Note: This post was written by Andrea Lee and originally appeared on her site here. We are sharing it with her permission. –Michael
Today I want to share a specific example of what it’s like when your behaviour creates fear in another person – unintentionally or on purpose – and how it negatively impacts you. When your actions lead to people fearing you, of course they are impacted, but this post is about how it hurts *you* when you hurt others. This includes an example from when I was a kid.
I remember saying the words without really registering them: “Dad, you’re home,” I’d murmur, in a dutiful voice. When I heard the front door open at the end of the day, I knew to acknowledge his arrival without delay.
That’s it, that’s all the example needs, because that one paragraph says it all.
It was years later, probably when I was in my teens, that I connected the dots. My response had been a requirement – something Dad demanded as his due. My heart wasn’t in it; I was doing it because if I didn’t, I might be in trouble.
How does this relate to you? Well, my hope is the example makes it clear – creating fear in someone you love to get something you want, even when what you want is reasonable, doesn’t work. You might get what you want temporarily, but in the long run? You lose out.
Another example. When I used to lash out at my husband, I was often behaving in contradictory ways:
‘Why aren’t you taking better care of me?” I’d yell at the top of my lungs.
“You never show me any affection” while raging and slamming doors.
”Why don’t we go out on date nights anymore, you suck as a husband.”
Clearly, what I wanted was love. How I asked for it all but guaranteed I wouldn’t get it.
These days, what I understand is that my husband sticking around attempting to love me was like him trying to love a Molotov cocktail.
I’m curious – do you think loving you is anything like that?
Don’t be a Molotov cocktail
Think about this with me for a minute.
Do you have places in your life where you wish people would behave a certain way, and do you ever try to control them?
Does it occur to you sometimes that people around you behave in certain ways because…they’re afraid of what you might do?
It might be illuminating to think this through for each of your roles – boss, parent, sibling, child, significant other, friend. If you answered yes, or maybe, to either question, you may be using fear to create compliance. If what you’re looking for is a loving, reciprocal relationship, then you must release the use of fear as a tool. If you ever want to stop feeling so alone, you must stop being a Molotov cocktail.
So, let’s try this again. Let’s say there’s something you need or want. First you need to be aware you need it. Next, your job is to sort out how can you get your need met without manipulating or making threatening demands. Asking nicely is fine. If they say no, that’s an acceptable answer from them. Now you can sort out what to do instead, but using fear or violence to insist they meet your need is not okay.
When you get something by using fear, you lose, because you’re getting a shell of the real thing
My Dad’s a smart human, so I know at some point it landed. By making us welcome him home out of fear, he won a tiny victory and… lost the rest of the prize, a family that was genuinely happy to see him. A timid “you’re home” is cold comfort, and not what he was after. No, Dad wanted the real thing. He wanted joyful running, kids rushing happily towards him because we’d missed him, and had eagerly awaited seeing him. He’s my dad, and it puts a crack in my heart to say it, but he quite simply didn’t know that fear wasn’t the way to a happy family. What’s more, he had no clue what to do instead.
I want so much more for you than that.
Here are just a few things you can look into, to start letting go of making the people close to you afraid. And to start getting your needs met.
(1) Reflect – in order to stop being a person people are afraid of, to stop being abusive, a regular reflection process is 100% needed. Without this, research shows it’s impossible to change behaviour. So use your preferred method or methods (a therapist, a support group, journalling, other) and reflect: where am I using fear to get things in my life? what’s possible if I stop doing that?
(2) Learn about your nervous system – if reflecting isn’t doing the trick, it’s almost certain that your nervous system needs support to key down. Consider these resources from my favourite teacher in this area, Irene Lyon.
A simple analogy for nervous system healing
What to do when you ‘want’ to hit your kid
If you know someone whose life would be helped by these ideas, please, help me spread the word. The whole world wins when even one person stops using fear to manipulate someone else.