A Book for the Seriously Stressed by Geoff Thompson
Welcome to A Book For the Seriously Stressed (so called because people kept asking me. ‘So what’s the new book about then Geoff?’ and I kept replying. ‘It’s a book for the seriously stressed’). My sole intention with this book is to offer solace to those of you out there who may be suffering the consequences of fear and stress. It is not a motivational book – though it does motivate in places – neither is it meant to be.
Rather it is a book for the seriously stressed. I hope to offer solace in big chunks by explaining the mechanics of fear and why the feeling of wanting to run away from confrontational moments in life is both expected and natural. We all feel fear: it’s how we deal with it that determines where our lives might lead. My intention is to put a name to some of the problems our species face, because to name something gives us a certain amount of power over it.
Most people misread, and therefore mismanage, fear. Subsequently, they live a metaphoric prison existence in a comfort cell under the wardenship of ignorance and surrounded by bars of fear.
Man was not fashioned to kill man and yet we are living in a world where war. our greatest expression of violence, is not only frequent but also seen as normal. Recent surveys carried out on human warfare have demonstrated not only man’s antipathy toward self-destruction but also his predilection to run from conflict as opposed to standing and fighting.
It is evident that when our survival is threatened or we feel that it is. our impulse to turn and run is far stronger than it is to stand and fight. So much so that if the flight option is negated, the greater majority of us would rather risk death than kill another of the same species. Either obliviously or deliberately, we become conscientious objectors at the point of pulling the trigger. The survey intimated that the greater majority of soldiers fired their bullets into the ground, high into the air or they did not shoot at all.
This is what I call the Minority Rule; the minority of soldiers in major human conflicts are responsible for the majority of the killings. In the Second World War for instance, it was reported that only 15-20 per cent of combat infantry were willing to fire their rifles.
I’m sure we all agree that an aversion to killing and the urge to escape threat is desirable and essential to our survival, but the Minority Rule does have some major shortfalls in contemporary society. Problems start to arise when our socially under-evolved mid-brain (the part of the brain that deals with fight or flight) fails to distinguish between real threat and that which is imagined. The mid-brain perceives all threat as physical and therefore, in most confrontational situations (real or imagined), we are apt to freeze or feel the natural urge to run away. To our survival mechanism every stressor is a war. often in microcosm, but a war nevertheless.
And the majority of us. when faced with conflict of any kind, are likely to become conscientious objectors at the onset of fear. What this important fact tells us is that the majority of people do not want to. and most often will not. enter into what they perceive as a threatening conflict.
I believe our natural instinct to withdraw is stronger than any other emotion we might experience; certainly it is stronger than the willpower of the greater majority. And it is only a concrete and well-disciplined will that might allow us to override our instincts when flight is neither an answer or an option. Our ignorance in matters relating to fear is also, in my view, responsible for the majority of world conflict. If we knew more about ourselves – and therefore our fellow man – we would have less reason to fear him and more reason to love and forgive him.
This would encourage a greater propensity toward leniency and compassion in affairs that might need a change of dynamics rather than a charge of dynamite. As it is. we seem prepared to fight over just about any issue that is sponsored by ignorance and fear. We constantly fight over boundaries, whether they are ideological (personal beliefs), environmental (the environment), psychological (ego), theological (religious) or geographical (land). I’m ashamed to say that we even kill in the name of The Deity that said we should forgive not 7 times but 47 times 7.
We also have a paradox at play in this capricious era. If we listen to our oldest instincts and flee from potential danger we feel, or are often made to feel, like cowards and shunned by our peers. However, if we should find ourselves cornered and engage in a physical fight we become criminals and thugs and are incarcerated. It seems hypocrisy in our society knows no bounds.
The instinct to run as opposed to fight, as stated earlier, is deeply gene-embedded and dates back to mammalian ancestry. Our impulses in that dangerous era were sharply honed to survival at any cost; this usually meant fleeing from wild, threatening animals that were too big or dangerous to stand up to and fight.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending upon your viewpoint, these instincts are still with us. though they have not evolved to meet the contemporary stressor. The midbrain cannot discern between the sabre-toothed tiger and any of its modern day equivalents: marital disputes, talking in public, business deadlines, confrontation with the boss, exams, personal challenges or traffic jams.
Running or fighting for your life is all well and good but what if that stressor is imagined, symbolic or vague and there is nothing to run away from or fight? We spend our entire lives fleeing from metaphoric tigers or fighting projectional duels on displaced battlefields. Alternatively, we might find ourselves frozen by an ill-defined stressor that dulls the aptitude with confusion, tension, anxiety, withdrawal and inactivity.
In short, many people fail to live their dreams because of fear; every stressor becomes a physical threat that our chemical and electrical messengers heed us to flee from. This equates to non-achievement and a non-productive existence. The ambiguous fear signals create a prison for our entrepreneurial selves and stop us from evolving.
The contemporary stressor cannot be fought or escaped on a physical plain. The challenge therefore must be met by other means. We need a better understanding of the unconscious workings of the human body. We must nurture the development of will. And we should employ coping mechanisms to help us avoid, escape or manage the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of fear. Only then will inappropriate and antiquated instinct effectively evolve.
Over the next couple of generations we have to help our survival instincts in this quest so that we might realise our full potential as a species, grow in consciousness and metamorphose into more spiritual beings. This might sound ideological, it might even sound corny, but I believe that we can be so much more than we are right now. Life is so (potentially) exciting, there is so much that we can be. do and enjoy but we are blocked by our own fears. In many ways our greatest underlying fear is our own potential, deep down we know that we are princes but the very thought frightens us into staying paupers.
We need to grow in consciousness, and therefore in spirituality, we need more knowledge and this cannot be achieved whilst our fear impedes us. By overcoming our own fears we can release and realise our greatest potential.