Chapter 3 The roots of fear
From the German magazine DIE ZEIT online of 16 March about the corona virus: "Every now and then we have this unfamiliar airy feeling in our chest. Something has shifted. Our fear, our fear that has been fluttering for years, finally has a reason, it finally has a home. She has really earned it."1
Where does this sometimes so high intensity of feelings come from? Why such panic? Fear is not something absolute and compact. In this chapter you can explore it more deeply.
Where does the sometimes inappropriate intensity of emotions come from?
What you can observe again and again in everyday life (with others it is easy!) are feelings whose intensity sometimes seems inappropriate to the situation. In a partnership, this can be easily observed in arguments. A small occasion, a wrong tone, a flippant remark ("That was typical of you again!") and a big quarrel starts. Both stare at each other angrily with bright red heads. If you ask one of them: "Why are you so angry right now?" he can immediately give all the reasons. "Because he or she has offended or insulted me. I have every reason to be so angry!" If you ask the other one, he finds just as many good reasons for his anger.
As an outsider, you sometimes wonder, for you see clearly the inappropriate and exaggerated nature of the emotions. Where does this enormous load of anger come from?
In a situation like this, I divide the emotional intensity in two parts. There is a part of anger that is appropriate to the situation. If my partner offends me with a flippant remark, then a little anger is appropriate. Perhaps you would like to clarify in a friendly form: "Hey, stop! Please don't talk to me like that! That hurt my feelings now" That would be an appropriate adult response. A violent screaming with subsequent door slamming is certainly not it!
One could even start to roughly estimate percentages, how much of the charge is appropriate for the situation and how much is not. In the heated argument in our example, perhaps 20 or 30% is appropriate, but the rest is not.
It is easier to see this from the outside, but it is much more difficult to see it from the inside. For we directly experience the power of the emotion and therefore it is justified for us in the current situation.
The same principles apply to the fears in the corona crisis, but they are easier to understand with the example of anger. That's why I'm going on with the hassle.
Back to the quarrelling couple! Where does the 70% excess of unreasonable intensity of anger come from? This charge has its roots in the past. These are old feelings that were not expressed then. Of course, part of the charge can also belong to the history of the partnership (my partner just cheated on me!), but usually only a small part belongs there. Much of it is rooted in childhood.
Childhood experiences continue to have an effect
If my father or mother often offended me with biting remarks as a child, then it was a deep wound for me at that time. The anger and pain about it was then swallowed down so that the parents did not get angry. Today, when my partner says in a similarly condescending tone "That was typical of you again", images from the past shoot up and overlay the current situation. I'm not quite in the present anymore and the anger from back then is breaking its course today.
What applies to anger also applies to the fear of the coronavirus. That's why some of your fear today - not all of it, mind you! - can come from old childhood fears. What reasonable reaction and behavior would be appropriate for an adult in your situation in the Corona times?
Each of us carries a multitude of old childish feelings with him or herself. As children, we have learned to suppress them. It was necessary then because they overwhelmed us. Today we are able to deal with them differently, but we are usually not aware of them. But they always show themselves in conflicts of everyday life in inappropriate reactions. It is not a reasonable adult who reacts, but sometimes the anxious, wounded or angry child.
However, whoever is more aware of the old pains and fears and recognizes that they come from the past, gradually disempowers them. No psychologist or coach is needed for this. All that is needed is the inner willingness to look back and to feel emotions in small portions without overstraining oneself. You need curiosity, openness and honesty. It is not about the big breakout, which is longed for as a unique liberating blow. It is often enough to ask yourself the following questions: Is this feeling new in its intensity or familiar to me from the past? Then it helps to take some time to wait for answers from within.
