Running from the Bear

I find that my natural way of thinking is that I act a certain way because I feel something. For example, I feel anxious or fearful about something, so I want to avoid it or fix it.  I want to look outside myself for the sources of my fears.

In 1884, psychologist William James suggested something different which has been proven out by brain scientists today.  He suggested that our emotions are reactions to how we behave in a situation, not to the situation itself. 

He used a famous example:  Do we run from a bear because we are afraid, or are we afraid because we run from the bear?  He reasoned that our fear is the result of how we behave in reaction to the bear.

When I have a fear or anxiety, I ask myself, what am I avoiding. Perhaps I am avoiding asking that woman I met for a date. Maybe I am avoiding looking for a new job or going to the doctor to have a symptom checked out.  Perhaps I am avoiding a feeling such as anger or grief over something that happened. 

Maybe I did ask that woman for a date and she accepted and I am avoiding the excitement of having a date with her.  Why would I avoid excitement? That is a subject that requires its own post.

When I let myself know what I am avoiding, my fear and anxieties evaporate.

Action item:

When I am anxious or fearful, I will ask myself, “what am I avoiding?” When I stop avoiding, I will stop being afraid.

About almondhead

I am a mental health counselor in private practice. One of the focuses of my practice is helping people with fear, anxiety and their ugly stepsister, depression. I became a counselor after a long career in the technology world, so naturally, I think of the brain as an engineering problem. It can help to understand something about how the brain works. I decided to start this blog as a way to help other people learn about fear, anxiety and relationship. (All our problems are really about relationships.) You can also find me at:
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