Why Everything Scares You To Death

The other night, while I was trying to sleep, I started thinking about the post I wrote last week where I stated that hatred is driven – at its core – by a fear of death. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something fundamental. Naturally this started to make me feel a little anxious. Which then got me thinking, ‘why I am feeling so anxious? I’m just thinking.’ 

Anyway, I placed my mind on that fear and I asked, ‘what do you want me to figure out?’ Then something clicked. The penny dropped and I thought, ‘holy shit, all fear is a fear of death. That’s what you’re feeling. That’s why it’s so intense. It’s simply a trick. An illusion played by the mind to keep you, and those you love, alive.’ 

Immediately I started thinking about the implications this simplicity of thought might have. How we could use it to see through and conquer our fears. But also help those consumed by theirs. So I got up and started hashing out my argument. (No, I didn’t sleep well that night!) And well, this post was the result.

Anyway, buckle up boys and girls, because I’m about to take your mind down a rabbit hole that will blow it wide open. But first let me explain my thinking with a quick biology lesson. (I’ll try to make it fun.)

The Biology Of Fear

From a biological perspective the purpose of life is life itself. That all our emotions – the full kaleidoscope of experience – can be explained, broadly speaking, by two things. The first is survival (protecting our life and those we love.) Enter fear. The second is procreation and the raising/nurturing of offspring. Enter love. 

These two broad encompassing emotional forces drive everything. They represent the light and dark side of the force. Yin and Yang, Male and Female, Ross and Rachel, Bert and Ernie… you get the point. It’s a delicate tussle counter balancing one against the other. However we need both of them.

Now, to forget love for a second (Say what?), let’s talk amount the most important of these two emotional forces – fear (Oh no you didn’t!). 

Inside your brain are two little nuggets called your amygdalas. These naughty little nuggets are, biologically speaking, responsible for all of your emotional suffering. This is because they activate something called your fight, flight or freeze response system. And this has everything to do with your survival. (They love you really.)

Now, what happens when those naughty nuggets detect what they believe is a serious threat to your life, is they shut off access to the rational part of your brain (your frontal lobes). When this happens the only thing your brain becomes interested in is your survival. And it uses the fear of death to drive your actions. Telling you to either run for the hills (fear under flight), tread carefully (anxiety under freeze), or fight for your life (anger or hate under fight). That is what fear is, in essence. Fear is a fear of death. I say that because these responses are based on keeping you alive. 

This is why I believe fear, anxiety, anger and hate are such intense emotions. Why we have a million and one different addictions and mental illnesses in our attempts to deal with them. We are dealing with a fear of death under different guises. And that is no small thing. (Have I blown your mind yet?)

The Link To Death

One of the problems I believe we have is we don’t link our fear to death. We lack the awareness. This is partly because many of us live in denial and partly because our rational minds and ancient emotional response system aren’t of the same era (your naughty nuggets are part of the limbic system which comprises the oldest part of your brain); but mainly because the ego doesn’t want us to figure this out. It’s a deliberate illusion. After all it’s not terribly useful to psychoanalyse your fear when face to face with a sabre-toothed tiger!

But you’re not actually sacred of the tiger. No, you’re afraid of one thing and one thing alone: death. What your brain has done is attach the fear of death to that animal, thing or situation. That’s why everything scares us to death. Because we are. That’s what drives us at our core.

This is also why, in the pecking order of love and fear, fear comes first (why we have something called a negativity bias). Of course this sucks the big one, however the logic makes good sense. You must first survive before you can thrive. Before you can use your big one!

In the case of a sabre-toothed tiger the link is obvious, much like a fear of heights. However others things are much harder to link, like onomatophobia – a fear of names. (Yeah, for real Bob.). Most often they’re rooted in our unique childhood traumas as part of our attempt to win the love of our parents who weren’t forthcoming with it (which we needed for survival). Other things are less obvious on the surface but make good sense when you consider our ancestry basically roamed around as tribes for millions of years. 

For example, we understand that standing up on stage and making a public speech won’t kill us, (rationally we understand it won’t matter one iota), yet many of us are still scared to death at the thought. Why? Your surface level rationale is probably saying something along the line of, “if I mess this presentation up I’ll make a fool of myself and my coworkers will no longer respect me.” But so what? That rationale doesn’t justify the level of emotion it evokes.

Well, consider this.

Imagine you’re living as part of a tight-knit tribal community. A small group of hunter gathers where your survival depends on you getting along with everyone else. Suddenly social anxiety – fear of sticking your neck out – starts to make more sense. If you stand up and talk to the tribe and the tribe rejects you, it’s possible they’ll make you an outcast and now you really are fucked. So tread carefully (anxiety). You do not want to piss off the alpha! In today’s world, rationally, we understand the stakes aren’t so high, however your ancient emotional response system doesn’t.

