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An image of the back of a person walking down a boardwalk in dark clothes at night time representing the state of fear that can lead to irrational thinking without proper help and therapy for men in California.

How to Help an Irrational Person with Tremendous Fear

In his terrific book, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life, renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Goulston, writes, “A person trapped in intense fear is like a hamster trapped on a wheel. The person’s thoughts keep spinning round and round, and as they spin, they get more and more out on control” (Goulston, 2016, p. 126).

 

It’s very challenging, intense, and scary to witness someone endure this experience, especially when it’s someone with whom we care. Part of why it is often scary is the person’s irrational fear could impinge on your well-being; you might become fearful yourself.

So, when you see someone you care about in this state, for the sake of helping him/her, as well as helping yourself, your first instinct is likely to rush to solve the problem.

In this blog, we will look at why this approach is among the worst possible options, as well as a formula for what to implement instead.

When a person you love is experiencing this, you can feel immensely confident s/he has heard a lot of the following throughout his/her life (and it hasn’t felt good at all to hear any of it):

 

· Oh, stop it.

· Relax!

· You’re overreacting.

· That just isn’t true!

· It’ll be okay.

· You’re acting crazy!

SD

An image of a man screaming in distress because he has irrational fears that have controlled his life and needs to find peace through therapy for men in California

 

None of this works, and in fact it all worsens things, because these feel either incredibly dismissive, invalidating, contemptuous, or a mix of the above.

Additionally, when we get into this state of profound and irrational fear, we are hijacked by the emotional part of our brain, the right part, and more specifically, the amygdala (the fight, flight, freeze part of the brain that helps to keep us alive). Reasoning, logic, facts, and reassurance – none of them work to soothe and move us out of this part of the brain. Validation, however, is the one thing that gives the best chance of doing the trick.

Along these lines, here is the Blueprint for Helping Someone Move Out of Irrationality and Intense Fear: The 3 L’s

 

1. Lean In

It’s paramount to realize that “to a mind that’s trapped in fear, the fear is reasonable. An amygdala hijack causes a person’s brain to churn out a massive flood of fear-provoking chemicals including adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals can make a person believe, ‘I’m going to die’ or ‘I’m going to get fired’” (Goulston, 2016, p. 127).

To go a bit further, the reason this all happens is because this part of the brain, the amygdala, is designed to act incredibly fast, often without us even realizing, to try to keep us safe. This part of the brain is flawed, though, in that it is not built for accuracy. It is often susceptible to tricking us into feeling terrified, as if our lives are in danger, when in fact, we are just feeling incredible discomfort.

 

Imagine, for instance, you have a fear of flying. Each time you get on a plane and the plane hits turbulence, you panic. Your breathing quickens, you feel like you’re going to die, and your heart feels like it’s beating out of your chest. Your brain is also releasing all sorts of chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol, to create these and other types of reactions, all with the purpose of getting you ready as quickly as possible to act and protect yourself swiftly. With this example, however, your amygdala is incorrectly communicating danger; instead, you are suffering from distress.

All of this is to say, when the amygdala produces this defensive reaction, whether it is accurately picking up information and correctly evaluating it or not, it feels incredibly real.

So, knowing this, you want to coach yourself to embrace that when this person with whom you care about is displaying irrationality and profound fear, their fear is a reasonable response.

As you hear their story, regularly remind yourself to be empathic, gentle, and above all else, patient.

 

2. Look at the Reality

“While a person who’s fully trapped in fear isn’t ready to talk about the way out, s/he may at least be ready to consider that a less-than-apocalyptic future is possible – if you can show the way” (Goulston, 2016, p. 127).

Now, in your most compassionate way, say to the person: “Let’s find out what’s really going on here” (Goulston, 2016, p. 127).

Use the following 3 questions to help guide the person from the emotionally activated, right part of their brain, over to the left, more logical part:

a. Is the terrible thing you anticipate really the most likely outcome of the situation?

b. Is it just as likely, or even more likely, that things will work out okay?

c. Have you, or someone you know, survived a similar crisis before? If so, is it likely that this crisis is manageable too (Goulston, p. 2016, p. 128)?

Once it appears that your partner, parent, friend, colleague, etc. is starting to free him/herself of the fear, it’s then time for the final step.

An image of a hand raised up out of water symbolizing the drowning feeling that can occur when irrational fears go untreated. Therapy for men in California is one way to help those suffering from irrational fears find healthy ways to cope.

3. Lead the Person into the Future

Now that you’ve helped guide the person from their right brain over to their left, and s/he is therefore able to think a bit more clearly, you can begin to capitalize on that through planning.

You could ask: “Given the current reality, what is a realistic action to take now”? (Goulston, 2016, p. 128).

When you work as a team to create an action plan, it helps the person become unstuck from their fear state.

You might ask the following additional questions to help with irrational fear:

a) “Is there anything we can do right now to ease your stress while you’re waiting for your ____ (test results, for example)? Why don’t we watch a movie, go for a run, (or any other healthy endeavor)”?

b) Is there a way you can recover from this (if any poor outcome does occur)? If not, do you have other options”? (Goulston, 2016, p. 129).

 

One Final Note

Dr. Goulston adds that, sometimes, when you try to use this 3 L approach with someone who is trapped in this irrational and incredibly fearful state, s/he may lash out at you. He equates this response to a timid dog which tends to bite people.

“When you recognize that this lashing out is a part of a fearful person’s M.O., you’ll be better able to accept it and handle it calmly. Simply let the person vent, and then return to the gameplan” (Goulston, 2016, p. 131).

And, during this process, regularly remind yourself that this person’s lashing out is not about you. To assist you in staying away from lashing back out yourself and keeping your eye on the prize of giving this person what s/he needs to get out of the fear state, you might even repeat in your mind, “this is an opportunity for poise”. That, with a couple of deep, belly breaths, can go a long way.

Develop More of an Understanding of how to Best Support and Help an Irrational Person with Tremendous Fear through Working with a San Diego Therapist

To learn more about why someone you love struggles with a lot of irrationality and fear, as well how to best cope with and respond to him/her, Stress Solutions is here to assist. We can help you learn more about how the brain works so you can empathize much more with your loved one when s/he gets to this unbearably intense place. We can also teach you strategies, such as the one outlined in this blog, to armor you in these moments so you can calm yourself and guide your loved one from this heightened emotional state to a much calmer one where solutions exist. Call or email us now to schedule your free consultation with our therapist.

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