But wasn't childhood our happiest time? Yes and no! Childhood was probably our hardest and worst time, even if there were always blissful and ecstatic moments. Wounds and disappointments are part of it from birth on. A child experiences all impressions unfiltered in its first months and years. His feelings have an absolute and tremendous intensity. Just look at a crying baby. It knows no control. A small stomach ache becomes a life-threatening situation. On the one hand the parents are a source of happiness and love, on the other hand the source of anger, disappointment and fear. And no father, no mother can give her child the absolute love it hopes for. That would be superhuman.
The old fears and injuries still slumber in everyone. A child is overwhelmed by the intensity of the experienced pain, fear or anger. His brain is not yet ready to process these sensations like an adult. It learns to separate and suppress the feelings and also the memories. They have not completely disappeared, but are resting underground. They then start to stir when something happens later that reminds us of the repressed. Separations in relationships, for example, bring such feelings very much to the surface.
Also, a panic when watching the latest news about the coronavirus is fed by feelings from childhood.
You don't have to have a conscious memory of what happened back then. Maybe the birth was life-threatening, maybe there was a separation from the mother in the first years of life or something else terrible happened. If there were such events, then it is very likely that your present fears are partly caused by the old fears.
Fears from childhood
Were there any significant events as a toddler - back to the time of birth - or as an adolescent that would cause great anxiety to a normal child?
You don't need to have a conscious memory of what happened. If there were such events, it is very likely that your present fears are fed by the old fears.
The body stores such experiences and in times of crisis like these memories of the old horrors come up. Perhaps you have had a normal childhood with no special features. Nevertheless, there are frightening experiences for every infant.
I have participated in meetings and seminars of Ray Castellino's approach for over ten years. They deal with significant experiences before birth, at birth and in the first years after birth. From my own experience I know how formative these experiences are and that they can come to light again and heal. The next exercise serves this purpose
Contact with the anxious child
Imagine the child you were in the past in a frightening situation. What would the child have needed then for protection and support?
Then imagine that you, as the adult you are now, go and give the child what he or she would have needed then. Take all the time you need. Be compassionate and patient. And watch the child gradually relax!
Perhaps you need time to develop these ideas more clearly. But it is worth it! You can do this exercise again and again. Each time, you will release a little more of the old fear and tension.
Another practical approach to dealing with stressful emotions aims in the same direction. Stephen Wolinsky developed it. He assumes that we actually only know two truly distinct states: Either we are fully awake and present in the present or we are in a self-hypnosis, a kind of trance that distracts us mentally from the present. Your fears in the corona crisis represent such a trance according to this approach. The trance is a protection that we developed in childhood because a situation was unbearable for us. In order to dissolve this trance and thus arrive completely in the present, we have to feel and accept these old emotions once again. As a child it was unbearable to endure the pain, fear and anger - the adult can do that today. Through this, the veil that clouds the present is dissolved.
I invite you to try this. I have personally experienced this approach as very helpful.
Exploring your fears in depth
Make sure that you are not disturbed in the near future and make yourself comfortable. Make contact with your breath and with each exhalation you let go more.
When you think about your current situation with the coronavirus - what feelings arise? What do you perceive in your body? How are these feelings reflected in physical tension? Feel them out a little bit.
If you were a child who has these feelings - How old are you? Trust the first number that comes to your mind! How old are you in this state? Where exactly in your body or mind do you find this inner part, which we now call "inner child"? Feel exactly where this part is.
Is this child connected to certain emotions? Which ones?
When you become this child - how does your self-image change? How do you experience yourself then? What do you think of yourself?
When you become this child - how does your image of the world and other people change? How do you then perceive the world and other people?
After you have got to know this inner child a little bit, ask him two questions. Keep asking these questions until there are no more new answers:
- What do you, inner child, refuse to experience or sense?
- What do you, inner child, refuse to know about yourself?
Then sit still for a moment. Breathe deeply and feel your body. Now contact the current situation again and see what has changed.
After I discovered the positive effect these questions had on me, I wrote them down on a small piece of paper and put them in my wallet to have them ready for emergencies. Because sometimes the old feelings come over you so strongly that they repress all other thoughts. Looking at the paper back then helped me to recollect in a difficult moment.
