Blog Page

Modulating Fear

 As I’ve mentioned, for years I had a fear of my anger because embedded in my programming was the belief that it was dangerous and, therefore, “bad,” and I shouldn’t allow myself to feel it. Unexpectedly, one of my experiences with painting gave me information that I was able to apply mindfully to help me modulate my fear of anger. Here’s how it happened.

For seven years, I participated in a class at UCLA on creativity for artists. The class was open by invitation to artists from all genres of art, including the visual arts, writing, and music. The two professors who taught the class had Ph.D.s in psychology. One specialized in anthropology, the other in issues of deafness.

Each week’s three-hour class was divided into two sessions, with one participant in each session sharing the details of a recent dream and, under the guidance of the professors, the other members of the class analyzing the dream by asking question after question based on associations with details in the dreams.

During one class, I shared a long and intricate dream in which I was being chased by “bad guys.” In one particular snippet, I was terrified and looking for a safe place when I knocked on a stranger’s door, asking to be taken in for safety. A kind woman—no one I recognized—opened her door and displayed empathy but refused me entry. One of the professors suggested that she represented my “dark feminine or shadow [unconscious] side” and asked me to explore the purpose of the dream by making a painting.

For that painting I gave myself permission to let it simply evolve as intuitions showed up. What evolved was a self-portrait that was split down the center of my head and torso, with the left side being me as a male and the right side as a female.

The main realization that came to me out of nowhere was this understanding: Until I did that self-portrait, my inner world believed that if I ever let my anger unleash itself on my friends and family, I was capable of blowing them away, so I had always been careful to keep it in check. While painting my male and female sides, I came to recognize that I would never let that rage out offen­sively in a destructive way; I would only let it surface to defend myself. Coupled with the mindfulness I was developing in therapy, I realized I don’t have to be afraid that my anger will hurt people; I know that allowing my anxiety to cover up my anger only hurts me. If I start feeling anxious about getting angry, I mindfully recognize it’s my programming that’s cueing the anxiety, I tell myself that it’s okay for me to feel angry, and I allow myself to feel the anger.

Learning from the process of painting the self-portrait that I don’t need to be afraid of my anger, and developing the ability to disempower my fear, fits into Siegel’s description of how fears become triggered in the brain, the way the brain can modulate fear, and why mindfulness helps us to modulate it.

An excerpt from my recent book, Your Mind Is What Your Brain Does for a Living, now available at Amazon.


  • 25 Dec, 2014
  • Posted by Steve Fogel
  • 8 Tags

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.