• Dr. Michael Johnson

    Psychologist, Specialist in Problematic Sexual Behavior

  • Dr. Michael Johnson

    Specializing in Sex Addiction Treatment in Austin, TX

Fear is a Bugger

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Fear is a bugger. It buggers your brain. It buggers your thinking and your feeling and your choosing. In the long run, fear buggers your life. When fear happens your brain gets hijacked by the ancient survival driver. The survival driver asks only one question. "What can I do right now that will make me feel safe." When the survival driver gets an answer to that question, he acts and you are buggered. So the question becomes, "how do you debugger your brain?'

You may remember Abraham Maslow from your psychology 101 class a million years ago. Maslow thought that the needs of humans are organized in hierarchical fashion. We rise through this hierarchy like climbing a ladder. We move up the ladder one rung at a time. You can't skip rungs. Maslow thought the most basic needs were those that linked directly to physiological processes. Those needs include air, water, food, and sleep. If you don't get those things you will die (or at least be very cranky in the case of sleep). For most of us, most of the time, basic, physiological needs are met. This is not a problem and so it does not bugger your brain.

The next rung on the ladder is safety. We need to feel safe. People will work really hard to feel safe. Like physiological needs, most of us don't live lives where our actual safety is very often threatened. But many of us spend a lot of time feeling unsafe - afraid - even when we are safe. This is the part where we get buggered.

Children are born able to feel safe. But certain things have to happen to bring that ability to flower. The child must learn that bad things don't happen very often and when they do that their parents will know how to make things right and keep them safe. That learning is about trust. The child especially must learn that their parents don't make bad things happen. Things like pain, fear, shame, hurt, hunger, cold, and so forth. If the child learns those things then the fear part of the brain remains normal sized and the brain does not get buggered. But if a child doesn't learn that they are safe, then the fear part of the brain gets super-sized. Incidentally, if bad things happen anytime in life, the fear part of the brain may get super-sized and the brain may thereby get buggered.

If the fear part of the brain gets super-sized, it generates persistent fear warnings. That fear gets to feel normal. Many of the people I work with tell me that they have never felt safe. That is how it feels if your brain is buggered. You are always afraid. I wish you could just turn off the part of your brain that keeps telling you that you are in danger. You can't. Nor can proving to yourself that you are safe by having enough money, enough friends, enough sex, enough anything turn off the fear buggered part of your brain.

The fear part of the brain keeps asking the same question and acting the same way. It keeps protecting you against the threat that is not really there. Protection is exactly the right thing to do where there is real danger. You were built to do that and most of us do that just fine. But when we protect ourselves because the buggered brain alarm is going on constantly, we make lots of mistakes. We stay safe but we never learn to trust because we never feel safe. Protecting yourself from the outside will never let you feel safe on the inside. Protection does not work to allow the feeling of safety to emerge because protection is predicated on fear. Protection requires fear. Only by experiencing fear and the reality that we are safe despite the fear, can we come to trust ourselves finally.

The guy who is driving the fear brain is very efficient, but he is not very smart. He does not think beyond the moment. Remember that he was there when you were born and he is no older than that now. He will use whatever is available to gain a feeling of safety. That is why our buggered brains are confused. He will use sex, or booze, or hiding, or pretending something isn't happening, or lying to appease or escape, or running away, or beating up, or crying, or yelling, or pouting, and a whole bunch of other stuff to create the feeling of safety. He will try to get you to "fall in love" or join a bunch of people or make a lot of money or become a religious fanatic or a thousand other things to get to that sense of safety. But, it never works. It never works because it is protection and protection requires fear and fear buggers your brain.

Only the truth will heal the fear buggered brain. There are two truths really. The truth about what is really going on outside you in the world and the truth about who you are inside. The truth about what is going on outside is that you are safe. Sure there are real threats in the world, but they are few and far between. When your fear buggered brain heals enough to dial down the fear alarm you will still be able to detect real threats and act protectively. You will be better prepared actually because you will no longer be responding to the persistent false alarms. The truth about who you are inside is that you are enough. You can think and act and love and create and connect and live. Even if really bad things did happen you would be just fine. It takes time and work to get those two truths straight. It takes time to unbugger your brain enough to allow you to live in reality. Sometimes I think this is why Jesus and the Buddha and other transcendent folks discouraged materialism. It is hard to know and feel the truth when you are protected by stuff.

One of the problems in unbuggering your fear brain is that it likes to get dressed up in costumes. Sometimes fear gets dressed up like anger. Sometimes it dresses up like arrogance. Sometimes it likes to look self-righteous. Sometimes it gets dressed up in hyperactive obsessive rationality. Sometimes it gets dressed up in dependent depression. Sometimes it dresses up like a very nice and compliant boy or girl. "Yes of course mummy, I would love to scrub the toilets with my bear hands." "Yes of course Daddy, I will hug you and tell you I love you just after you have walloped my bear five year old bottom with a razor strap." Fear has trouble feeling proud of itself and so it wears disguises. Fear is afraid that if it shows up without a costume, bad things will happen. Fear has learned to protect itself by looking like something else.

So how can you unbugger your brain? The steps are simple but not easy and they take time. First, you have to get the intellectual idea that your brain has been buggered and so you are probably not dealing with reality. Next you need to learn to recognize your own fear. That is easy when the fear is naked. It is more difficult when you have to undress the fear first. That is why people usually get into recovery after hitting bottom. Hitting bottom undresses your fear automatically and you can see pretty clearly how buggered your mind is. Later, as you grow in recovery, your fear will probably be disguised again. A good rule is to recognize that most strong feelings like anger, sadness, guilt, and shame, have fear at their root. When you notice you are feeling those things, ask yourself what you are afraid of. When you affirm the reality that there is little real danger and the reality that you have what it takes to deal with your difficulties, you have taken a step. You have to take this step many thousands of times before you begin to notice the progress. But in time you will notice that you can feel your naked fear, use your intelligence to unbugger your brain, solve your problems in healthy and productive ways, and move forward in your life. That is how you unbugger your fear brain. It is an important thread in the fabric of recovery.





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