The war is not over yet
In addition to childhood, the roots of fears can also lead further into the history of the family. Often childhood and family history are also mixed. That is why it is obvious to look in this direction when there are great fears of the coronavirus. The horrors of the past still live on in us. For me, this was the most surprising discovery in my work with family constellations.
Famines, epidemics and diseases have accompanied and still accompany humanity for countless generations. Between 1918 and 1920, the Spanish flu spread across the globe and claimed 50 million lives. In addition, war and warlike events that have taken place in almost every nation over the last 100 years and are still spread over the globe today are almost uncountable.
In Germany the Third Reich and the Second World War are in the background of every family. Most men have experienced the horrors of war as soldiers in battle or in captivity and the women in bomb attacks, expulsion and flight. So we find someone in every family - usually many! - from these generations, i.e. parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and their siblings who have had traumatic experiences.
War and war captivity are a horror. All the suffering and pain, the experienced fear of death are not simply forgotten, but are "in the bones" of the survivors. The tension is no longer consciously felt, they are split off. They are only recognizable in the inner pressure under which someone is under after such experiences. Children and grandchildren absorb these energies and carry them with them. A few days ago I had the sudden image of viruses whirring around me like bullets from a gun fire. And I do not know if and when a bullet will hit me. Suddenly my father, who was in World War II, was very close to me. I'm sure he experienced that gun fire. And something in me remembers it.
There's no need for anyone to tell you about bad things. The horror experienced is visible in the eyes. A grandfather may never have spoken of his experiences in war or as a prisoner. Children are extremely sensitive. They perceive all the fine vibrations that someone radiates. So silence does not protect them. At times, what is kept secret can seem even more threatening.
That is why the emotional effects of the Second World War in Europe are far from over. Just how strongly these events still resonate within us is shown by the enduring interest in all book themes, television programs and films about this period.
And so it may well be that part of your fear of the virus comes from connecting with someone in your family who has experienced great horrors.
Do you feel a physical reaction when you read the last sentence? It could be a tingling sensation or some form of agreement.
When considering connections, it is useful to look at the direct blood relatives, uncles, aunts, great uncles and great aunts, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. There is a strong line of connection through the same sex, i.e. men to male and women to female ancestors. Men are often connected to men at first, just as women are connected to women.
There, grandfather and grandmother had terrible experiences in the war, experienced much fear and panic. Grandchildren feel this hidden fear and the traumatic memories. Yes, you don't even have to know someone personally or know of their existence to possibly be connected with their fate and fears. It is as if the atmosphere in the family passes on all that is essential. That is why family secrets also have an effect on the whole family.
But the children not only feel the burdens, they also take them on. Then a child in his or her depth carries the great panic of the war with him or her. Then when threats like the coronavirus appear, this old inherited fear is triggered and mixes with the current reasonable one. And so the fears become truly overwhelming. One can still grasp one's own, but when the alien is added, it becomes too much.
For many people this is a new way of looking at things and if you are skeptical at first hearing, I can understand it completely. With the next exercise you can start to check my statements and see if they are relevant for you.
Separating the current fear from old fears
Get up and stand in the room. Then imagine the current corona crisis in front of you and feel inside yourself to your emotions. What thoughts arise in the process? If you could condense all this into a short sentence - what would this sentence be?
Now turn around 180 degrees and look back in the opposite direction. Imagine that you are looking to your past, to your childhood and to your family. You do not have to see anything or anyone concretely. Now repeat the sentence you just found and wait a little. Does this sentence or this current feeling also come to you from the past, from your childhood and/or from your family? Allow yourself a few moments ...
Then turn around and look again at the current crisis. Is something different?
I myself have already made important personal discoveries with this exercise. If such exercises are new to you, then be patient with yourself! Rely on your instinct to see if there are any connections. Maybe you will remember something when you start writing about it or even at night in dreams.
