Overwhelmed by Possibilities: Structure behind Fear

As the possibilities increase for why what's happening actually is, so too do ideas about what will happen as a consequence. Without being able to narrow things down, we can become overwhelmed by trying to handle all possible outcomes

As the possibilities increase for why what’s happening actually is, so too can ideas about what will happen as a consequence. Without being able to narrow things down, we can become overwhelmed by trying to handle all possible outcomes

Sometimes, in trying to prepare for the future, we may find ourselves contending with a large number of possible outcomes. Some of these may be easy to handle, but others might seem like an incredible challenge. And, while we might be up for such challenges, it can be impractical, sometimes, to try and prepare ourselves for all the many outcomes we might feel ourselves anticipating. Reality can end up feeling like it could go many different ways. What, then, do we prepare ourselves to face?

One of the things that can be important to remember in moments of overwhelm, is that there may be many explanations for why things are as they are right now, but that some, or many, of those explanations may be false. After all, say someone is late to a dinner party. It could be that they were late because they don’t like the host. Or, maybe they got caught in traffic. Or, maybe they had an accident. But, without access to more information, the people at the party don’t what’s actually happening, and thus, how best to respond. They could end up thinking its one thing, then recognize the reality of another, then be caught between every imagined possibility, and become frozen, overwhelmed, and unable to act. However, if they knew this – there is always the response of trying to gather more information. And if they had more information, they might be able to handle the situation much more effectively.

The importance of information and learning

One of the important things about information is that it helps us to narrow down the possibilities. Instead of wondering what is actually going on, we then know it, and can respond to it more directly.

Imagine you see a person in distress and you want to help them. Without information as to why they are in distress, how would you know what to do? If you tried too many things, you might do more harm than good. But let’s say you talked to them and they were able to tell you that they were hungry – yes, it might still be a bit of a task for you to help them, but at least you’d be able to form an effective plan for action: to get food. You won’t have to spend time wondering, urgently trying to figure out the situation before something happened to this person, if in fact they were in danger, which is something else you might not know.

The above example also shines some light on how possibilities can lead to anxiety – when a situation is such that it might be urgent, you may find yourself scrambling to either address it or to find out enough so that you know whether or not it is urgent.

That said, here are a few of the ways we can gather information in life and help ourselves narrow the possibilities:

  • testing, trial-and-error, or experimentation
  • continuing our experiences
  • beliefs (more on this later)
  • and, in general, learning

On Beliefs

One of the ways we can reduce our sense of overwhelm in life, and to try and narrow for ourselves the possible explanations for reality and our experience, is to try and hold beliefs. That is to say, we can claim something is true without actually knowing whether or not it’s true – beliefs don’t have to involve learning. In a way, beliefs protect us from feeling overwhelmed – but at the same time, it may limit our openness to learn and to be curious about what the truth behind our experiences actually is. And it may inhibit us from being able to make more informed choices in life.

Sometimes, then, questioning the things we thought were true – our beliefs – can be a distressing process. If what we thought was true might not be, then what else might be true? How might it change our lives? How do we actually figure it out at all? What if we continually fail to figure it out? What if it’s something we can’t necessarily figure out? How do we conduct our lives? What choices do we make? How do we move forward? – These kinds of questions could come up if a belief is questioned, and it may be difficult to deal with the even just the uncertainty of those questions, never mind how difficult it might be to find the answers.

But, over time, through questioning and opening ourselves up to the process of looking for the truth, we may find ourselves not only getting a better understanding of life, but also being able to make better choices, and perhaps solve problems that we may have been stuck on before, because we’re freeing up room in ourselves to look for the truth of how to resolve the problems in our lives. Possibilities, in that sense, can not just be overwhelming, but also empowering, because in exploring the possibilities, we may also find the truth. We can narrow down the possibilities, and reduce our overwhelm without having to lean on beliefs.

Conclusions

Despite trying to find out the possibilities in life, we may never fully eliminate certain ones. The nature of something in our lives may indeed be something we write off at an earlier point, thinking we learned that it wasn’t true. But by testing things against experience and remaining open to the challenge that comes when multiple explanations and possibilities emerge, we can still refine our sense of what is true. And while we may not always be able to say what the truth for sure is in every aspect, we can still gain a better and better sense of what is strongly probable, or of how things seem to be. And this can help us with things like the practical matter of what choices we will make, and to be a little more at ease with that process, and with taking action.

So, that’s all for now ^^ Drawing out this structure helped me gain some understanding of my own overwhelmed feelings, so I thought I’d share. Good luck to any of you who are going through something similar, and just in general, I hope this may be of help to you if at any point you feel overwhelmed or afraid, and would just like to have a better sense of what’s happening and how you might be able to respond to it. That’s not to say that what I wrote is 100% accurate, or that it captures complexities, of this issue, that I may know nothing about right now, but all the same, you can weigh this for yourself, and this perspective may prove to be helpful to consider as you’re finding your way, and feeling things out for yourself.

