“Fear seems to have many causes. Fear of loss. Fear of failure, fear of being hurt (physical death) and so on, but ultimately all fear is the ego’s fear of death, of annihilation. To the ego, death is always just around the corner. In the mind-identified state, fear of death affects every aspect of your life.” – Eckhart Tolle
When one lives in a constant low-level state of anxiety with the underlying fear of “death” or annihilation of the ego, experiencing an actual loss can be absolutely debilitating. When what we have always dreaded presents itself to us in the clear light of day, we may, ourselves, become the very fear that has threatened our existence. This quite possibly can be traced back to our very first experience with “death” or “loss”, the very moment we realize that all can be lost, in the blink of an eye, the very moment we realize our own mortality and the complete impermanence of life. If your loss was sudden, unexpected and/or violent in nature, it may trigger a fear response in you for a period of time, particularly if the loss was in close proximity to you (next of kin family member) or spatially (you witness someone die right in front of you on a job site, in combat, or in a car accident on the street).
Fear has served us well, for thousands of years, as the evolutionary component which literally kept the human species alive. Fear has allowed the human race to survive, it turns on the sympathetic nervous system and throws us violently into fight or flight or freeze. Fear has given us strength, power, speed, agility, and endurance to fight/flight our “enemy”. Fear serves a purpose in the light of true physical danger, such as having to run from a tiger. However, fear caused by loss has no place, and serves no purpose, in our lives. For the Grieving Mind, fear can range from crippling, in the form of social isolation to highly destructive, in the way that some people might destroy relationships after a loss out of fear of losing yet another loved one.
When we become our fear, we set out on a path of destruction which leaves nothing in its wake. When we become out fear, we revert to our lowest self, to the animal within us who falsely believes “kill or be killed”. In modern society, this doesn’t out picture as it would have in paleolithic times, but rather more in the realm of self-sabotage and self-destructive behaviors for some. Fear destroys and ultimately it is us that is destroyed, our true self, our highest self, who we truly are: loving, compassionate, kind, human beings.
The time for fear has passed. Fear has no place after a loss has occurred. Fear keeps us stuck, it destroys and diminishes us, denying us the divine right to our true, happy, highest “self”. When we are in the grips of fear, we cannot see a way out, as anything and everything has the potential to trigger our sympathetic nervous system and send us spiraling down into anxiety or a full-blown panic attack. Fear and the corresponding anxiety and panic attacks which sometimes follow may wreak havoc in your life, causing problems in your interpersonal relationships, your work life, and home life. You may have a short fuse, be forgetful, paranoid, have high blood pressure, insomnia, and be experiencing a general restlessness wherein you cannot stay in one place for very long. This is the very definition of the flight pattern in the fight/flight dynamic generated by the sympathetic nervous system for survival. In the time of The Grieving Mind, during fear and loss, you may need to seek outside help via a psychotherapist, pharmaceuticals, or a combination of different therapeutic modalities to reset your nervous system back to its baseline state and out of fight or flight.
If fear over your loss has created a significant debilitating effect on the way I which you once lived your life, you need to seek help immediately. The long-term effects of fear and the constant state of fight/flight have long-lasting effects on the Central Nervous System, the Endocrine System, and the Adrenal System, and the Cardiovascular System.
Here is a list of some of the long-term potential physical effects of living in a constant state of fight/flight:
- Increased resting heart rate
- High Blood Pressure
- Adrenal Dumping
- Decreased production of estrogen
- Increased output of testosterone
- Hormone Imbalance
- Gastro-intestinal disorders
- Inability to process new information correctly
- Reduced ability to access the frontal lobe (responsible for short-term memory)
- Increased genetic expression of chronic illness/disease based on genetic vulnerability
So, amid a heavy loss, how exactly is it that we may spiral down into fear and hopelessness, how does this happen?
First, there is the reality that we literally feel our own mortality when we witness someone pass before our very eyes. The mind tells us, “That could have been me, if I were standing 2 feet to the right, I’d be dead right now” or “Had I actually went home and took my usual route, I’d be in that 20-car pileup and could be dead now.” The truth that life is so fleeting literally smacks us right in the psyche. It is an awareness we all have, yet when we see it in such close proximity to our own life, it strikes a more primal chord within us.
Second, when we experience a sudden death of such a nature, we may go into questioning our very existence: “What am I doing all this for if I’m just going to die at the end of it?”, or “None of this matters if I can perish at any given moment” Here, right here in your psyche, you are at choice. You may choose to believe that nothing matters given the fragility of life and may choose to go on, remaining unconscious to the vast possibilities inside you and that’s okay. You may, however, awaken to the reality that all we do have is this very moment, and you may begin, moment by moment, day by day, to relish in the vast beauty of possibilities in the NOW, in the present.
Third, “death is really a re-identification of the self. Death, in any form: the death of a relationship, death of the physical body, loss of a job that you were highly identified with, etc. Ergo, we fear the re-identification of the self because either we don’t know how, or nobody told us who we really are to begin with, and if they tried, they were either marginalized or killed” – Neale Donald Walsch. This is the most fitting answer for many. In the context of a significant loss, we may not realize how strongly we identified ourselves in relation to the person/place/thing/opportunity that was lost. You can hear this in how people describe themselves when first meeting them “I am a mother of three fun, happy children”, or “I’m a lawyer” or “We own a house on the lake surrounded by huge evergreens”. It is specifically when one feels so lost that they were once heavily identified by the person, place, thing, or opportunity that is no longer present in their lives for whatever reason.
Who are you when these things fall away; when the children move out to go to college or when you are literally sick from working eighty-hour work weeks and now need to shift your career to save your own life? Who are you after a raging fire burns you beloved custom home to the ground that you spent years designing and creating? Big change requires real effort on your part to re-identify who you are after a major loss or life transition. If you feel completely “lost” after your loss, it is likely because you had adapted your entire way of being in that “role” you once played in your life. You don’t know what to do because you don’t have to play that role anymore.
What now?? How will you spend your time? What’s important to you about life, your relationships, how you earn a living, how you enjoy relationships of any nature? WHERE and HOW exactly are you going to “place” that love you once had for the lost “loved one”? In our work with our clients, we guide them through a process called a Values Elicitation which helps them get completely clear on what their values are now, after their loss, as they almost always change. Following this exercise, we use these new values to help facilitate the client recreating who they are now after their loss is complete. For more information about this process, reach out today.