JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS - July 2019
Do You Choose Fear or Peace?
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
An ancient teaching of unknown origin tells us of a young boy listening to his grandfather teaching him about two warring wolves that live inside of us. One is filled with anger, hatred, greed, arrogance, fear and other destructive thoughts and feelings. The other is filled with peace, joy, love, humility, empathy, and other constructive thoughts and feelings. The child asks, “Which one will win?” The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”
The most primal of these emotions is fear. We are wired to detect danger or a perceived threat. Fear activates our fight-or-flight response by stimulating the hypothalamus, which directs the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system to prepare our bodies for danger. This can happen suddenly or as a slow drip of anxiety that becomes a dread. Though many of the dangers in our environment no longer exist, new ones have appeared to frighten us.
We also live in a time in which information is widely disseminated around the world. The source of this data, delivered by different forms of electronic media in varying forms, has embodied the message of fear. This can activate our primal fear response. At this point we have a choice. Which wolf do we feed? Do we feed the thinking/feeling process that engages with fear that may disable us, or redirect the brain circuitry in a direction of peace, calm, and conscious action?
Much of what activates us into the fear pathway is not an actual threat. According to researcher Ted Able, sixty percent of what we fear never occurs, twenty percent is about the past, ten percent is about petty things, which make little difference, and only four to five percent of the last ten percent are actual threats. Mark Twain said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”
The first course of action is to pause, take deep, diaphragmatic breaths, and begin to assess the situation more clearly. When people express fear about something, I have found that it is often based on little information or distorted information from questionable sources, brief experiences or the related experiences of others, and is often out of the context of the whole picture. When we pause and breathe, we change our brain chemistry by sending it endorphins and feel-good hormones. This helps us change the cortisol and fear hormones that may be propelling us to fear, anger, or aggression.
In a situation like a car accident, the adrenalin is necessary to push us to immediate action. In so many other possible situations, a slower response will help us re-imagine the fearful specter into a manageable experience. People who have experienced great trauma, illness, loss, or other forms of suffering often relate their story of finding peace, love, and meaning. Think of Viktor Frankl in the concentration camp re-imagining his future in a more hopeful way. He spent his lifetime helping people establish hope and meaning instead of fear.
Sometimes it helps to ask the question, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” As we explore each succeeding possibility, we often realize that we could deal with it. Fear and anxiety have a way of making things look much bigger and scarier than they are in reality.
Maurice Sendak, in Where the Wild Things Are, shows Max confronting the scary wild creatures by looking at them directly in their eyes and saying, “Be still!” And they made him the king of the wild things. This metaphor gives us a delightful way to think about facing our fears. As children or adults we face ‘wild things’ that frighten us. Taking charge of a situation in a calm manner creates positive results. When Gayle King was interviewing R. Kelly, he began pacing and ranting in a very menacing manner. Gayle calmly kept repeating, “Robert, sit down” in a very firm tone. He did sit down and continue the interview.
Sometimes, we have to ‘fake it ‘til we make it’ by doing what we don’t feel like. It often works. Even a fake smile or laugh changes our brain chemistry. Saying something we don’t believe, or acting in a way that does not match our fear, changes our brain and changes the situation in a positive direction.
It is our decision to feed the wolf that creates peace, harmony, and joy or the one that produces fear, hatred, or anger. It is the choice that makes the difference.
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The “Love Map” questionnaires
are found in his book, and in a fifty-two question deck. These products and others can be found on his website: www.gottman.com.
Here are some examples of questions for the couple to answer with a true or false:
I can name my partner’s best friends.
I can tell you some of my partner’s life dreams.
I can tell you the most stressful thing that happened to my partner as a child.
Periodically, I ask my partner about his or her world right now.
In another questionnaire he plays “20 questions.”
Name my two closest friends.
Describe in detail what I did today, or yesterday.
What is my favorite flower?
What is one of my greatest fears or disaster scenarios?
What turns me on sexually?
What is my favorite meal?
Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor, educator and author. For counseling appointments, seminars, training, speaking engagements or information on Neurobehavioral Programs or Imago Couple therapy call 913-322-5622. For more information about Jude LaClaire or the Kansas City Holistic Centre go to