This is also why we care so much what other people think. This is why we get so worked up over nothing. This is why we hold our beliefs as absolute and why we cannot stand to be challenged. (Please don’t disagree with me on this.) 

This is worth stressing.

When it comes to our emotions we are working with a Palaeolithic operating system. It’s millions of years in the making based on what the world was like for us for the vast majority of that time. It’s not well adapted to modern life. 

How To Conquer Your Fear

So now you’re thinking, “Ok Sherlock, now that you’ve made me aware that my crippling anxiety is actually a fear of death underneath, how is this suppose to help me?”

Because now you can ask yourself a couple of important questions. The first is obvious. Is your life really at risk? To use my previous example, is getting up on stage really going to end your life? No, of course not. Then are your feelings rational or irrational? We know the answer to this of course. But now we have awareness on our side. Suddenly it’s clear as day. Now you can look through it because you understand why the feeling is so intense. 

That is a good reason to show those feelings love and compassion. That is a good reason to tell yourself it’s ok. And now you can remind yourself what your higher purpose is. What your loving motives are for standing up on that stage. And suddenly that fear starts to loosen its grip. 

This allows your naughty little nuggets to calm the fuck down, which allows your frontal lobes to come back online. What you’re doing is placing your emotions back in the passenger seat of your car as opposed to the drivers seat. Which is exactly where you want them to be (except when your life really is threatened.) And so you go ahead and make most passionate speech of your life (maybe).

What you’ve done is used love for the purpose it was intended, to overcome your own fear of death. Not only that, you’ve just told yourself you conquered a fear of death, not simply a fear of public speaking, which is massive.

Now, here’s where I address the rather large Woolly Mammoth in the cave. If fear – a fear of dying – comes first in the order of our emotional makeup, then perhaps all of our emotions are related to a fear of death, including love? And if you think that’s a rather dark hypothesis to end, I would counter by saying how beautifully poetic I believe that is. 

Love was nature’s antidote to prevent our own fears from destroying ourselves. It was designed to give us the courage to overcome our fear of death to protect our offspring. To protect our tribe. To protect our larger self. In an increasingly interconnected world I believe we must use that love to cultivate and serve a higher purpose that includes all life on this planet. We must use that to overcome – quite literally- our own fear of death in order to do so. I fear if we don’t, that fear, will consume us all.


Thanks for reading everyone. So what do you think? Are our fears simply a fear of death underneath? And is love the antidote to those fears by design? Thoughts and opinions keenly anticipated. Warm regards, AP2 🙏

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You can see find more of AP2’s nonsensical world views and poor self-help advice here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

How To Make Love To Hate

“We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”

– MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

I’ve been thinking about hate recently. Not only because we’ve see so much of it this past year, but because I’ve felt some as well. Truthfully it got to a point preceding the US election where it broke me a little. 

I thought I was clear about where those feelings came from. What beliefs were driving my anger. But now that the waters have calmed, I can’t seem to shake this feeling that something else has been going on. Some deep-seated fear beneath the surface. 

So I thought I’d give the topic of hate a more thorough examination. In an attempt to understand its purpose. And from that understanding hopefully find in my heart to show it some compassion. So we can all learn how to make love to our hate.

First let me get you in the mood with some foreplay in the form of gentle stroking questions!

Foreplay

One thing that’s touted around the blogosphere as the panacea to all of our problems is universal compassion. It got me thinking (and laughing) that maybe I should write a post entitled, Why Universal Compassion Must Include Donald Trump. 

If I can get through that without reneging on the premise well, ladies and gentlemen, that would be something. Because honestly I can’t wrap my head around the idea. 

Are somethings not meant to be hated? The emotion exists for a reason right? The rational part of my brain figures it must have evolved to serve some kind of necessary function. At least, in very rare circumstances.

Let’s, for example, circle back several hundred years and place ourselves in a small rural English village with a plague-ridden wife and four malnourished children.

Now imagine a hoard of angry, horny, Vikings start pillaging the village by chopping your neighbour’s head off (you hated him anyway). 

Do you, a) abandon your family by running away, b) resign yourself to death and hold your family one last time, c) try to negotiate a civilised peace treaty (by agreeing to share your neighbour’s stuff) or, d) pick up your sword and fight?

Now let’s pretend your name is Uhtred, son of Uhtred, and that you pick up your sword. (I must watch less television.) What emotion do think would serve you best in a battle to the death?

Maybe I’ve inadvertently hit the G spot here?

When it comes to protecting yourself against someone (or something) who is attacking you, or those you love, perhaps hatred is meant to act as a last line of defence? Perhaps what drives our hate – at its deepest level – is a fear of death?

At this point my wife would tell me to slow down as she’s not quite there yet.

