You know what this question means, she (or he) is in an abusive relationship. But my question is “why is s(he) so different to you?”
Why does she stay? Lack of confidence, shame, a misplaced sense of duty, fear… they are all some version of fear. Anyone who knows me, knows I am an unlikely candidate for an abusive relationship. Yet I know fear; I was bound by fear’s chains for many years, until it nearly suffocated me. Fear is our dirty little secret, yet it is the fear itself that’s more likely to kill you.
I had a fear of a lot of things, a fear of the dark, a fear of being alone, a fear of not having enough money, a fear of not knowing what to do with my life, a fear of what others thought of me, I could go on. If you had asked me, I wouldn’t have recognised it as fear, more a ‘healthy reaction’, based on facts and reality. But these were all things that I regularly mulled over, just like you have things you mull over.
There are things we consider right or wrong, things we feel more or less confident about than other things, and most people worry about health, money and/or relationships at some point, most likely in some form each and every day. From mild worries and anxieties to outright terror, it’s all a form of fear. Fear is pervasive in the human condition, and whatever our response to fear, it’s that version of you that too often takes the driving seat.
Growing up I was resilient, physically healthy, I swam competitively and my fitness levels were high. I didn’t suffer fools and thought I had a good sense of self. Yet I was too bound by fear, and I got slam dunked to shake me out of it.
I found myself one day, in my early twenties, sitting on a bus going to meet my boyfriend when suddenly my chest got tight, my heart felt like it was going to burst out of my body (not in a good way), my head felt like it was in a vice grip and I wanted to throw up. I had to get off that bus, I needed cool fresh air.
I walked on and on, for many miles, feeling better for the walking but not all me. Eventually I came to my boyfriend’s office, he had to work late; I lay down in the store cupboard, in the cool and the dark. A few hours later he was allowed to go, he took me home and I had cold sweats, and kept throwing up. I was so ill mum called the doctor in the middle of the night.
Days later, weeks later, months later, still in the grip of the same cycle, having been (mis) treated for a whole host of issues, I eventually got referred to a psychiatrist for lack of knowing what else to do with me. “Generalized anxiety with panic disorder” was the diagnosis’s, I was affronted. I was strong, capable, how dare they say I was so weak?
Yet I had reached a tipping point in my life, at 20 I had my heart broken, shattered into a million pieces, at 21 my heart was soothed for a time by a gentle soul, but ultimately this was not a relationship where I was being honoured. I was finished university and it was time to meet the world, but I had no idea how I was going to do that. I felt alone.
The me who was experiencing all these physical symptoms of (what I perceived as) weakness, did not feel at all like the person I was inside. Neither did the person who hit her boyfriend across the face at 17 feel like me either. Or the one who completely exploded at the guy running a camera shop haggling for the best price in Tenerife years later. Nor the one who too often yelled and screamed at my (take your pick of) significant others.
Losing control was not a feeling I enjoyed nor resonated with because it felt like something else was taking over. It is as Eckhart Tolle describes when he was somewhat suicidal, he suddenly had this thought “who is this me I cannot live with?”
When I had my diagnosis, I found Christine Ingham’s book on Panic Disorder and I began to understand the role of the flight or fight centre in our brains. I met, for the first time in an objective way, what Parent Educator Mary Willow calls my guard dog.
The flight or fight response is there to help us dramatically shift gears in response to a threat to our survival. Mary astutely recognises this manifests differently in different temperaments as well as different scenarios. So flight or fight may also manifest as freeze or fold (ing into oneself), as she calls it. The point is it’s a primal survival instinct.
And for most of us, it’s damn well in the driving seat. How does that happen?
Even after overcoming my panic disorder, and then – ten years later - overcoming my fear of being alone, I still had a lot of fears. As I have recounted before, my first child was pregnancy number 5. I feared losing her, and so from week 6 through about week 14 underwent a scan just to check she was still there, heart still beating.
Can you imagine the anxiety she must have felt from me as she was tucked up in my womb trying her best to grow? And the anxiety in those early months and years trying to figure our way through parenthood?
There came a point a few years ago, I distinctly remember being in a motel with the kids and hearing a bang in the middle of the night. Likely it was an engine backfiring somewhere, but my mind jumped to rabid gunman on the loose. There I was meticulously planning an escape route in my head, figuring out exactly how to wake the kids without them making a sound.
Awareness struck, awareness that I had let my imagination run away with me. Instead of fearing the thoughts, I started to play out what happens. All roads led to some sort of suffering or death if you go in that direction. Let’s not specifically go into the fear of death here, I talked about that in Saying Goodbye, but it’s a common fear.
In Fear of Suffering We Suffer From Fear
Regardless of what you fear, unless the gunman is actually a reality, or any other imminent danger, my fight or flight centre was definitely being overworked, it was in the driving seat too often.
Even with my kids, who vacillate constantly between desire and anger at desires not being instantly met, too often I meet them with my own guard dog, in anger, instead of the real me. Anger too has its roots in fear, a fear of being disrespected, a fear of our children not becoming socially accepted citizens, a fear of not being allowed to simply be who we are “just leave me alone, get out my face”.
Rewind, let’s see how we get there. I came in to the world the same way everyone else does, starting as a tiny baby. My parents had lost their first children, twin boys, so no doubt they carried similar fears to those I had carrying mine, and no doubt I felt that anxiety.
We teach babies fear. We don’t mean to, but in our own mix of anxiety and hope for them, that is what we teach. Society drives and perpetuates it. Babies must lie on their back to sleep or they could die. You must get vaccinated or you could die. You must go to school or you will not be able to contribute to society and then, not only you, but we all could die. You must eat vegetables or you will be unhealthy and then you could ultimately die. You must use protection when you are having sex or you could die. You must have insurance or you could be homeless, and then you could die. The list is endless.
And the hook is, yes, you could die, people have and – ultimately – everyone does. But if you live your life in such a fearful way, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. You attract too much suffering in your fear of suffering.
Do you know why animals sense fear? It is palpable. You are made of trillions of cells and at their basis they are energy. Energy vibrates with the prevailing emotion. The prevailing emotion in too many, too much of the time, is fear. Fear attracts what it fears.
I can’t honestly say I fear nothing, because there’s still the odd gremlin or two that works its way to the surface and I continue to deal with that. I still occasionally feel the day to day pressures of ‘being on time’, or ‘what others think’. But generally speaking, I now know I create my own reality, and I really don’t fear or worry too much about anything, I know things work out in the end.
But back to why she stays. She stays because she’s rooted in fear, what is known seems safer somehow that what is unknown. The same as why the other s(he) is violent to begin with, or why you stay in that job you hate, or stick with that diet you loathe, or with that person you don’t love, it’s all rooted in fear. Life will often present you with BIG things, like near misses, disease, death, because it knows you need dislodged to get out your comfort zone and show you that you can do it.
So you can wait for the slam dunk, or you can start to see the fear for what it is. It’s a thought. And thoughts can be changed. Beliefs are just thoughts too, and so if thoughts can be changed, beliefs can also be changed. You just need to start reaching for better feeling thoughts. It’s simple, if a thought feels bad, it is not serving you.
Simple, but not easy, but there’s plenty of help out there, you just have to reach for it. Start somewhere, I’ve written dozens of articles about it, and there are many hundreds and thousands more people out there who have shared their experiences too. You can overcome your fears, and you can lead your best life. Boot fear out the driving seat and let desire take a hold again, learn instead to love yourself, you deserve it.
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