Take care, and be well,

-Oliver

Related Articles

Fear – The above structure seems integral in terms of what it tells us about how fear operates. We can fear the future possibilities due to our theories and ideas about why things are as they are, and about what they are.

Anxiety – Anxiety also seems illuminated by the above structure, because one can see how one might become anxious when it’s possible that there are urgent situations in the present with us. The more possibilities are open, the more anxious, and then overwhelmed, we might become, as we can seem to be at least potentially threatened from many places at once. And it can be hard to adequately prepare for all eventualities when the possible situations are not only complex, but demanding in terms of how much work it takes to be prepared for them in a way that we find satisfying.

Stress – Stress can also be seen as a form of overwhelm. The solutions in this article may help to inform positive ways of handling overwhelm: by reconnecting with that which is experienced within our in-the-moment awareness, and is at peace with not knowing for sure the reasons for any of it, but just takes note of everything it can.

Fear of Feelings

Before I talk about the fear of feelings, let me start with an anecdote:

Like a microwave emitting unexplained sounds, sometimes our feelings can bring something that feels scary into our experience of life

Like a microwave emitting unexplained sounds, sometimes our feelings can bring something that feels scary into our experience of life

A few days before writing this article, I was microwaving some food, and as I was walking away from the microwave, I heard a strange sound, like something inside the microwave was breaking. I made a joke of it in my mind at first, but when I heard it again I became concerned about what was actually causing it. Was the microwave really breaking? Should I stop reheating my food?

I went to check and it turned out that it was just some paper towel that was in there on the plate, catching on the edge of the microwave’s walls as the plate was trying to turn. The sound was just the plate trying to turn when the paper towel was getting in its way. At this point, I knew that it probably wasn’t a problem after all, because a stuck plate  was something I had seen before. And from my experience, a microwave could handle that, so there was no cause to intervene.

It occurred to me that this was a great example for how fear works. From my experience with dealing with fear, it’s mostly due to a lack of information that fear takes and keeps its hold, especially in situations where we don’t know how to gather more information. What we’re afraid of is like the sound in the microwave: something difficult to explain, and potentially concerning, that occurs within our experience. Something changes. Continue reading

How Finding What You Love can Overcome Fear

Have you ever thought about facing a fear of yours, but then never did?

Risks are easier to accept when we love what we're striving for.

Risks are easier to accept when we love what we’re striving for.

What stopped you? Were you OK with the fact that you didn’t face it?

Partly due to the glorification of courage and heroism in today’s culture, not facing our fears can cause us to feel guilty, or at the very least uncomfortable about our decisions. And yet, do you think that your decisions to avoid potential dangers really are that bad?

I mean, there’s a whole lot of good that can come from listening to your fear! You won’t perform dangerous stunts, you’ll be more cautious, and in most cases, you’ll increase your chances for survival. Continue reading

Overcome Fear of Repeating your Mistakes

Fighting off Distrust

Sometimes, your own distrust attacks you with all kinds of arguments. Fight back!

Yeah, we’ve made mistakes in our past. Yeah, we’d like to not be the “kind of person” to make those mistakes again. We’d be very glad to be past it.

But of course, how will we know that we won’t? How will we know that, when the time comes, we’ll make the right choices, if we’ve made the wrong ones in the past?

The thing is, you have intentions – those intentions are what cause you to act as you do. Now let’s say you’ve had an intention in the past that was “to make so and so’s life terrible”, and now, looking back, you don’t like that intention of yours. How can you live peacefully, knowing you once, impulsively, made that your intention and acted upon it?

Continue reading

The Courage to Face Any Thought

Oftentimes, thoughts can go all over the place. They can go so many places you may have no idea how the images in your head even got there. Images of pain and violence, or those of your worst fears. And every time your thoughts get going, you begin to dread having to see those things again in your mind. You’re not the kind of person who thinks those things! Can’t they just leave you alone…?

Do you know what I’m talking about? Maybe it happens for you after a scary movie, when your mind wanders back to the things that haunted you. Or maybe the phrase: “What has been seen, cannot be unseen” calls what I’m talking about to mind.

All in all, it’s when you don’t want to think a certain thought.

Continue reading

Distrust of Love, the Destroyer

Today, my Irresponsible Self was giving me a lot of problems. Didn’t want to clean out the dishwasher, didn’t want to clean pots, didn’t want to take a shower. He didn’t even enjoy playing a video game, which he suggested (in my thoughts) I do in the first place! So I decided to delve deeper and find out what was really bothering him. I lay down, and opened myself up, to let that side of me tell me what was bothering him.

What he showed me in my thoughts was a kind of a story. I don’t know how accurate it is, but it goes a little something like this:

The Distrust of Love destroying my state of being where love and joy abounded.