Anyway let’s get stuck into the main body (of this post) with some stuff I found on the internet.

Intercourse

After doing a bit of research into the relationship between hatred and death, I stumbled upon something that got me very excited (that wasn’t porn) called Terror Management Theory (or TMT).

TMT posits, “The inevitably of one’s death creates existential terror and anxiety that is always residing below the surface. In order to manage this terror, humans adopt cultural world-views — like religions, political ideologies, and national identities — that act as a buffer by instilling life with meaning and value. TMT predicts that when people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will more strongly defend those who share their world-views and national or ethnic identity, and act out more aggressively towards those who do not. Hundreds of studies have confirmed this hypothesis, and some have specifically shown that triggering thoughts of death tends to shift people towards the right.”

I feel like I might have the G spot again!

If our cultural world-views are meant to act as a buffer against our own mortality, it stands to reason that a fear of death would cause us to hold onto them more tightly does it not?

What happens then, when those beliefs are challenged? Perhaps some of us might feel like our lives have been threatened? And what if people’s actual lives are threatened by something like a pandemic? Perhaps they’ll do everything they can to ensure that their beliefs survive in case they don’t? 

(If you want to learn about how TMT can be used to explain people’s different reactions to the pandemic I highly recommend giving this study a read.)

Now imagine, if you will, a facist nation invades your country forcing you to take up arms to defend it. How do you think that might affect your feelings toward your country? I’m guessing you’d concentrate on what it is you love. What it is you’re willing to defend and die for. 

Oh hello Nationalism!

Now consider how a rise in Islamophobia often follows terrorist attacks. Or how a rise in hate crimes against the Asian community follows when the former fear monger in chief dubs COVID the “Kung Flu.” Or how you binge watch all 5 seasons of The Wire and decide you can’t trust black people.

Oh hello Racism!

Of course this is a big problem. And it’s important to stress that while hate may serve to unite a country, or tribe, against a “common enemy”, hate always loses. Because hate begets hate. As war has proven throughout history. Unless you succeed in eliminating your perceived threat, then that hatred is only going to build. What’s worse is that hate won’t be resolved by eliminating that threat if you do (which is impossible when considering an entire race of people). And then what happens? Hate looks for a new target. And if it can’t find one, it turns on itself. (Insert caracatiure of Hitler shooting himself here.) 

This is why hate always loses. Not because love always wins, but because hate ends up destroying itself. That’s something I believe Trump never understood. He cultivated just as much hatred on the other side of the fence and it came back to haunt him. That’s exactly why the answer cannot be hate in return. (And suddenly the idea of universal compassion is starting to make more sense.)

At this point my wife would tell me to get to the point. And I would tell her that the secret to great love making is patience. And then she would tell me that girth is more important the length. And then I would cry myself to sleep… 

Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, let me wrap things up. I’m nearly there!

Climax

TMT also got me thinking about another stereotype. The idea that people become increasingly “set in their ways” the older they get. It occurs to me that this might have less to do with what people believe, then an inability to come to terms with their own mortality.

Not all people face death in the same manner of course. Many are happy in death. Even when suffering many remain at peace. They’re not bitter or resentful. They’re not consumed by hate. They don’t want to hurt others. 

This all begs the following question: If all our beliefs are designed to help us cope with the elephant in the room – our own mortality – and if a fear of death causes us to cling to those beliefs more tightly, then maybe that’s exactly where we need to start in order live in peace?

Now here’s my radical theory.

If hate is driven – at its deepest darkest core – by a fear of death, I believe that coming to terms with one’s mortality might be one way to resolve those feelings.

But how do you do that?

Here are a few ideas. Meditate on your own demise. Face the idea of your death head on. Talk about it. Plan your own funeral. Treat today like it’s your last because it may well be. 

The Stoics used to employ a technique called Negative Visualisation where you imagine losing what you value the most in life in order to help eradicate that fear. The idea is that it serves to lessen the emotional impact when difficult losses actually take place. The other hidden benefit is that it helps to cultivate a greater amount of gratitude for those things or people in our lives today.

Here’s one more idea: Cultivate as much meaning in your life as you possible can. Studies show that those who feel they are living a meaningful life are, paradoxically, less afraid of death. Other studies show that those who have lower self esteem (who believe their life isn’t meaningful) are more likely to harbour feelings of resentment. That means coming to terms with past traumas as well (something I mean to explore in my next post.)

So if you want to overcome your fear of death and let go of hate, volunteer to do some charity work. (Go figure!)

Anyway, ladies and gentleman, that’s it. My answer for how to make love to hate, is to fall in love with death. Maybe if we do, we’ll realise that life is too short to live for anything but love.


Further Reading/Sources: 

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You can see find more of AP2’s nonsensical world views and poor self-help advice here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com