How to help your client overcome their fear

Fear is an emotion, one of ten thousand labels people use to describe the state they’re in.

When we experience an emotion, it feels like it is just ‘happening’ to us, like we have no control.

Our experience tells us we can’t stop it – it is overwhelming sometimes, it seems to drive us. Fear drives us to freeze in the face of a circumstance, or run away from it to safety.

The truth about fear, and all other emotional experiences, is probably something quite different. According to Lisa Feldman-Barrett, distinguished neuroscientist and psychologist from North Eastern University , emotions come from somewhere. When they hit us, it is not from nowhere. It is at the end of a chain of events, a cascade that is entirely hidden from view – unconscious.

Emotions like fear are made, just like a cake has ingredients and cooking steps. Those steps are hidden from view, but because they are made, they can be unmade. Because they are made, we can swap our certain ingredients and make something else. Because they are made, we have choice, we can experience something else.

At the very least realise there is a lot of room to move when it comes to dealing with our emotions. We do have a lot of choice, and can become the creators not the puppets of our state.

Of course emotions do not feel like you have choice, but the essence of coaching is to help others see they do have choice, then can change and make a real difference in their own lives. As a coach, as a person who cares about someone else and their distress, you want to help them. There are at least four different ways to do that…

How to change the result

  1. Reinterpret emotion – the sense you make of an emotion changes the experience you have of it. Everyone has fear, but some people view ‘having fear’ differently from others. Just think of the person who loves Adrenalin sports, which involve fear intrinsically. They view danger and say ‘bring it!’ Others view that same experience of fear inducing sport activity and cry ‘no way!’ It depends a lot on our upbringing. Knowing someone else is having a completely different experience of fear (or anxiety, or stress) can help a person see they might learn to have a different view (and experience) of it.
  2. Retrain the brain – some people have to experience certain emotions as part of their job. Fear is built into army service, ambulance drivers face it every time they turn up to an accident. Police face it every day. Fear requires six separate neurochemicals. Each is produced on demand, mixed together and sent into your system to create fear response. Through neurofeedback you can train your brain to change the chemistry on the fly. You can alter what your brain creates, you can learn to change how fear is made.
  3. Reframe your experience – when we apply the label ‘fear’ to our current state, we are interpreting physiological and emotional ‘signals’ in a certain way… and we conclude ‘this is fear’. It can be helpful to ask, “What if it were a strategy?” And not an emotion. What could fear be trying to get for you as a result? Fear tries to get us to safety… to invoke us to run to escape danger, or freeze to avoid danger. If fear were a strategy, how else could I get safety right now?
  4. Unpack the steps it takes – if fear is at the end of a production line, then we can discover the steps we took to get to ‘fear’. Break down the result by asking ‘what happened just before this experience of fear. Get them to unpack the journey they take to fear. Try using the ‘if I were a Martian, and did not understanding being human, explain how I ‘do fear’? Unpack it step by step for me so I can copy you.

At the very least realise there is a lot of room to move when it comes to dealing with our emotions. We do have a lot of choice, and can become the creators not the puppets of our state.