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Embracing Panic

By Dr. Margaret Paul
June 16, 2014

Discover how to manage panic in a way that allows it to dissipate rather than escalate.

"That's the strange thing about panic – when we lean into it, it loosens it's grip on us." Daniel Siegel, M.D.

"The power of reflection allows us to approach, rather than withdraw, from, whatever life brings us. And when we learn to 'stay with' a feeling, to give it its time in awareness, then we discover that feelings – even very strong and threatening feelings – first arise and then dissipate, like waves breaking on the shore." Daniel Siegel, M.D., Mindsight, P. 140

Step One of Inner Bonding is about embracing – even welcoming – all of our feelings, including panic. It may seem counter-intuitive to move toward our scary feelings rather than away from them, yet the more we move away from panic and other painful feelings, the more panic we cause.

Why is this true? There is a very good reason.

Imagine a little child who suddenly finds himself or herself alone in a strange place. Generally, the child will start to feel panicked. Then imagine that the parent sees the child and knows that the child feels lost, and the child sees that the parent sees him or her, but instead of moving toward the child, the parent moves away. Now the child's panic really escalates.

This actually happened to a client of mine. His very abusive father decided he needed to learn how to take care of himself, so when he was six years old, his father dropped him off in a forest and left. The boy had no idea where he was or how to find his way home. His father left him there overnight, and he was nearly dead when his father finally found him again. Of course, this established a deep terror of abandonment that followed him for the rest of his life, until he learned how to rescue his own inner child.

While this example constitutes overt child abuse, the same thing often happens to each of us on the inner level. When our inner child feels panicked, it's because he or she feels left alone and abandoned inside. When we move away from our panic, our inner child feels even more panicked. That's why when we 'lean into it' and 'stay with' it, as Daniel Siegel suggests in the above quotes, it gradually subsides.

While some panic is caused by PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), much panic is caused by our own self-abandonment. However, in either case, the healing occurs as we learn to be a loving Adult and embrace the panic rather than doing anything to avoid it.

Just as a panicked child calms down when a loving parent embraces the child with loving calmness, helping the child to regulate their feelings through experiencing the parent's calmness, so our inner child calms down when we open and invite the calmness of Spirit into our heart and embrace our feelings with that calmness. The more we practice this, the more the neural pathway for calmness is established in our brain.

Sometimes, we may need the loving, calm help of another to regulate our nervous system, and that is when we need to reach out for a hug – if a loving person is around. Even hugging a dog or cat can help us regulate – or a horse if you are lucky enough to have horses. Our loving pets can be a wonderful help in helping us regulate our feelings.

The next time fear or panic or another intense painful feeling comes up, move toward it, welcoming it, embracing it with compassion. You might be amazed at how quickly it "loosens its grip" on you and then dissipates, "like waves breaking on the shore."


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