Understanding the Fear Cycle

Wheel of Fear

I am fortunate to have a great set of friends online and they are part of my personal support network. Part of building relationships is sharing the tough times as well as the successes. This is true whether you are a Fortune 500 CEO explaining recent layoffs or a small shop owner sharing news about a great new employee. For that reason, I’m sharing my recent experiences and some of the tools I’ve used along the way.

I recently made a huge career choice. Before making the decision, it took some time for me to separate what was fear from what was instinct. One of the tools that I used to help me clarify things was Rhonda Britten’s book “Fearless Living.”

The Wheel of Fear

In Fearless Living, Britten describes how we all have a Wheel of Fear. The Wheel of Fear is our fear cycle, the pattern that we follow whenever fear is triggered. These are the elements of the Wheel of Fear:

Wheel of Fear

    1. Trigger– Fear is triggered by an event, a recollection, or by the environment. My recent trigger was finding out that my position was being terminated due to a reduction in forces.Other triggers might be receiving any kind of news (finding an unaccounted for lump, hearing an ex is getting married, finding out that your child is getting bad grades), remembering something unpleasant, or having a negative thought about the future.
    2. Fear Response – When I also heard that I had the option to move to Denver for a different position with the same company, my initial response was to jump at the opportunity. It would mean packing up and moving, being a thousand miles from most of my family, and probably leaving behind my dog Ivory (@niceblog). My fear response was to accept the new job right away.

Other fear responses could be to panic, start blaming or ridiculing, compulsively buying something, drinking too much, cheating or many others.

    1. Negative Feeling– After a few days of scrambling around to piece together a move plan, I realized that I would have to abandon a lot of people and things. During those days my bright smile turned into sadness, despair, and pain. I felt as if I was about to abandon myself. I felt powerless.Other negative feelings could include feeling foolish, helpless, unlovable, feeling like a failure and more. (Britten, p.50)
    2. Self-Destructive Behavior – My self-destructive behaviors were to shut down then to scramble and start looking for immediate opportunities, any position. I was overwhelmed.

Other self-destructive behaviors could be drinking, being promiscuous, eating unhealthy, whining, procrastinating, comparing yourself to others, and many more. (p54)

Hacking the Fear Cycle

The main driver of the Wheel of Fear is one’s perception of the triggering event.

When I heard I was being laid off, I felt stupid, rejected, and incompetent. I didn’t think these things consciously, but I reacted based on those feelings. In order to avoid those feelings, I felt I needed to continue working, no matter what.

Fearless Living helped me understand that these underlying feelings are extremely powerful and they cascade throughout our lives. Our fear is triggered and we jump on the Wheel of Fear. Once we’re on the Wheel of Fear, we experience the symptoms of fear which may be feeling exhausted, self-righteous, misunderstood, paranoid, paralyzed, or out of control or more. (p. 58-60)

Seeing these behaviors and patterns as symptoms instead of seeing them as the cause is a very powerful concept. Before, I thought “If I can just get control of my life, I can make things work.” But what I didn’t see was that the core feelings were driving things, not the symptoms. I was procrastinating, missing phone calls, and blowing off opportunities that were right in front of me.

What I needed was to identify my core negative feelings, how they are triggered, and to find an alternative way of perceiving the situation. In order to do that, I had to have a sense of who I was, my essential nature. I’ll discuss that process in a future post.

Do you recognize your reactions and behaviors in any of these examples? Does the concept of the Wheel of Fear resonate with you?

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