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No. 26 – Where Do Anxieties Come From?

May 4, 2011

Anxieties are behind most breakdowns in communication, even those communications that are intended to be helpful. Anxieties in communications come from perceptions of threat, which are beyond our awareness and lead to automatic reactions, often in anger. To identify the source of the anxiety-threat-reaction, usually requires the assistance of a third party who is knowledgeable and skilled in the dynamics of risk communication.

Anxiety is a Form of Fear

Most people are reluctant to admit that they are afraid, or that they have any specific fears. It is unusual for people to be aware of the intensity or even the diversity of their fears. Fear has many faces. Fears are often by-products of childhood traumas, long forgotten, but still present and influencing our behavior today.

Fears are Accompanied by Images

Anxieties are often vague and diffuse and may only be recognized by a general uneasy feeling. However, specific fears, triggered by a perception of threat, are always associated with a specific image in mind. The image may be quite vivid or it may be faded from the passage of time. Usually, we are not even aware that a particular image is “playing” on the screen of our mind. The images come so quickly and so “automatically” that they seem normal. Because our images and automatic reactions seem so natural, we assume everyone would react in the same way. 

We Cannot Identify Our Own Fears

Since our automatic reactions to fears are such a normal part of our behavior and reinforced by a lifetime of experience, we cannot get outside of that normal pattern without some assistance. An expert in communications and counseling can help you track back through the events of your life to help you identify fears and the images that evoke those fears.

The process was illustrated in Insight No. 24 when students were asked, “When you see a truck with a radiation sign why would you decide to stop or go by quickly?” The answers include a scenario of the truck turning over, contamination, exposure, cancer, and a horrible death. One student said that the radiation would cause him to melt. Fears behind those images probably include a fear of dying, or a fear of being out of control. Reactions, especially angry reactions, are always stimulated by perceptions of threat and the triggered images and fears.

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