may even feel pride as we see what we’ve accomplished and we hit the endorphin high. We feel a wave of calm and we feel victorious! True Fear is the kind of real-time experience that cool people like to have for breakfast. Makes you KNOW you’re alive!
This is a nasty trick that people mistake for fear because the symptoms are so similar. The hair stands up on the back of your neck, mouth goes dry, pupils constrict, heart pounds, hands tremble and so on. It FEELS an awful lot like True Fear, but its NOT. Because NO amount of alertness, preparation, or reason brings relief. It makes us feel stupid.
The cause of a phobia is something really bad that happened in the past that either killed you (in which case the phobia comes from a past life) or nearly killed you when you were young and vulnerable. So now there’s some small broken off piece of your soul hunkered down inside you screaming its head off, “DO NOT GO IN THE WATER! YOU WILL DIE!” Only this broken piece of you is stuck in the past. The water will only wet you. And all the loud warnings in your head just make you feel like a baby or a coward.
This is the real ball-breaker. Paranoia is caused by damage to the amygdala – the fear and horror center of the brain. It has NO external cause whatsoever. Which is a problem, because we’ve trained ourselves to look for real causes to fear sensations and there are absolutely NONE.
The cause of paranoia is basically brain damage. The brain may be damaged by powerful drugs, by a blow to the head, or by brain growth. Graduate students and other people who push themselves past the brain’s limits often experience a breakdown during which neurons of the brain are literally broken down and rebuilt. A bout of paranoia can accompany the breaking down. Teens, whose brains are undergoing dramatic changes as they move from children to adults may also experience bouts of paranoia. Brain growth is an excellent thing. But few in our society are educated in how the (often painful) process happens. Ignorance of this process continues to hurt many people and to limit or even stop their recovery.
So as we go through paranoia we may find ourselves curled up in fetal position, shaking uncontrollably, seeing and hearing things that may or may not be real. Ordinary events take on massively dangerous overtones. People frequently have periods of black out during which they forget hours or even days at a time.
I have experienced paranoia myself during periods of rapid brain growth. Once, I actually noticed that sinister music would play in my head randomly at odd times. I would hear that drop to a minor chord that you just KNOW means that you are the last teenager in camp and you’ve wandered away from the group and there’s a maniac psycho killer in the shadows about to pop out and make you die in humiliating, undignified ways, right? THAT kind of music!
Still, there are actual advantages to having experienced genuine paranoia. Paranoia is so random, causeless, and absurd that when you’ve gone through it a few times you can actually begin to separate yourself from the emotion of fear. You notice that its just a random set of physical sensations without any real cause. You can step outside the emotional experience of fear and say, “How odd that my hands are shaking. Funny how rapidly my heart is beating for no reason. Why does this sweat feel cold to me, yet my face feels hot and flushed?”
When you reach that point simple fear starts to feel like a joke! Phobias are like a walk in the park. Even the next bout of paranoia becomes like a great roller-coaster ride. You feel it coming and you buckle down the safety bar. You keep your hands and arms inside the ride at all times. On the first big hill you shout, “Woo-Hoo!” After a few turns you think, “How long is this stupid ride??” As you round the last few twists and turns you tighten your sphincter and try hard not to puke. Then as it jerks into the station and slows to a stop you start to laugh like a maniac, slap some friends on the back and go check your shorts. That is paranoia.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a special case that very few therapist even know how to sort out. It can be debilitating but it doesn’t have to be permanent or incurable. PTSD is similar to phobias in that it has a cause in the past (this life) and as with phobia the individual has suffered a painful emotional trauma that has broken off a piece of the soul. However, PTSD is different in that the individual is forced to go back into the same situation that broke them over and over again. Maybe its part of your job. Maybe its someone in your home. Maybe you live in a bad part of town.
Whatever it is you have to pull your broken parts together and face the risk of more trauma again and again. So what happens is that broken part of you gets walled off in a room with no windows or doors. Shut inside that small room that part of your spirit has no chance to heal or recover and now it cannot even be found. The spirit does this because if its your job to face trauma, you cannot afford to have a phobic reaction that causes you to freeze and go fetal outside your workplace each morning. So the part gets isolated so that you can’t hear it screaming.
Instead of the typical phobic reaction, people with PTSD may simply experience gaps. They often cannot remember the painful details of the traumatic event(s) because the memories are locked up with the broken shards of spirit. They may quite simply be UNABLE to perform certain tasks or face certain situations. Whenever they go into any situation that subconsciously reminds them of their trauma, they may experience an energy drain. They may need time alone in a quiet familiar place after such experiences. Because the traumatized part cannot heal, they may need quiet time after any sort of social or emotional stimulation.
What most folks, including many well-meaning therapists do NOT realize is that PTSD cannot be healed by force. Traditional therapy says that talking about emotional trauma helps us to heal. But this is the opposite of healing in cases of PTSD. Talking about the trauma actually introduces a new threat of trauma that can force the broken piece deeper into hiding.
Healing PTSD requires a gentle process of finding and opening locked rooms and then nurturing, and rehabilitating the broken shards. In my practice, this happens quickly and almost unconsciously. Once the part has recovered then the person will spontaneously remember and want to talk about the damaging events…once. From there, the memories can finally be put to rest, far at the back of the mind where the lessons are extracted but the experience itself becomes drained of its ability to cause pain ever again. If a person continues to want to talk about their suffering, something has not been healed.
Remarkably, people who are able to recover from PTSD (or phobia, or paranoia) actually become stronger emotionally than the average. Healing and rehabilitating their broken spirit creates a stability, a nobel depth of character and often a deep and resourceful cache of courage that unbroken people cannot attain. Those who have been so harshly tested by life, with proper healing, become some of the strongest and most compassionate leaders among us.
If you know someone who has suffered trauma resulting in any of the more lasting forms of “fear” know that I am a therapist who can kindly and gently help them get their lives, and their spirits, back – whole and better than ever before.