Perhaps there is a part of you that is careful not to overstrain yourself and therefore brakes. In this case the best attitude is to be thankful that there are such sides in your mind that pay attention and have paid attention in the past. Less is more, is a good attitude.
And when such possible connections have emerged - what do I do with them?
It is important to understand more of the reason for the connection. The ground is an early and very archaic love. Imagine a new-born child in the arms of its parents during the first weeks of life. The child is still completely open and resonates with every feeling of the other person. A newborn child has not yet built the protective walls with which the child and the adolescent later separate themselves. And a baby is very loving. So it absorbs everything it feels from its parents and its environment. If it is equal to the people around it, then it belongs. If therefore mother and father are unhappy, if the atmosphere of unhappiness is present in the family, then the child takes it over. When fears are there, it takes over the fears. Who is equal belongs to them. And that is what the child longs for.
Later, disappointments that cannot be avoided lay a protective layer over the original, unreserved affection. The child closes up a little bit. Underneath, however, the original emotions still live on.
In order for the connections in fear and unhappiness to dissolve, it is necessary to first come into contact with the original love. Only then can someone with respect leave the bad feelings to whoever owns them. "What has happened out of love can only dissolve again in love" - this is a key sentence with which Bert Hellinger has summed up the crucial point.
This separates, liberates and connects at the same time on a new level.
This simultaneously separates, liberates and connects on a new level. Through this very elementary and significant changes happen.
In my practical work I have learned to trust very much the instinct, mine and that of my clients. If someone has some kind of hunch or presumption, I always take it seriously. And it turns out that these hunches are meaningful. So if you have the idea of a possible connection in your fear, then do the next exercise. If you suspect a concrete person (e.g. your grandfather), then name the "grandfather" in the exercise. If you don't know exactly who this person could be, just imagine someone you call "You are the person I am connected to through my fear.” It also works in the imagination, but I suggest you do the exercise standing in the room.
If you have no experience with this form of work, then try to feel your way slowly. Trust your impulses - there is no "right" and "wrong". Maybe you do not experience anything at all or the exercise seems pointless to you. Wonderful! Not every exercise is for every person.
Let some of the fear flow back
Imagine the family member in front of you with whom your actual fear connects you. He or she stands before you. Find a good distance so that you can really see the person.
Then look into the eyes and say:
"The fear you have experienced is not forgotten. I carry it with you."
See if these sentences make sense to you. If an inner affirmation comes, then continue:
"I respect you, your fear and your fate." (If you know something concretely, then call it - for example the flight and expulsion with your four small children)
Then continue, "Please look at me nicely when I relax."
Such a ritual only has an effect if it is coherent and if you agree completely with what you say. The suggested sentences are not "pills" that automatically have an effect. You must be ready for such an exercise and feel a connection to your ancestor. Perhaps other sentences will come to you that are more coherent. Then pronounce them. Often the love is only so great that a child does not want to leave its burden to the ancestor.
Feel the resistance under which your love is hidden and say to the person: "I will not let you leave your fear and your fate. I will be loyal to you." This insight is also helpful and continues to work in a good way.
1 Rammstedt T., Was der Coronavirus bislang über uns weiß, Kolumne, ZEIT online 16. 3. 2020
Introduction: The fear is around you
1. Fear and other emotions
The fear in the present moment
You are allowed to be afraid
Practical tools for everyday life
2. How your thoughts create and reinforce fear
Perceiving and influencing thoughts
Perceive your control over your inner state
3. The roots of fear
Where does the sometimes inappropriate intensity of emotions come from?
Childhood experiences continue to have an impact
The war is not yet over
4. Fear, finiteness and death
Finiteness and change
Going through the catastrophe
The fear of death
5. Beyond fear
Find your strength to act
Lonely wolves get lost
The power of gratitude