The predator within

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“Don’t worry…”  “It’s probably nothing…” “I’m probably just being daft but…”  How often do we hear words like these, keeping a bright smile firmly glued to immobile faces as fear strides in and starts clawing at our entrails? We recognise fear at those moments, we know its name. It is uncompromising, blatant, uncaring of our fragile mask of polite pretence. We want to act, do something… yet nine times out of ten we are shackled by circumstance, powerless to do anything at all except sit and wait, hoping, praying that the fear is groundless.

There are the fears we call worry that stalk us, like feline predators, silent and sure footed, circling ever closer while we are frozen, eyes locked on those of the beast, waiting for attrition to render us helpless, prey to our own imaginings and anticipation.

Sometimes it feels like we are being slowly gnawed, nibbled away from the ground up while we are chained in a dungeon of other fears… all our attention on the teeth that bite, not seeing that the chains we believe hold us are illusions, wisps of smoke born of unnamed terrors we refuse to look at.

Fear, in all its guises, is a dreadful thing to feel.

Of course, it has its uses. Fear was a very early part of our evolution and served to keep us alive in a hostile world. It still does… though we may not be running from a sabre-toothed tiger, we are beset by physical dangers we barely even notice, being so conditioned to care by our fears at an early age. We don’t consciously fear crossing a quiet, village road… but we still check for the truck that could squash us.

We are very conscious of the ‘big’ fears… and are acutely aware of those which are ‘lesser’, though they may not feel that way when they have you in their grip. They do not have to be reasonable to be painful and punishing. Anyone who saw Jaws when it first came out will probably have thought twice about sea bathing regardless of the fact that the chances of being a victim of a shark attack are one in 11.5 million, whereas one in ten thousand will die of flu, which we regard as a misery rather than a danger.

Fear can be useful in keeping us alive. It is, after all, what evolution designed it to do…protect us from danger. With our complicated lives, however, those primal fears have mutated and gone underground, taking us by stealth like an assassin in the darkness of our minds and emotions; silent, deadly and with little warning or chance of escape. We are conditioned by our own inner ninja.

These fears are more insidious, very difficult to pin down and understand; elusive shape-shifters that are so good at changing their outward appearance that they can be as difficult to see as the wind… we see them only by their effects, when they ruffle our branches or slam our doors. They clothe themselves in other guises, pretending to be things they are not… a fear of flying that is more likely the fear of crashing, a fear of dentists that may be the dread of pain, helpless at the hands of another… and they are just the simple ones.

What of the fear of death? Do we fear death itself… or what might come after? Is it the fear of hellfire, or the loss of our own identity… the ‘who will I be if I am not I’? The fear of commitment that may be the fear of losing control… or of being left alone again. The loss of status, things acquired that show who and what we are… yet mask the true fear that we are not. The layers of fear are so intertwined with our individual experience that they may be impossible for another to unravel completely, triggered as they are by unique combinations of events and experiences. Rather like making a cake. The same basic ingredients, varied infinitely by proportion, skill and the inclusion of flavourings.

It is said there are only five basic fears: extinction, loss of autonomy, separation, mutilation and ego-death… and that all can be attributed to one or the other, or a combination of these. When you think about it, in spite of our seeming multitude of fears, they all fit within these frames. The thing is, we seldom do really think about our fears, we react to them, allowing them to lead us blindly, often preferring to accept the apparent fear than to look beyond to the true root cause. In their purely physical terms they are easily understood, justifiable in the evolutionary attempt to secure survival. Yet they are far more insidious at the emotional levels.

Extinction… worse than just dying; ceasing to be. It is, from the level of our consciousness, unthinkable. Autonomy… powerlessness… to be restricted, subject to the will of a force beyond our control. Separation… utter aloneness, abandonment, exclusion… no longer a person. Mutilation… the loss of self-image through physical, emotional or social damage. Ego death… shame, dissolution of the image we build for  and of ourselves… leaving us unfit, unworthy, unloved. These fears, unrecognised, unseen, affect almost every corner of our lives, shaping our actions and interactions.

When you look at them from this angle, all the emotional fears lead back to one thing… the way we see ourselves. Yet, just as the fear that makes us run from a predator can save our lives, or pain alert us to a potential problem that needs to be addressed, so can these quiet, insidious fears be used to show a way forward. Our fears may stop us falling off a cliff top, but they may also hold us back when adventure beckons. Every good sword has two edges.

Our fears give us something to learn from. They are signposts that we can read, following their trail and finding their lair. As with many things the fear itself may be far more intimidating than the cause, bigger in appearance than in actuality. A mouse wearing giant boots and leaving a false trail.  Finding the mouse can be the beginning of an adventure, a voyage of discovery. Unravelling the tangled web we may face our fears, one by one, measuring ourselves against mouse or monster, and finally learning to see who we really are… and who we might become.

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29 thoughts on “The predator within

  1. I have been thinking a lot about bullying and putting together some words about it. When we are tiny children or toddlers, if we are bullied by parents or others, we develop a victim personality. Somehow that shows up like a red light that attracts others through life, so see us the same way and take advantage of us even if we are not aware of what we have accepted about ourselves. It begins to spread into every area of our lives: schools, neighbors, workplaces, relationships, and even as seniors in the way we perceive that others are treating us. And so often, we either stay victims throughout our lives in the ways we perceive ourselves and how we react with our egos, or ultimately we get tired of playing the game, and then we may turn into a sort of egotistical bullies ourselves, trying to use weapons like education, the laws, or other double-edged weapons. I remember the seductress, and how she had this sensuous nature, and yet, she was clearly a hard-core warrior, who would repeatedly fight the “enemy” and win because she had taken over a different side of her persona, empowered by a lifetime of experience of her other element.

    Perhaps this is one of the most difficult aspects of changing who we are or who we become through a lifetime. It is not an excuse for who we become, but we can easily see both sides of the picture and recognize the choices we make along the way. Can we make different choices while we are still young? Can we fight back when we are dependent on adults to take care of us? I have been reading the second book in the story of the worst child abuse case ever recorded in the history of California, though there definitely have been others that came close to this. But this young boy, Dave Pelzer, had the most remarkable will to live, and he grew up and got married ultimately, and has his own family that he treasures. He is a teacher, author, and motivational speaker for foster and other children and adults who have been abused (and there are so many of them today. So there is hope for whatever any of us have been through. I know we all have our own stories, and we have to remember that it just what they are. Thank you one and all for always writing such useful and excellent posts. You are appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. And I agree that we CAN overcome some or most of the circumstances and choose who we will be as adults. I guess in one stage of life, I tried to fight others who had been the bullies, and those who were showing the ugly sides of themselves to the world around me. You are right about choosing something different. I stopped fighting and tried to see things in a different way, but today what I am seeing is that my generation (and not just me at all) is still suffering (not from being bullied per se), but having their roles and values in our society drastically challenged to having so little of that now. I often wonder if it is just the way I am seeing things, or are these things really true, and if they are, how can I sit back and do nothing? This is a very painful time in life, trying to do what is right and good, and perhaps can in some small ways, help society to change its lack of respect for those we treasured in my lifetime and in ancient times as well. Thank you so much, Sue.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. So wise and well-written, Sue. Thank you. I learnt a lot through my own experiences in my late fifties and I’m a more empathic person because of it, so take heart anyone going through a clinical depression. It too can pass…. Take care. x


    1. Depression touches more of us than we might realise… and it often goes unhelped when there is an obvious cause. It is a dreadful thing to experience, but like all dark passages in life, it can indeed make us more empathic and open to the needs, difficulties and emotions of others. x


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