A long time ago, I had a state of being inside me, like a city, in which there was an abundance of love, justice, and joy. It was wonderful to live in. Then, one day, a being appeared, like a giant snake wrapped around the city with a crazed look on its face. It had feelings of doubt and resentment towards this state of being. The people living in the city tried to fight it, but because they doubted themselves, didn’t know the reason for the snake being there, and thought that maybe the snake’s view on life was correct, they could not defend the city. This city, this state of being, no longer exists – and nothing inside me knows how exactly it fell or what can be done about it right now.

Continue reading

Self-Deceit: Falling for an Illusion

“No, I’m not a coward. Come on man, that talk just isn’t cool. Lighten up a bit will ya? Come on, look at this illusion instead.”

Hey guys, I’ve been meaning to make a post on Self-Deceit for a while now. Addressing this aspect of one’s self is so crucial to seeing the things inside one’s self clearly.

Oftentimes, when looking inside one’s self, you can see a lot of embarrassing things. Cowardice, fear, insecurities, anger, superiority, pride and cruelty. Self-deceit doesn’t want you to see these things.

You see, he can team up with Deceit to try and make your life as easy as possible. Deceit wants to plan out life so it’s easy, and Self-Deceit fools you into thinking it is. After all, if every time you look for your inner demons you see nothing “bad”, you’ll quit worrying about it and believe you’re awesome instead!

Like this guy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYws8biwOYc

That’s how that part of you talks (you normally experience it as thinking). To him, criticism is “uncool”, and it would rather live in a world full of people who don’t question him than ever consider his own cowardice. And that’s what he is, when you come down to it.

A coward.

So where is this guy in you? Any time you insist that you are a particular way you like, and deny that you are bad in any way, with thoughts like “I’m pretty darn cool.”, “Wow I’m smart, yeah!”, “No no I’m not a coward.”, or “I’m Innocent, seriously!”, this is the indication of self-deceit trying to have power over you, and trick you.

And maybe you’re not cowardly (most of the time). But why insist on it? Why make a big deal to yourself about how you are a particular way? You could just act with courage, and leave it at that.

Self-deceit just doesn’t want you to see your own inner world, your difficulties, your flaws, all the embarrassing stuff about yourself. Can you see why this is a problem? No matter how awesome you feel, issues are left unsolved. You remain a mystery to yourself. Your pain and depression and frustration continue.

So how did I get past this guy? Three things:

  1. The Inner Victim – the part of one’s self who feels helpless and weak, who worries and tries to grasp on to solutions – this part of myself came to the point where lies were hurting her so badly that she desperately wanted the truth. She realized that the truth would be the only thing that would empower her to make decisions that would really help her. Otherwise she was at the whims of the lies of my Deceiver and Self-Deceiver. She no longer wanted things to be nice, or cool or awesome. She wanted to see the bad and face it down, and find real solutions, no matter what she found on the way to them. She didn’t want to be fooled.
  2. I challenged Self-Deceit’s notion that it’s awesome to fool one’s self. I gave him the idea that it was more awesome to be able to stand tall in the face of all the darkness inside one’s self. He bought into this for a second, but his fear got the better of him. That’s when I realized he was a true coward.
  3. See those star glasses he’s wearing in the picture above? I imagined taking them off. I ripped off his mask. And underneath, I saw a scared, insecure, quivering child. “No… my precious coolness…” he said, “Damn it… give [the glasses] back… I don’t want to see… that I’m insecure…”

After that, his game was up. He stopped trying to deceive me, because he was forced to see how uncool he really was. Yeah it can be uncomfortable, but ultimately it’s what we need to be healthy, to know what goes on inside ourselves without the interference of our imaginations.

That’s how he gets you, by the way, Self-Deceit has the power to create illusions with your imagination. You can imagine anything – it can be the exact opposite of what’s actually inside you. How do you know the difference? You could always get lost in a world of illusions created by Self-Deceit to distract you from your desire to see the truth. We could avoid the guilt, the pain, the embarrassment for our entire lives. It doesn’t mean it’s not there, but we’ve covered it over with our own unwillingness to see our flaws. Our own fear.

In the mean time, we can’t pursue the truth, self-improvement, or healing consciously.

So, knowing this – is that how any of us truly wants to live? If you could see what Self-Deceit can do to you, I’d bet not. So call this guy out! Oh and good luck finding him, too – he probably doesn’t want you to. But I think you’ll know him when you find him.

For more help on the dynamic involving the Deceiver, the Inner Victim, Self-Deceit, and the Good-Hearted Theorist, check out these previous blog posts:

Overview: Self-Deceit and Manipulation

Overcoming Self-Deceit, continued

The Inner Deceiver’s Return

(Note: I call it Self-Deceit here, but there’s a difference between the Self-Deceiver and the Deceiver. The Deceiver wants an easy life through lying to others. The Self-Deceiver wants to run away from the truth of himself. But it’s a pack of lies regardless.)