Everyone has their own conditioning that causes us to live in fear. We experience the conditioning imposed by society, the conditioning we underwent as children, the conditioning that extends into adulthood.
But in order to live free of fear, we have to recognize how we have been conditioned and work to release it. The process starts with witnessing our reactions and tracing them back to the beliefs that have created this reaction.
First, we have been conditioned societally: our culture tells us we need to achieve a certain level and kind of success in order to feel worthy. It’s a message greatly reinforced by marketing and advertising. But what exactly constitutes success?
When we feel we can’t reach the destination we should, we live in fear. We become like the hamster on the exercise wheel, racing around and around without knowing where we’re headed. We look outside ourselves to affirm our self-worth by seeing how much “stuff” we have compared to others, but it's a house made of sand. Yet many have made money, power, control, or prestige and reputation their god.
Society has also conditioned us to immerse ourselves in a collective climate of fear — as has become so evident during the coronavirus crisis. Instead of just glancing at headlines to read only what’s necessary to be informed, we’re steeped in uncertainty and doubt.
We have also been conditional personally: what our parents and other adult influencers believed and taught us in childhood is often to our detriment. Many of us learned that we were not lovable unless we acted a certain way or said a certain thing. We watched our parents be alcoholics or workaholics. Some of our conditioning was implicit, and some of it was overt — through emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. We were like little sponges, but what if we were soaking up polluted water?
And for many, that conditioning has extended into adulthood. It could be through abusive work or personal relationships. We believe what a boss or a partner says about us.
To increase our self-awareness and identify our conditioning, we first need to take these steps:
Self-understanding: We need to understand the psychological mechanisms of projection and judgment. We use these as defenses against examining and healing our dysfunctional patterns and relationships. We often judge others because they have attributes we dislike in ourselves or wish we had ourselves.
Carl Jung, the father of analytical psychology, said “Projection is one of the commonest psychic phenomena. Everything that is unconscious in ourselves we discover in our neighbor and we treat him accordingly.” Judgment is a projection of self-judgment.
Monitoring our emotions: We must watch our emotional reactions, especially anger and blame. These point to underlying beliefs we hold. We are not usually angry for the reason we think. Fear is almost always behind our anger. It’s always initially present when we are bumping up against a belief we don’t want to face. Blame usually comes from a victim mentality, which is disempowering and fear-based.
Look at situations or people that make you feel uncomfortable. Maybe you feel uncomfortable around men with red beards because you don’t remember you were sexually abused by one as a child. The Universe loves and supports us. Through people and experiences, it is constantly providing hints of what we need to work on so we can have opportunities to heal and awaken to a greater reality of ourselves.
Honesty: Be honest about what you are attached to, and what you don’t want to give up. Watch how you use medicators as defenses against looking at certain unhealthy patterns or to stuff your feelings. These medicators could be food, excessive spending, stimulants, excessive internet or social media, porn, etc.
Ask yourself: What if what you are attached to was taken away tomorrow? For instance, what if you lost all of your money? Let yourself feel that fear, and start to explore all of the beliefs tied to that.
Once we have raised our own self-awareness, we can start to release ourselves from our conditioning. Here are two effective strategies:
From awareness to practice: Once we identify the belief behind our reaction, we have to be willing to follow what we are shown. The first gift is initial awareness — but then we will have numerous opportunities to practice this different way of thinking and seeing ourselves until it becomes automatic. Like training muscles to work in new ways, we have to reinforce this new pathway in our brains and body. Many resist what they are shown, and stay in dysfunctional patterns out of either an attachment to something or someone, out of fear, or even with the belief that change will literally be the death of them.
Compassion and trust: As we delve into self-inquiry, gratitude, trust, and compassion are key. We have to trust that there is something better on the other side. Then, ask a few simple questions: What is one main belief you recognize that is causing you to be in fear? Is this an outer belief that has an underlying one attached to it? How would you like to change this, and how can you accomplish this?
We need to trust the process, empowered by the knowledge that comes from self-inquiry, and be grateful that we are creating a better life for ourselves and our loved ones. Each person on this planet is being pushed to evolve and look at themselves during these times. So it’s important to have compassion for everyone — ourselves as well as others.
As well as social and personal conditioning, it has been shown that epigenetically, we inherit the trauma that our ancestors experienced. So we have each been conditioned in many ways. But whatever ways they are, we can release them — and the fear that they bring.
As we become self-aware, we find our innate joy. It’s as if we have lived in a prison cell, and we now have the means to break free. As we discover our true calling and find out unique gifts, we also become a powerful carrier of change for the world. As others see the positive changes that have occurred in us, they will want the same for themselves.