In the past couple of months I’ve noticed an upward tick in the number of my clients talking about feeling afraid. They come in to discuss feeling anxious or stressed, but as we begin our session, we uncover how they’re actually feeling afraid.
So I’ve been recommending Lissa Rankin MD’s wonderful book The Fear Cure: Cultivating Courage as Medicine for the Body, Mind, and Soul quite frequently, and I wanted to share this resource with my blog audience, too.
Those of you who are more familiar with Internal Family Systems (IFS) and how to be Self-led will find familiar Rankin’s explanation of our inner fear world as having an “Inner Pilot Light” and a panicky, talkative “Small Self” that feeds on false fear.
Rankin’s philosophy that we can heal ourselves is right in line with my thinking that with the right tools, you can build a better you!
What’s The Fear Cure about?
Fear can be and it is extremely bad for our health. In The Fear Cure, Rankin exposes fear to be at the center of so much of what we label stress and anxiety in our lives. It is not only in us in our immediate lives but in our culture.
Unfortunately the reptilian part of our brain can’t tell the difference between actual and perceived threats to our lives. Our nervous system gets stuck and we end up feeling worried all the time about one thing or another. Being stuck in a stress response is unhealthy for our bodies.
Is fear really so bad for us? The scientific evidence says…
The neuroscience of chronic fear tells us that fear compounds itself. Over time our amygdala becomes even more reactive to apparent threats.
Our bodies repair themselves during relaxation periods like sleep. But being in a chronic state of fear disrupts our ability to relax and repair. When our natural self repair mechanism is damaged we have more difficulty fending off illness.
- The risk of heart attacks and sudden cardiac death is increased three- to six-fold increase in risk with highly anxious people.
- There are significant correlations between cancer and high anxiety.
- Researchers have found that anxious people were 25% more likely to have abnormal cells that might become cancer.
- Studies show how fear and anxiety weaken the immune system and interfere with the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
The conclusion is the actual experience of stress puts you at risk of disease.
Where does fear come from, according to Rankin?
“Your small Self craves certainty, but your Inner Pilot Light is just as comfortable with the unknown as with the known. It doesn’t require certainty in order to feel at peace.”
Let’s unpack that. This “Small Self” comes from our thoughts (cognitive mind). If we think about how society trusts the mind over the heart, it makes sense that we listen to the thoughts telling us to be scared. Those thoughts must be real and valid!
Contrast this Small Self with your Inner Pilot Light. In IFS we call it Self. This intuition lives in our heart. Why don’t we listen to our inner pilot light? Because you can validate the cognitive (thoughts) with intuition, but not vice versa.
Building up your courageousness will allow you to open the door to uncertainty and ease into Curiosity, Creativity, and experiencing new things.
What is the best piece of advice from The Fear Cure ?
What I really liked about The Fear Cure is how Rankin gives us concrete, specific ways to cultivate our courage. Because we don’t get rid of our fear; instead we learn to use it wisely.
In one of the exercises you let your Inner Pilot Light nurture your Small Self. (In IFS language you would extend Self compassion towards a part feels fearful.)
- Recognize your Small Self feels scared.
- Find somewhere private to be.
- Let your Small Self feel angry or disappointed or afraid or cry.
- Visualize the radiance of your Inner Pilot Light comforting your Small Self like a loving grandmother. (What a great way to describe Self!)
- From this loving place ask the Small Self what she or he need as comfort.
- Give love and comfort towards this part of yourself in your mind’s eye.
- Now ask your Inner Pilot to see if there is anything the Small Self’s fears can teach you about what might need love and attention in your life.
- Make a mental note of any message and continue to comfort the Small Self.
Once your Small Self calms down you can take charge and return to the situation as a mature adult with knowledge how to make courageous decisions in your life in real time.
Build up your courageousness when you buy The Fear Cure
I highly recommend The Fear Cure. The flip side of uncertainty is excitement and possibility. When we can feel this inner courage we make choices that help us live fuller, more meaningful lives.
Buy Lissa Rankin MD’s The Fear Cure on Amazon
“Courage” by Flickr user jridgewayphotography is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
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